Beach volleyball survived as a potential NCAA sport on Friday despite more than half of the schools at the NCAA convention in Atlanta voting to spike the sexier, sandier version of the indoor game that is the second-most widely played women's college sport.
The vote to remove "sand volleyball" from the list of emerging sports for women -- they're calling it that to avoid scaring away the landlocked schools -- was 166-118 with one abstention; the 58 percent was short of the 62.5 percent necessary to kill the sport.
"This is an amazing day for volleyball and all of women's athletics," said Kerri Walsh, who played indoor volleyball at Stanford and won two Olympic gold medals on the beach. "NCAA sand volleyball will grow the game and give wonderful opportunities to young women. ... I'm thrilled to know the next generation of volleyball stars will have collegiate sand volleyball."
Kathy DeBoer, the executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, said play would likely begin in 2011-12 -- a year later than initially planned because much of the past year was spent debating the override. If enough schools add the program over the following 10 years, sand volleyball would become an official NCAA championship sport.
"I'm very proud of those that supported this sport and the new opportunities it will create for women and girls," DeBoer said. "We have much work to do. There is obviously much concern in Division I about sand volleyball. We have a year to ... address these concerns."
The sport almost never got its chance in the sun.
After sand volleyball was added to the emerging sports list in April, 63 schools petitioned the NCAA to reconsider. Many traditional indoor powers, like three-time defending champion Penn State, were concerned about the affect the new discipline will have on the indoor game.
Among the detractors are indoor coaches who fear they will lose players to the two-on-two sport -- the only volleyball discipline with a pro tour -- and athletic directors who feel they will be pressured to add sand volleyball or lose recruits. Schools have no obligation to add it; other sports on the emerging list include equestrian, crew and squash.
"The reality of it is: If it's added by our competition, we believe we'll be forced to add it," said Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi. "Because were going to recruit the elite student-athlete who's going to anticipate playing both sports."
Maturi also wondered whether sand volleyball would create opportunities or just shift indoor players around.
"I strongly believe that we're going to be counting the same athletes two times," he said. "It's hard for me to fathom that somebody who's a talented young women participating in sand volleyball could not very much stand in as a court volleyball player."