By Karina Rajtar
Fans who watched the Saint Mary’s University volleyball team play in their Sugarloaf Classic tournament or against Winona State earlier this month may have noticed some changes from how the game has been played in the past.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has implemented three key rule changes, effective this season. Games are now played to 25 points instead of 30, ball handling calls are more lenient, and teams have 12 substitutions, as opposed to the previous 15. The changes are intended to increase match intensity and reduce stoppages due to imperfect ball contacts, according to the NCAA website.
SMU head volleyball coach Mike Lester, along with most Division II and Division III coaches, disagrees with the changes, thinking they limit playing opportunities for the student athletes.
“People want to play,” said Lester, who maintains that one of the basic premises of Division III athletics is to provide students with chances to play and improve. He said that removing five points from each game cuts the season by 16.7 percent. Lester does not believe that removing points significantly changes the intensity during a game. “There is just as much excitement at point 15 as point 30,” he said. He does believe that every point seems more important and that the matches go much quicker this year.
The new, more lenient ball handling calls prevent officials from stopping play for an imperfect set or contact. Only the most obvious lifts and double-contacts are called. The hope is that this rule will increase actual playing time during a game.
The decrease in substitutions affects how many players have a chance to play in any given game. Although the proportion of substitutions to game length has not changed much, Lester said that it could have a psychological impact on the players on the team.
Despite his concerns, Lester remained optimistic coming into this season. “Hopefully it makes the game better,” Lester said. “Whatever the rules are, we’re going to step on the floor and play.”