ESPN announcers now set for whole NCAA volleyball tournament after criticism of coverage

ESPN on Friday said all 47 matches in the Division 1 NCAA volleyball tournament will be live on one of its platforms and will include commentators.

The company previously had planned to stream the first two rounds of the event on its digital platforms without play-by-play announcers or analysts, a setup that multiple coaches in the event criticized Thursday, saying it could continue shining an unfavorable light on the treatment of female athletes by college sports' governing body.

"I really hope they take a closer look at that. I have a feeling that could blow up as much as what the weight room stuff did in women's basketball," said Wisconsin's Kelly Sheffield, referring to criticism of the NCAA for not initially providing a full weight-training area to women's teams. "It's stunning they're not [having] a broadcast team. To me, it's just lazy ... that you're just going to be looking at silence while watching NCAA tournament games."

ESPN adjusted its plans Friday, noting this will mark the first time the network has broadcast the opening two rounds.

"ESPN is committed to presenting the NCAA Volleyball Championship in its entirety for the first time this year, including the first and second round matches," it said. "Despite the variety of challenges related to the pandemic, all 47 matches will be live on an ESPN platform and will include commentators."

The NCAA, as it did with the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, moved the volleyball tournament to a single location as a safeguard against COVID-19. Play in Omaha, Nebraska, begins Wednesday.

The tournament was moved from the fall because of the pandemic and will be held at CHI Health Center with 48 teams instead of the usual 64. The first three rounds will be played on courts set up in a convention hall. The rest will be played in the adjacent arena.

The national semifinals will air on ESPN. The championship game will air on ESPN2.

Sheffield, whose Badgers are the No. 1 seed after finishing second to Stanford in 2019, had said the lack of announcers for the first two rounds diminishes the tournament.

"It's going to come across as a high school type of deal," he said. "It should feel special. For a lot of people that won't be the case."

The NCAA previously said in a statement that ESPN is not required to produce any coverage of the first and second rounds and that COVID-19 restrictions create technical challenges.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.