Budding beach volleyball stars will soon be able to play the sport in college.
The NCAA approved "sand" volleyball as an emerging sport for women on Monday and cleared the way for varsity competition in 2010-11. The organization will spend the next year developing rules that will govern intercollegiate play, including regulations on financial aid, playing dates and recruiting.
"The opportunity to play sand volleyball in the spring will spur growth in the sport. I wish I had that opportunity when I was at Stanford!" two-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh said, who like most beach players competed indoors in college. "This development will give more women an opportunity for a professional volleyball career in the United States."
The sport, known on the professional and Olympic levels as beach volleyball, will be called sand volleyball to make it more attractive to landlocked schools. Many colleges -- including Texas, Nebraska and Utah -- already participate in informal tournaments with club teams.
Indoor volleyball is the No. 2 women's sport in the NCAA, second only to basketball, with 992 of the 1,064 member schools fielding teams.
Adding sand volleyball to the emerging sports for women list is an intermediate step that means the sport has been sanctioned but is not played widespread enough to qualify for its own NCAA championship. Bowling, rowing, ice hockey and water polo began on the emerging sports list but have since spread to the 40 schools necessary to stage a championship.
"With more than 400,000 girls playing high school volleyball, we welcome the addition of collegiate roster spots," said Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Beach volleyball is riding a spike in popularity since the Beijing Olympics, when Walsh teamed with Misty May-Treanor to win their second consecutive gold medal and U.S. men Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser also won gold. The sport has a domestic professional tour that makes 15 outdoor stops and 14 more over the winter in an indoor tour.
"We are thrilled that the NCAA has voted to make sand volleyball a collegiate sport," said Jason Hodell, chief executive officer of AVP Pro Beach Volleyball. "The vote confirms the momentum behind the sport of beach volleyball, and we are excited to help grow our sport on the college level and create new beach volleyball stars around the country."
Monday's decision by the NCAA applies to Division I; the sport had already been approved by Division II.