Denver can, should bring the beach to the Front Range

Title IX is starting to drive the growth of the Women’s volleyball – as well as the broad appeal of ‘the beach’ on college campuses. At DU, more than half the DI athletes are men, yet 54% of undergrads are female.

USC downed Pepperdine in Gulf Shores, Alabama to win this year’s NCAA women’s beach volleyball championship. UC Santa Barbara, Stanford, and UCLA are logical coastal participants in beach volleyball, but Missouri State, Eastern Kentucky University, and Houston Baptist have teams, too.

Why?

Women’s beach volleyball is one of the fastest growing NCAA sports and is gaining momentum every year. It took only five years to build 40 squads and introduce the NCAA’s 90th Division I national team championship (January 2015). With only three full scholarships needed, low operating cost, and the increasing ratio of women attending universities, the explosion of the sport has been reinforced by the campus gameday atmosphere.

Matches pit two players on each side and are seeded like tennis, 1 vs. 1, with five pairs of players on each team. The NCAA regulates the uniforms – no bikinis allowed.

There are practical reasons to add the sport. Schools like DU already have a women’s indoor volleyball team. Teams like Nebraska, Florida State, and Oregon have the option to develop some of their indoor players during the spring by using the outdoor game to develop and feed their indoor squads. Coaching staffs can wear both indoor and outdoor hats as well, further reducing the cost. Add the low cost of travel for a small squad, the sport offers a big bang for the buck, something Denver knows a bit about.

Finally, at risk of being repetitive, the sport would offer another opportunity to align DU’s athletic portfolio with that of the West Coast Conference. Seattle University does not offer the sport and this would give DU a leg-up on the Pilots as both programs vie for the West Coast Conference’s attention. Finally, beach volleyball venues are relatively small (and portable) with low-cost equipment. It may be the least costly Division I program a university can add.

It’s been argued here before that women’s beach volleyball would be a huge spring student spectator sport at DU, offering students another outdoor event to attend in addition to lacrosse. The city of Denver already has a beach volleyball culture. Just go to The Island in Denver or a host of other facilities and parks if you want to play or watch. Add spring sunshine, rock music, and a fast paced game and you have the ingredients to capture students’ attention.

The closest programs to Denver are Colorado Mesa University, the University of Nebraska, and the University of New Mexico – so DU could have a leg-up in local recruiting as well.

But where to play? That’s a surprisingly an easy one. For practice and matches, the east side of the Stapleton Tennis Pavilion could be converted to sand courts once Denver moves to the Denver Tennis Park at South High. Students and student-athletes could continue to use this facility for tennis (West side of the facility) and it could also be used for beach volleyball intramurals, clubs, practices, and matches. Temporary venues could be set up for gamedays at CIBER Field, Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, and a host of other locations on campus to create a great game day atmosphere. Heck, why not hold a tournament at Larimer Square! It’s no coincidence that beach volleyball has become one of the summer Olympics hottest tickets. And DU students enjoy any chance they can get to be outdoors in the spring.

Georgia State practices on tiered courts in downtown Atlanta.

Why not, DU?