Division II and Division III approved sand volleyball as a championship Saturday at the 2015 NCAA Convention, allowing it to advance from the emerging sports for women list to become a full-fledged NCAA championship in spring 2016.

Sand volleyball, which was approved to become a championship by Division I in October, will be the 90th NCAA championship.

Plans are in place to put together a six-person sand volleyball committee by late February or early March, which will set parameters for selection, bracketing and seeding for the national collegiate championship.

CHAMPIONSHIP-SPORT STATUS
To achieve championship-sport status, emerging sports must gain at least 40 varsity NCAA programs for individual and team sports (except in Division III, where 28 varsity programs are required for team sports) within 10 years or show steady progress toward that goal. Institutions are allowed to use emerging sports to help meet minimum sports-sponsorship requirements. Division I and Division II schools can use emerging sports to meet minimum financial aid requirements as well. Women’s ice hockey, women’s bowling, women’s water polo and women’s rowing are examples of sports that successfully achieved championship status after starting out as emerging sports.

The NCAA hopes to identify host sites for this new championship by fall 2015. It is anticipated that the championship will occur in early May each year.

“We are thrilled to have sand volleyball as the next NCAA championship,” said Damani Leech, managing director of NCAA championships and alliances. “The sport is growing rapidly across our membership, as well as at the professional and Olympic levels. We look forward to helping steward the continued growth of this sport and provide deserving student-athletes a tremendous championship experience.”

The championship will have an eight-team bracket that will be played in a double-elimination format.

Teams will consist of five pairs of players. The first team to win three of the five matches is the winner, which is similar to how team champions are decided in men’s and women’s tennis. However, unlike tennis, in which national individual champions are crowned in singles and doubles, the NCAA does not plan to name individual or pair champions in sand volleyball.

In 2009, Division I and Division II members named sand volleyball an emerging sport for women , supported by the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics. The American Volleyball Coaches Association has conducted a collegiate sand volleyball tournament since 2012 and will continue to do so until the NCAA championship begins in 2016.

Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, expects growth in the sport to escalate now that it is an NCAA Championship.

“People are telling us that they are considering adding sand volleyball,” DeBoer said. “We’ve talked to people in the last week from Alaska, Wyoming and Nebraska. Once the NCAA adds a sport as a championship, it legitimizes the sport. Now people will look at it as something that is here to stay.”

The timing of sand volleyball being added as an NCAA championship next spring is also a positive.

“This vote comes at the perfect time for us to celebrate the NCAA’s first sand championship event in 2016 as we prepare to send Team USA to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” said Lori Okimura, chair of the USA Volleyball Board of Directors.

Donald Sun, the Association for Volleyball Professionals managing partner added: “The popularity of sand volleyball continues to grow all across the country, and this vote is a testament to the recognition the sport has garnered, and truly deserves. … We hope that our continued support and presence provides an aspirational platform and outlet for the future growth of NCAA sand volleyball competition and the development of tomorrow’s pros and Olympians.”

The NCAA emerging sports for women program was developed in the mid-1990s when the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force recommended identifying sports that have the potential to grow participation opportunities for women and are of interest to NCAA schools and their communities. The ultimate goal is for the identified sports to become NCAA championship sports.

Sand volleyball is the fastest-growing NCAA sport with 50 schools sponsoring it as of January 2015. NCAA rules require 40 sponsoring institutions to request an NCAA championship. Data shows that on average, 60 percent of participants at a sponsoring school participate only in sand volleyball, not in both sand and indoor volleyball.

Schools are allowed to use emerging sports to help meet minimum sports-sponsorship requirements. Division I and Division II schools can use emerging sports to meet minimum financial-aid requirements as well. Women’s ice hockey, women’s bowling, women’s water polo and women’s rowing are examples of sports that successfully achieved championship status after starting out as emerging sports.