There have been so many questions surrounding 2020 NCAA fall sports, including DI women's volleyball. We're here to help.
First, a quick summary of what we know for this season, as of now:
- There will be a championship, but it will be awarded in April 2021.
- The ACC, Big 12, SEC and Sun Belt conferences are playing or plan to play conferences matches in the fall. The Big 12 and Sun Belt have plans to have a conference champion in the fall.
- Of the 32 conferences, almost all plan on crowning conference champions in the spring. The same season just at a different time. The regular season goes from Jan. 22 to April 3. Selections will be April 4.
- There will be a 48-team bracket.
- The final site of the NCAA tournament is scheduled for April 22-24. The location is still being finalized, as of Oct. 1.
- Both teams that played in the fall and spring will be considered for the NCAA tournament field.
But how will all of this work? What does it mean? T.J. Meagher, chair of the DI NCAA Women's Volleyball Committee, and Kristin Fasbender, NCAA Director of Championships and Alliances, sat down to discuss the current state of the 2020 season.
Here are some answers to questions you might have:
How is the season going to work?
There are four conferences that are playing conferences matches this fall: the Big 12, Sun Belt, ACC and SEC. The ACC, which has started matches, split its conference into three five-team pods, where teams will play others in their pod twice for eight matches total this fall. There will also be no separate standings for the pods, just the overall standings. The ACC confirmed on Oct. 2 that no decisions have been made yet as to a spring schedule or the automatic qualification for the NCAA tournament. The SEC is planning on an eight-match, conference-only schedule this fall that will start Oct. 16. Of the four conferences playing this fall, only two of them, the Big 12 and Sun Belt, have specific plans right now on crowning a conference champion before spring. The Big 12's champion this fall will receive the AQ to the tournament. Some Sun Belt teams have also played opponents from other conferences this fall. The Sun Belt conference tournament is scheduled for November.
Will teams playing in the fall also play in the spring?
Both the ACC and SEC have not made decisions about a specific spring schedule, though the SEC announced teams "will participate in spring competition as well." These conferences' fall matches count toward determining a champion. The fall results are expected to be combined with spring matches to determine the conference champion.
Meagher added that the Big 12 and Sun Belt have the ability to play matches this spring based on expected available capacity in the NCAA limit of playable dates. But, this fall season should result in a conference champion and the designation of the automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament.
How will the field be put together?
Besides the 32 automatic qualifiers, there will 16 at-large teams for this season's 48-team bracket. The at-large part is a huge question considering some of the top programs in the country might not face off head-to-head. So how will the tournament field be chosen?
"We have always had our traditional criteria that we evaluate, a program's resume as it relates to getting an at-large bid," Meagher said. "Obviously automatic bids are awarded by the conference as who they determine to be their conference champion. So our focus is really on those that have not won their conference, but have put together a season that merits a spot in the tournament.
"It is certainly going to be challenge because we are not quite clear what schedules will look like this spring and we have been pretty candid about that. It is hard to ask us what it's going to look like when we don't actually know what parts we have to assemble. But we do feel comfortable that teams are going to have a worthy opportunity this spring to play some outside competition, meaning outside of their conference, and it is really on the committee to give it our best effort to determine the teams that have earned an opportunity to represent their schools in the tournament."
While there is the DI women's volleyball committee that is made up of 10 people, there are also regional advisory committees. There are five regions, and each of those are made up of coaches that make up the conferences within those regions. They are the ones playing teams and seeing teams every week. Conversations are always had between the committee and the regional advisory committees, but that is going to be even more important than normally this year due to the regionality that is likely to occur, according to Fasbender.
So how will they consider the fact some of the top teams in the country might not face each other?
Regional competition will hopefully help when it comes to seeing different teams meet outside conference play.
"That is not going to be an easy one to deal with, that is for sure," Meagher said. "There is a strong likelihood we wont see anything like that this spring."
Regional competition might be a more popular option in the spring, depending on the state of the virus and the pandemic in the spring. The committee has urged coaches and programs to do what they can to put together a meaningful season for their players, especially those that will be suiting up for the last time this season.
What about the championship?
"There's a lot of puzzle pieces to put together, things that we probably haven't even thought of quite yet," Fasbender said.
But, there is going to be a tournament. Championship selections are scheduled for April 4, with the final site set April 23-25.
"We are still finalizing the location for the championship," Fasbender said. "Omaha was scheduled to host us in December, and that is definitely part of our conversation right now."