The University of Virginia is a time capsule of dreams and imagination. Founded by Thomas Jefferson, the school’s alumni roll includes Edgar Allen Poe, Robert and Ted Kennedy, and five NASA astronauts. Virginia has been praised for a rich history of academic achievement. It is also home to... two sand volleyball courts?
The courts are coated with a blend of sand that is valued at $40,000 and imported from Florida. There is a scoreboard and audio system. Lights ring the courts. The only thing missing is a home team. Although sand volleyball has been approved as an NCAA women’s sport beginning in the 2011-12 academic year, Virginia has no immediate plans to field a team.
“You have to start somewhere,” said Kathy DeBoer, head of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), which is working with the NCAA. “It seems to me, at some point, Virginia is going to start a [sand volleyball] program.”
After years of lobbying, sand volleyball was approved as an NCAA sport last year. That was followed by months of debate on rules and regulations. At the NCAA Convention this past January, the ground rules were finalized (see sidebar).
The NCAA also implemented restrictions intended to quell concerns that schools offering both volleyball programs would gain a recruiting advantage over schools competing only in court volleyball. One of the fears was that a player would be signed to a sand scholarship as a way to circumvent the 12-scholarship limit for NCAA Division I court volleyball teams. But the NCAA has ruled that a player receiving financial aid from the sand team can play both sports as long as her inclusion holds the court team to the 12-scholarship limit. If there is no scholarship room on the court team, she must wait two years before being allowed to play both sports.
“Nobody will want to sit out two years,” DeBoer said. “They’ll go to another place. This isn’t the first rodeo for the people who wrote the rules. They remember when a football player would sign a track scholarship, work out for a year, then play for the football team. That’s not allowed anymore. The ‘established’ sport can’t use the ‘less-established sport’ to increase its numbers.”
While sand rosters will be dominated by court players in the first few seasons, DeBoer said, they are two separate sports.
“A lot of people might say, ‘This is like cross country and distance running in terms of the same kids doing two sports,’” DeBoer said. “No, this is more like swimmers and water polo players. They’re different sports. Yes, they borrow the same things. To be a water polo player, you have to be able to swim. To be a sand volleyball player, you have to be able to serve and set. But the different number of players and the surfaces make them pretty distinct.”
DeBoer said she hopes schools will follow the lead of the University of Southern California, which aspires to one day field a sand team that does not include any members of the court team.
Meanwhile, as of the end of February, the AVCA was aware of 40 schools that expressed interest in fielding a sand team in the next few years. Most were from the coasts, where the sport still is referred to as “beach” volleyball. Schools have until mid-July to notify the NCAA whether they will sponsor sand teams for the 2012 season.
Meanwhile, sand courts are being built across the country.
“You can build several courts in the space needed for one softball field,” DeBoer said. “You can build sand courts on campus, and you don’t have to lock them up. You can’t over-play them. It’s not grass. You don’t have to water sand. You don’t have a surface that will ruin.”
Each team competes with five two-player teams. An AVCA finding estimated the average squad size will be between 13 and 15 women.
The first date of competition is the first Thursday in March 2012. The season runs eight weeks or until the end of the school year, whichever comes first.
The NCAA will sponsor a championship when 40 schools have sponsored a varsity program for two years.
If a school does not have a court team, the sand team may offer a maximum of eight equivalency scholarships the first year. If a school sponsors both programs, it can offer a maximum of six equivalency scholarships for the sand team, beginning with a maximum of three in 2012 and adding one in each of the subsequent three years for a total of six.
Originally published in May 2011