An NCAA volleyball tournament without Hawai’i became a harsh reality Thursday when the Big West Conference announced it has canceled not only volleyball, but also the 2021 spring cross country and soccer seasons.
That makes two of the 32 NCAA Division I conferences that sponsor volleyball out for the spring. Earlier, the Ivy League, which also gets an automatic bid to the tournament, said it won’t have sports in the 2020-21 school year.
With an NCAA Tournament set for April and a field of 48 (down from the usual 64), that now means there will be 30 automatic bids and 18 at-larges. That is, of course, if nothing else changes between now and then.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, UH coach Roby Ah Mow had a Zoom meeting with her player after the announcement.
“A lot of them were kind of angry, sad, disappointed,” Ah Mow said. “I think my girls have to process this just a little bit.”
Former UH coach Dave Shoji was angry, too. In three Tweets he said:
“I question the Big West decision to cancel all fall sports. I understand the whole COVID concern, but how is every other conference playing? Big West will suffer consequences.”
Then, “How can the big west play basketball, baseball, softball and other spring sports, but cancel the “fall sports “ citing safety concerns? Ridiculous, they don’t want to deal with scheduling gym time.”
And, “Hawaii Volleyball should look into playing in the WCC or PAC 12 this year.”
The Big West said in a statement that the announcement “came after extended consideration of the ongoing health and safety challenges affecting Big West campuses and communities, and the significant resources required to properly safeguard the health and well-being of all student-athletes.”
There are 11 schools in the Big West and all play volleyball, including two of the 10 programs that have won national championships, Hawai’i (1982, 1983, 1987) and Long Beach State (1989, 1993, 1998). Hawai’i has been to to the last 27 and 38 of the 39 NCAA Tournaments, while Long Beach has been to 27, the last in 2014.
“It is really sad, especially for the seniors,” said Ah Mow, who coaches the only team in the league not located in California. “Obviously there are freshmen, sophomore or junior years that got taken, but the seniors, whether they are going to play again or not play again, we don’t know. I feel for them.”
Also in the Big West are five schools in the University of California system, UC Davis, UC San Diego (which joined this year after moving up to Division I), UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Riverside. Also in the California State system are Cal State Bakersfield (which moved from the Western Athletic Conference this year), Cal Poly, CSUN, and Cal State Fullerton.
“Obviously we are disappointed. We all love competing and playing this game. It’s important to us. It’s a big part of our lives and who we are and that’s been taken away and so it hurts … a lot,” UC Davis coach Dan Conners told VBM. “It was incredibly difficult to tell the team. They were upset, some cried. I feel bad for the seniors. They’ve worked so hard and contributed so much and it just ended for them abruptly.”
The Big West had three teams in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Hawai’i won its first two matches before losing to Nebraska in the regional semifinals. Cal Poly and UCSB also won first-round matches before getting knocked out, Cal Poly to eventual-champion Stanford and UCSB to Texas.
“We all knew that this was a possibility this year,” Conners continued. ” I understand that the Big West board of directors has to make the best decision they can even if it upsets people. Leadership is incredibly difficult because you can’t please everyone. I’m glad that they are making the health and well-being of the student-athletes and coaches a priority. That’s important and I know that this was not an easy decision. “
“We are very disappointed to hear of the cancellation of a season in the spring,” Long Beach State coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer told VBM. “I feel for our student-athletes who have missed so much already.
“We told them it’s OK to be upset now, but then we must move on. As athletes what we learn from sport is resilience and perseverance. We will find ways to progress and get ready to compete next fall. Our focus is on the things we can control and we will come out charging again.”
“Our players were looking forward to UCSD’s first year in the Big West and competing against all the great teams in the conference so everyone’s very disappointed the season has been canceled,” UCSD coach Ricci Luyties said.
“We also understand that it’s for the safety of the athletes and we support that 100% but it’s still devastating to lose a year of competition when there’s so few as a collegiate athlete.”
Hawai’i, which went 26-4 in 2019, won the league title with a 14-2 record. Cal Poly was a game back at 13-3 and UCSB was a game behind the Mustangs at 12-4.
“We hope to still have a traditional spring season and get the green light to play those four competition dates,” Luyties said. “At least then the players will have something to look forward to athletically finishing out the school year.”
CSU Bakersfield coach Giovana Melo figured it was time to look ahead.
“We are extremely saddened with the Big West decision to cancel fall sports, but we understand the health and safety of our student-athletes is the main priority,” Melo said. “I feel for our athletes, especially our two seniors who have a future career ahead of them and might not be able to use their extra year of eligibility. However, we are blessed that in our CSUB Volleyball program our players have the opportunity to play beach volleyball as well, so now we shift our focus to the future and prepare for a beach volleyball season.”