UCR Athletic Director Brian Wickstrom recently announced the athletic department’s decision to push back the proposal to replace the men’s tennis team with women’s sand volleyball to 2013. The postponement of the proposal came after Wickstrom sought public opinion from the UCR community, where the fielding of a men’s tennis team for one more year will allow seniors to play out their final year, and freshmen to re-evaluate their plans. The proposal would reportedly save the athletic department nearly $150,000 annually. The department also feels that the men’s tennis team does not draw much interest from the community, but sand volleyball team would serve the interests of the student body while saving money to improve other programs. Sand volleyball is a relatively new sport in the NCAA, having debuted just last year. The success of Team USA in the past two summer Olympics has also largely contributed to the sport’s popularity.
We at the Highlander Editorial Board support Wickstrom’s proposal because it makes sense for the university and its student body economically. According the department’s figures, the savings from implementing women’s sand volleyball outweigh the current amount of funds needed to support the men’s tennis program. The men’s tennis budget stands at $174,419 for this season. The estimated cost of a sand volleyball team is around $22,277 per season. The estimate also includes travel, as the department expects the team to compete only in California. Sand volleyball players would be recycled from the indoor volleyball team, thus no additional funds for scholarships would be required.
However, there is an initial cost of constructing three new sand volleyball courts at a price tag of $74,455. Critics claim this is a risky investment if the sand volleyball team does not work out as promised. But the same argument can be made for the men’s tennis team, which has found little success since UCR became a Division I institution in 1999. In the 2012 season, the men’s tennis team won zero matches versus Big West opponents.
UCR should stop investing money in a program that’s proven unsuccessful and instead focus on developing a new sport that’s not only cheaper but has the potential to flourish. A sand volleyball team would place UCR at the cusp of its emergence as a popular new sport; the playing field is relatively level as other universities are just starting to implement it. Rather than struggling to compete in a well-established sport like tennis, UCR can develop a fresh, new program alongside other universities. This could be our school’s chance to cultivate a competitive team from the get-go.
Sand volleyball has the potential to become a premier sport at UCR. Only a handful of teams have implemented sand volleyball into their athletic curriculum so far. Currently, CSU Long Beach, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and USC have sand volleyball teams that played last year. CSU Long Beach drew a big crowd at its first game, drawing 200 people to the match. Currently, UC Santa Barbara is the only other school in the UC system expected to field a sand volleyball team this coming season. The possibility of UCR joining the list of schools as a pioneer in the sport is a significant advantage, as the university can attempt to establish a successful program. The university could also potentially attract significant talent, as we would be one of the few universities that offer sand volleyball in the western region. This talent would not be limited to the new sport, however; sand volleyball could bolster UCR’s ability to attract traditional volleyball players as well.
Interest in sand volleyball is at an all-time high—it was one of the most watched sports at the last summer Olympics, alongside swimming, gymnastics and track. With the 2012 London Olympics coming up, sand volleyball should be provided with an additional boost of interest, especially if Team USA wins the gold.
Student response has been understandably conflicted; many are sad to see the men’s tennis team go, but many are also interested by the addition of sand volleyball. Tennis is played actively by the UCR student body. It also has a deep history at UCR, dating back to its Division II days. Tennis, despite its popularity as a student activity, is not a sport that consistently draws fans to matches. Part of this has to do with the fact that tennis is not as big of a spectator sport as sand volleyball. When play is in session during a tennis match, any noise from the audience is frowned upon. Clapping and cheering only occur at the end of every play. With several matches happening concurrently, it can also be hard to follow. Sand volleyball is a more dynamic sport that draws in the crowd with its fast-paced action.
The fact that student athletes on the men’s tennis team will not be able to continue their sport will hurt. The incoming freshmen this fall who were expecting to play on the tennis team will hurt even more. The reality is that sooner or later, if the team is indeed canceled, student athletes will be hurt. We at the Highlander Editorial Board feel that the benefits of establishing a competitive, popular and economically feasible sport such as as sand volleyball outweigh the pains of losing men’s tennis. Whether sand volleyball will be implemented or not will lie in the hands of Brian Wickstrom, but he should base his decision on what is best for UCR and its students.