Football faces uncertainty, but volleyball’s in a tougher spot

Nobody questions the fact that football is the 600-pound gorilla of college sports.  It pulls in the big bucks and without it, there wouldn’t be enough money to support many of the other sports offerings.

Attention is focused on college football right now as schools and conferences are weighing whether the sport will be able to start on time, if at all, or perhaps be moved to the spring.

Women’s volleyball is struggling with the same tough challenges – but getting less media coverage.

However, that sport could be in a tougher spot than football.  It may not have the option of moving to spring.

While volleyball doesn’t draw the same kind of crowds as football, each of the Pac-12 programs in the state play host to more than 20,000 dedicated fans over the course of a season.  Each averages almost identical numbers, about 1,300 per game.

So the coaches are faced with the same challenges as big brother, football.

They have no idea when they will be able to begin practice, since re-entry plans at both schools have been pushed back, nor do they know when their first game will be played.  The Pac-12 Conference just announced plans to eliminate the non-conference portion of the schedule.

Both of Arizona’s teams have reason for optimism, with big plans for the coming season.  But without any assurance they will even have a season.

The University of Arizona, a nationally-prominent program that has reached the postseason eight out of the last 11 seasons, is coming off a disappointing 15-17 record, with just five conference wins — but looking forward to a season with huge possibilities.

Head coach Dave Rubio, set to begin his 29th year running the Wildcat program, has pulled in a 2020 recruiting class that is ranked No. 7 in the nation.  He has six players returning from last season, three of whom were starters, and has also added three transfers to provide the experience and depth needed for another postseason run.

Arizona State is in an even better position with its roster.  The Sun Devils will return five of their seven top point-scorers on a diverse squad that includes seven players from outside the country.

And fourth-year head coach Sanja Tomasevic has been able to build momentum for the 2020 season after posting a 17-14 mark last year, which is the program’s first winning season since 2015.

While Rubio is one of the Pac-12 coaches who would like to see the season moved to the spring, there are some inherent problems with that approach, the biggest hurdle being the use of facilities.

Sports like football and soccer would have fields available if they switched seasons, but volleyball is played indoors.  The gyms they would need to use for a spring schedule would still be in use by the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as gymnastics.

There’s also the potential problems that could arise with athletes that play multiple sports.  In fact, Rubio has one of those in his program.  Lauren Ware, a 6’5″ middle blocker and one of the top players in this year’s recruiting class, is also expected to play on the women’s basketball team.

“It would certainly be challenging, and probably not ideal, but I think time right now is the enemy,” Rubio said in a recent interview, as he made a pitch for moving to the spring semester.

Hopefully, that option won’t be necessary.  There’s still time to fit the season in where it belongs.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)