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What does the Big Ten’s expansion mean for volleyball?

Two traditional powers join an already loaded conference. What’s not to like?

NCAA women’s volleyball championships Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Throughout the rest of the summer, we here at B5Q will be taking a look at how the future additions of UCLA and USC will affect the other sports in the Big Ten besides football. First up, Bremen talks California volleyball!

In case you have been living under a rock the past few weeks, the world of college athletics was totally shaken up, and a new world order is coming to the sport. That’s right, college players can now be paid for their name, image and *taps ear mic* I’m sorry I’m getting word that was last year’s major shake up.

No, the map of college athletics looks differently as the Big Ten will add two schools from California to the conference in USC and UCLA in 2024.

Although the move is clearly made not to make sense geographically, but to make a whole lot of money for the Big Ten and a certain LA-based media group that covers the Big Ten (what a coincidence!), it also was clearly a move totally based around the sport of football, without much regard for what will happen to other sports.

As I have covered the women’s volleyball beat in the past, I will take a look and hypothesize what this move could do for Big Ten volleyball and its programs, but specifically the defending conference and national champion Wisconsin Badgers.

The competition is even tougher

As the Big Ten adds USC and UCLA, they gain two traditional powerhouses for women’s volleyball, providing the conference season with even more blue bloods of the sport.

USC won the first ever NCAA-sponsored women’s volleyball championship way back in 1981. The Trojans then won its second title in 2002 before repeating in 2003 and going an undefeated 35-0 during the season by beating Florida 3-1 in the final. USC returned to the Final Four in 2004, by upsetting then No. 1 Nebraska before losing to Minnesota. The Women of Troy also returned to the Final Four in 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the Bruins were the Trojans’ opponent in the first ever national title game back in 1981, and won four national titles (1984, 1990, 1991 and 2011) themselves. UCLA has made 11 Final Fours during their storied history.

USC has been on a bit of a slide recently, going a disappointing 15-15 last season, while UCLA made it to the NCAA Tournament with a 25-6 record before losing to Wisconsin. Putting these historic and successful programs in an already loaded Big Ten will undoubtedly bring the competition up a notch.

Scheduling…not as awful as it could be

While most of the non-football teams will face much more grueling travel experiences — I’m thinking of J.J.’s college soccer that often plays weeknight games in two different cities — the set up for most of women’s volleyball scheduling will make it more manageable with the west coast additions.

Obviously, the costs will greatly increase for a school like Rutgers, who will need to get all the way across the country to LA for road games against the Trojans and Bruins, most volleyball schedules are built around weekend competitions, with two matches over a few days.

That means, midwestern teams can swing an LA road trip without needing to go to a different city. The Badgers could play the Bruins in Pauley on a Friday and take on the Trojans in the Galen Center on Saturday.

Galen Center Hosts First Event
The Galen Center was opened in 2006 and also hosts the Trojans two hoops teams and their men’s volleyball team.
Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images

Honestly, the teams who will face the most hardship for traveling will be the LA schools, but volleyball teams often travel long ways for non-conference tournaments anyways. Last year, for example, UCLA started out the season with a weekend tournament in Logan, Utah and Honolulu, Hawaii, where they played three matches there.

The players might be adding more mileage and jet lag, but it won’t be as unusual of a circumstance as it would be for other sports programs.

Expanding the recruiting footprint

As much as we chat and holler on Twitter about Wisconsin being a volleyball school, the west coast has owned college volleyball otherwise for most of the history of the NCAA-backed tournament.

Of the 12 schools who won an indoor women’s volleyball championship, five of the schools were from California, and, as mentioned, the Big Ten now adds two of them. Additionally, as you may expect, UCLA and USC dominated the beach volleyball side of things.

There is a lot of volleyball talent in California, and with top prep players looking to play in the toughest competition, it could mean that more players from the Golden State make their way to the Midwest in recruiting.

2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship
USC beat UCLA 3-1 to win the 2021 Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship.
Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Nebraska already has a strong tradition of getting California-natives into their roster. Wisconsin already has a commitment in the 2024 class for the top setter in the country in Charlie Fuerbringer, who is from Southern California. Now, along with playing for the nation’s best, she can have the perk of playing some conference games in her home state.

While powerhouses like Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin already recruit nationally (and internationally), this could mean other schools in the middle class like Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern can add higher quality players from the west coast. That should be a boon for the overall competition level as well.

Overall verdict

Although this decision was made for football and dollar sign reasons, this should be a fantastic move that boosts the best volleyball conference even more. Especially because it would weaken probably the closest rival for that title in the Pac-12, who traditionally has dominated the sport.

This is exciting news for Wisconsin volleyball fans, even if it might kill college athletics (dang Drew, why you being a downer?).