Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sub, please!

The road to Conway and beyond began today.  The schedule Coach Humphreys sent me last week indicates a two-a-day schedule with hitters and DS's beginning this morning bright and early at 8:00 followed by blockers and setters at 10:00.  Then, a collective team practice at 3:30.  I didn't check in on any of that as I was recovering from a business trip to Austin, but I plan to drop in tomorrow as the same schedule is on the docket for Thursday.  Also, I am very much looking forward to my conversation with Allison Gideon scheduled in the early afternoon.  I'll bring you the story of what she is about to embark on this weekend after we get a chance to chat.

As teams all around the country begin to get into the swing of things, they'll be playing the 2012 season under a few NCAA rule changes.  I want to take this post to make you aware of a few changes that you'll see when you begin to attend matches this year.  By far, the rule change with the most impact is the expansion to allow for 15 substitutions per set.  This is an increase of three per set as the rules had allowed for 12 subs per set for the last several years.  The NCAA surveyed coaches around the country about this issue, and the majority of responses indicated that an increase in allowable subs was desirable.

Back in July, I sat down with Debbie Humphreys and at one point ask her about this.  She had two really interesting comments - both concepts that I hadn't really thought about.  First, this new sub rule allows way more flexibility for clubs running a 6-2 offense.  In the past, with 12 subs, a team running two setters had basically enough substitutions to run the offense, but little flexibility other than those subs natural to the two setter structure.  Now, a team can run the 6-2 and also have some measure of flexibility to sub in other DS types or other players as needed.  One wonders if this might encourage more multiple setter offenses this year.  We'll have to watch for that. 

Secondly, and I think more interestingly, Humphreys claims that it may actually decrease end of set strategy utilized by coaches.  In the past, coaches had to be strong managers as they got close to double digit subs late in the set.  If a team couldn't close out a set with the optimal lineups on the floor, then they might be forced into playing a lineup that wasn't as desirable because either they were maxed out on subs or were about to be.  Now, with 15 subs rather than 12, there is an increased chance of being able to use the exact player alignment that a coach would desire - even in tight sets that possibly go extra points.  I thought this was an interesting perspective.

The main reason for the sub rule change - at least claimed by the NCAA - is to allow for more players to actually see the court.  Increased playing opportunities is the main driving force here.  Through one lens, that certainly appears to be a good thing.  But taking Humphreys' comments into consideration, it is at least possible that increased playing opportunities will be counter balanced by less end of set strategy.  An interesting dual, if you ask me.

One other rule change that fans may actually appreciate is that now, the 2nd referee (down ref) will mimic the hand signals of the chair referee except on net serves (which are obvious to onlookers).  This should allow for more clarity at the media table and in the stands when it comes to blocking errors, over net violations and even quicker understanding of who won a particular point.  The rationale here is that the tempo of the match will be more consistent and that all involved in the match will be more clear - or achieve that clarity more quickly while the ball is out of play.  Some down refs tend to mimic the up ref anyway, but this rule will require it.  The place where I see this helping the most is when it comes to clarity on which team is serving next (i.e., I can choose either ref to look at before making announcements, rather than focusing on the up ref all the time... this is turn informs fans quicker of the result of a play).  Also, this will help with understanding who was involved in a blocking error since often times there is common confusion as to "who was in the net".  Coaches often ask this of the down ref anyway since coaches are close to them, and blocking errors must be statistically matched to players in official NCAA boxscores, so the official scorer gets a clearer explanation here.

Another rule change that doesn't affect play, but does provide more information to coaches is that now statistical in-match data may be transferred by electronic device to the bench from anywhere in the arena.  Fans will probably begin to see monitors at the end of the media tables facing each bench that are transmitting in-game box scores in real time to the bench.  Any of you that have attended college basketball games in the last several years may have already seen how this works in that sport.  A few schools that I have travelled to have used these monitors for volleyball, but very few.  Currently, you see media staff running paper box scores - sometimes at every timeout - to each bench.  This often involves a fair amount of chaos.  This is reduced now by just pumping the statistical data directly from the official scorer to the monitor that is facing the bench.  I am hoping that when I travel to away games these monitors will be available at the media tables, or that I can sit at the far end of the media table and essentially be in view of a bench monitor.  That way, during live chats, I can give real time stat totals to those of you that are following along in the chat.

Going back to on court issues and referees, another rule change shifts all PLAYER (not ball) line violation responsibility to referees and not line judges.  In other words, referees will be solely responsible for all positional faults.  The line judges may inform referees about rotational error issues, but the way the rule reads now, referees are solely responsible for foot faults and faults involving players positioning themselves in bounds at serve.  Now, such violations are uncommon, but I'll need clarification on this once the season starts.  It seems odd that a line judge wouldn't have jurisdiction over a foot fault at service, but the way the rule reads, now the referees have sole judgement here.

There are a few other minor rule changes or clarifications, but none that affect play to the level of being worth writing up in detail.  However, oddly enough, there was a rule clarification issued by the NCAA that directly affects public address announcers (yikes!).  Rule now states that PA announcers must cease all talking when the lead referee prepares to authorize service.  I can't say I have been 100% perfect across six seasons on this point, but I will say that I know most of the referees that come to Shelton Gym and I have regularly had conversation with them about this point before a match begins.  Without question, a PA announcer should not influence concentration by the server, so to be absolutely sure that this doesn't happen, we almost always try and be silent as the whistle is being blown to initiate service.  I'll be more aware of this during 2012, but it's a policy I've been following for the most part, so I doubt it affects my ability to get information out between points.

And.. finally toward the entire concept of "announcing and getting information out"... yes, a new sound system is scheduled for Shelton Gym.  I went over there Tuesday night and saw no evidence of any work being done yet.  One date I did hear for installation involved this week.  So maybe we are down to "any day now".  That'd be great, 'cause as loud as it can get in there, once we get a new sound system installed, the roof might literally blow off the joint.  That'd be cool.

Look for updates from practices, player previews and other news from around the league in coming days.  But first, check back here over the weekend for the interview with Allison Gideon.  I am really excited about getting her story published here.  I think you'll enjoy reading about her upcoming opportunities.