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Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach John Cook talks with his assistant coaches during game timeout
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

John Cook Supports AVCA’s Pushback Against NCAA

June 02, 2022

Recently, the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) filed a waiver request to the NCAA seeking relief from legislation that is creating Title IX Violations at Division I schools with football programs across the country.

The violations relate to unequal preseason practice time for women’s volleyball programs compared to men’s programs like football, and Coach John Cook said he’s happy to see the AVCA pushing back.

“I’m just glad the AVCA is starting to step up a little bit,” Cook told Hail Varsity. “Volleyball is the number one fastest growing sport for women, it’s the most popular sport for women, and we’re getting huge TV ratings. We’re selling out Final Fours, but we’re still treated like we were 30 years ago. And that’s the bottom line. I think the AVCA is making a stand and I respect and admire that they have the wherewithal to do that.”

The Division I Council passed a proposal at its May 18 meeting allowing 31 days of preseason practice for football programs. Women’s volleyball programs, on the other hand, will get 17 days to squeeze in their preseason practices.

“We start before football, and women’s soccer starts before we do, and we basically get 17 days of practice,” Cook said. “Football gets a month of official practice before they play. Soccer gets even less than we do; I’m not sure what their numbers are, but they start a week and then play. Well, how are you supposed to prepare a team? Then you look at basketball, they get two months to prepare in the fall before they even play. We get 17 days to prepare before we play our first match and our season’s condensed into one semester. So it would make a lot more sense if you had volleyball and soccer having the opportunity to train in the summer. Basketball really doesn’t even need it. They can get ready in the fall. 

“So the AVCA is sending a message. First of all, it’s a Title IX violation. For the student-athletes, they should have the opportunity if they want to be able to train with coaches, supervised, during the summer eight hours a week and to prepare for the season. I think even in soccer it’s more important because you see a lot of injuries in soccer because they’re just not prepared to start playing soccer games. So they really can use more prep time.”

Currently, volleyball coaches are prohibited from working with their players during the summer, whereas other sports like football and basketball get up to eight hours per week for countable athletically related activities. At the May 18 meeting, the Division I Council failed to act on legislation that would have granted access for volleyball players to coaching and funding during the summer.

“This is what they’ll say: the student-athletes don’t want it,” Cook said. “Football has it and basketball has it, but volleyball doesn’t? I’m not sure I buy that. Some schools don’t pay for their athletes to come in in the summer, now you’ve got to pay for athletes to come in. At Nebraska, they’re already here. They go to summer school. So for us, it’s no big deal. But the other thing is now you have these open practices that the players run. They come in on their own, so how safe is that? Would you let football go out there and scrimmage with no coach, let them go out there and go? It would be a chance to work and prepare for the season and prepare a little bit better than currently what we have now. One, it’s a Title IX inequality and two, from a health and safety standpoint, it would be nice to be able to spend some time with our players.”

Cook said the lack of offseason time with the coaches hurts young players in particular.

“Volleyball plays a lot of freshmen,” Cook said. “So freshmen get 17 days and then they go. A lot of football freshmen don’t even play because they redshirt. Soccer, same thing — they play a lot of freshmen because we don’t have the number of scholarships that football or basketball have. So we’re really not giving the freshmen a chance to really prepare. And what makes it even harder is there are a lot of big matches early on, and the NCAA committee will go back and say, ‘Well, if you would have won that match, or you could have won that match, or you lost that match.’ Well, you see a lot of upsets early on.”

Cook said he believes the current offseason calendar hurts both student-athletes and the overall product on the court early in the season. Some coaches may feel the need to push their student-athletes, perhaps more than they should, in order to take advantage as best they can of their brief time together leading up to the season.

“I think the first thing is preparing the players to play good volleyball, to have enough time to prepare,” Cook said. “Remember, that 17 days includes Sundays. You’re not practicing seven days a week. So your practice opportunities are limited and that’s why a lot of coaches feel like they have to do two-a-days, or some coaches do three-a-days, because you only have so much time and you’ve got to take some days off in there. What if you’re in school? You can only practice once; some people are already starting school about then. So I think where it shows is preparing freshmen, preparing your team to play high level.” 

Ultimately, Cook believes an offseason calendar similar to football’s would be fair and reasonable, but at the very least he’d like to see either the preseason practice block expanding or more opportunities to work with the players during the summer.

“Personally, I would like the way football does it, you get a month or even a shorter month, or the opportunity to work with them in the summer,” Cook said. “So, like, we have players down there today and they’re on their own. They just got back, they’re going down there and playing and they’re on their own. So there’s nobody watching, they’re on their own, it’s an open gym. They’re called captain’s practices. It would be nice if we could have eight hours a week where you can work with players, develop them and coach them. Instead we get this short window and then we’re playing, so the development’s tough. Everybody pretty much finishes at the end of April unless you’re a quarters school, then you might go into early June. So they’ve got this long break before you’re starting up.”

While the NCAA itself isn’t subject to Title IX, the individual campuses are beholden to the law, and the AVCA believes that these schools abiding by the NCAA’s limitations on offseason work and preseason practice for women’s volleyball puts them in violation of the law passed in order to provide equal opportunities for student-athletes regardless of gender. 

Cook said he can’t recall an instance like this previously where the AVCA has filed a waiver to the NCAA on behalf of the entire sport, and he doesn’t have any insight into where things go from here. The AVCA’s waiver request is seeking to suspend the 17-day limitation on preseason training until the creation of a new model that is Title IX compliant, and they’re also pushing for the Council to act on the legislation that already exists for more offseason work.

“Female volleyball student-athletes are being cheated out of an opportunity to prepare for their season, and football-playing institutions are at risk regarding Title IX,” AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer said in the release. “On behalf of our coaches, student-athletes, and institutions we are asking for relief from these discriminatory rules.”

The Division I Council will meet again in mid-June, though Cook said the major agenda item he expects to be put to a vote is one adjusting the in-season calendar with the goal of expanding the window for matches, thereby allowing teams to spread out matches a bit more and not have to play multiples matches in a single day like we see with nonconference tournaments.

“We’re trying to get this 30-game or 32-game schedule passed, because this is why teams feel like they’ve got to play three matches in a weekend or sometimes four matches in weekend, because your preseason is so short,” Cook said. “We’re the only sport that is playing two matches a day. Baseball and softball sometimes play double-headers, but we’re doing it on 17 days of prep going into tournaments where we’re playing three matches in 24 hours. If we did that type of training we’d probably be fired because we’re overtraining our athletes. But we’re going go make them play? So that’s why we’re trying to get away from these two-in-a-day tournaments. And this year in our nonconference, we just have the first week and then after that we play single matches.”

For the time being, Cook is moving forward as if nothing will change this offseason. The coaching staff will prepare to pack in as much teaching and training as they can without burning out the student-athletes in those 17 days leading up to the season-opener in late August, and until then the players are on their own. Even so, Cook said he appreciates the AVCA’s effort.

“The AVCA is calling the bluff on the NCAA and their excuses all the time,” Cook said. “So it’s great. 

“I love it.”

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