Coach John Cook was hopeful that volleyball would start a little later in the spring after being postponed from fall—he even had a plan mapped out—but the NCAA Division I Council had other plans. The council approved a start date for the volleyball season that begins in January 2021.
Regular season will begin Jan. 22 and run through April 10. From there, the volleyball championships will take place April 23-25, with a 48-team bracket. That includes 32 automatic qualifiers, with 16 at-large selections. The normal bracket size is 64.
“The goal was to go a little bit later to try to avoid March Madness,” Cook said during a Zoom call with reporters on Friday. “So we could have started third week of February, get things going during March Madness and then have April and May where it’s full-time volleyball and the other spring sports and just stay away from that. Not necessarily for the Big Ten because everybody in the Big Ten now has their own facility—even Iowa was the last one, they have a new facility they’re playing in—so we don’t have any conflicts. But if you look at the other Division I programs, a lot of them are going to have conflicts for gym time and practice time and so on. So that was our intent of moving it later.
“Then selfishly, I thought what would be really cool is you could have Big Ten baseball in Omaha, go Final For volleyball in Omaha, USA swimming in Omaha and then the College World Series. So for about six weeks Omaha could be the Amateur capital of the world.”
Speaking of Omaha, the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship was originally scheduled to be played in Omaha this December. The NCAA’s decision to postpone fall sports championships, , with FBS football as the exception, had the opportunity to change that. However, it sounds like Omaha may still be on the table after all.
“I’ve heard Omaha is good to go,” Cook said. “I’ve been checking in with them to make sure with all these date changes. Omaha’s good to go, it wants it, it works out for them. I think the NCAA has indicated that it would like to have it in Omaha. I’ve seen the bracket for 48 teams — it’s a little bit different, not everybody’s going to be playing the first match, the first night. They’ll have some bye teams. How they’re going to do that and where they’re going to do that has not been figured out yet.
“If you follow the NCAA, they’re going to be meeting to talk about how they want to do this.”
While Cook will keep an eye on it, he’s more focused on his team now. After all, the Big Ten’s focus has now been shifted to football. Volleyball’s schedule will be figured out later. Some of the work had been done in the summer, but now it’s time to see how the fall plays out.
However, Cook did say that coaches have been lobbying for an 11-week, 22-match Big Ten season.
“We feel like that level of competition will prepare you for the NCAA Tournament and being able to play with any other conference or team in the country,” he said.
Cook is also now worried about playing two seasons in one calendar year. Players typically play year-round anyway, so it’s more important just to get them back on a schedule. Players even expressed relief once the news came out from the NCAA.
“A player told me this morning that she feels like all stress is gone,” Cook said. “This is my fault. We’re very routine in everything that we do, like to be on a schedule, like to be in a routine. All that has been taken away for the last several months. So that’s created stress for them, and us not being together and not knowing when it was going to happen. I feel one of my jobs is as a head coach — and everybody asks ‘How do you keep them together, how do you keep them motivated?’ I tried to keep them in the loop as much as I knew and predicting what would happen ahead before they would hear it in the media or on Twitter or whatever. So I’ve been really trying to explain to them the process, what’s going on, how they’re making decisions, what it’s going to look like and where we’re moving. I’ve been pretty accurate on predictions I guess if you want to call it that, so I think that’s helped them get through it.
“But I think there’s a huge relief right now — ‘OK, now we know, here we go.’ I immediately saw a change in the weight room. Just with their demeanor, their attitude, their energy, their excitement to be there immediately just changed when we had a plan.”
Nebraska is now lifting six hours and spending two hours in the gym per week. That will change later in October and ramp up into 20 hours of training per week. Cook doesn’t want to do too much too early, because he knows it’ll be a grind between now and January with only a short holiday break before the players have to get back at it.
With plenty yet to be determined, it’s a step toward normal for Nebraska volleyball.