Friday, April 12, 2024

Have a Year

When they announced last spring that Nebraska had taken the Florida-Wisconsin attendance record personally, we knew we had to buy tickets. They were going to play a volleyball match in Memorial Stadium, making it a celebration of volleyball in the state of Nebraska. Not only would the Huskers take on the Omaha Mavericks in a regular season match, but the UNK Lopers would take on the Wayne State Wildcats in an exhibition match. 

Now, Nebraska is a volleyball state. I'd argue it's THE Volleyball State. I remember coaching club in Colorado and every time we'd travel out of state, I hated playing a Nebraska team. I knew how good they were going to be. I did love the challenge, but Nebraska has always been a volleyball state, dating back to the Terry Pettit days (No, I won't go too in depth, because that's not really the focus of this piece). 

That passion for the sport led to the move from the Coliseum on the UNL campus to the 8000+ seat Devaney Center. Nebraska Volleyball's sellout streak is currently 303 straight matches. Nebraska is the only revenue-generating volleyball program in the country (And has been the only self-sustaining women's college sports program in the country). 

In the end, 92,003 people packed Memorial Stadium to watch that match, breaking the world record for attendance at a women's sporting event. I got to share the experience with my wife, kids, parents, and in-laws. One of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Now, I have to acknowledge that is my delineation for this year, but MAN, has women's sports had a year. I could go back to the Iowa-LSU basketball game last April and it'd be fair. It was a great game to watch, but I found myself way more engaged in this year's Women's tournament than the Men's. It was compelling and competitive.

The Women's Volleyball National Championship in 2023 moved from a Saturday night on ESPN to Sunday afternoon on ABC because they knew it'd get the eyeballs. It was up 115% over the year before, setting a record for viewers of an NCAA Volleyball match.

Headline after headline came out throughout this season about Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes breaking viewership records. According to this piece on ESPN, the South Carolina - Iowa game on Sunday averaged 18.9 million viewers, more than any single basketball game (Men's or women's, collegiate or professional) since 2019. For the first time ever, it had higher ratings than the men's game.

Yes, women's basketball and volleyball are probably the headlines, but lacrosse is getting more airtime, softball continues to take more space on ESPN and its affiliate networks. More and more people are realizing the skill and power of these athletes. 

I've always loved women's soccer, because it seemed so similar to the men's game. The athletes are incredible, but the nature of the game made it feel like the speed, power, and precision were similar between the two games. Maybe I was (and still am?) naive to the differences, but I still love watching both men's and women's soccer.

One of the complaints I hear often about high-level basketball, be it NCAA or NBA, is that it's not the same game we've grown to love. They don't call travels, and that superstars get or don't get calls that other players do or don't get. Fans complain about players and coaches griping to refs about calls.

To me, the women's game is the best of the basketball that others seem to miss. They are physical, they're passionate, they are INCREDIBLY talented, and it seems the game is officiated by the rules we're most familiar with. 

In the end, it's time for women's sports to get their due, and this year has thrust the athletes into the spotlight. Sometimes in Nebraska, I take for granted that women in sports don't get the spotlight on them. Husker Volleyball stands next to the football team and that is not the case every place. 

Maybe I am late to the party. Maybe others will tell me that it's too little too late. I'm sure there are names that others will want to call me or call me aloud, but y'all, I'm so glad to be here now, and I'll be doing a better job to pay attention going forward.