Oct. 20, 2004
By Ray Dise
Special to CollegeSports.com from CVU.com
One of the greatest things I ever saw in men's collegiate volleyball is no more.
Historically it happened, but the event is now tainted.
As of October 18, 2004, the Lewis Flyers' incredible and unpredictable victory in the 2003 NCAA men's volleyball championship match, to become the first ever Division II team to win the NCAA men's volleyball title, now has an asterisk.
That asterisk will be accompanied a note that reads that Lewis has voluntarily forfeited its title.
Now, don't get me wrong, Lewis University did the right thing. It performed an investigation in close conjunction with the NCAA. It found wrongdoing, not just in volleyball, but also in track and field and baseball. And it returned, voluntarily, what it had won while competing with ineligible student-athletes. Lewis has also returned the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championship trophy it won the same year.
Hawaii had to vacate the 2002 NCAA title, and questions were raised regarding the eligibility of athletes on the 2004 NCAA champion Brigham Young squad. Add it all together and it makes you wonder if we are seeing the death throes of men's collegiate volleyball.
The question of "is men's collegiate volleyball dying?" is a can of worms in and of itself. One of the reasons is that it becomes an emotional discussion. Currently there are 316 schools that sponsor women's volleyball at the Division I level compared to 23 schools that sponsor men's volleyball at that same level.
Last season, Ball State, which has had a men's volleyball program since 1961, almost had its program eliminated. The fact that San Diego State's only NCAA title was won by its men's volleyball team did not save that program from elimination at the end of the 2000 season.
The discussion is emotional not just from the standpoint of the difference in the number of teams at the Division I level, but also because of the players at that level. There has been an influx of foreign players to the Division I men's teams, an issue that is called good by some and bad by others, and inspires heated debate.
The other sad thing in the whole discussion is that much of it can't or isn't being discussed openly.
Both the University of Hawaii and Lewis University in their releases about the infractions did not mention the who or what of the infractions. Lewis specifically cited privacy concerns in its release about the event. Many have conjectured about who the ineligible players were.
In the absence of clear information players involved, the discussion is done a disservice by continued conjecture and may impinge the reputation of those who had no part. The shroud of mystery only makes things very confusing.
When former Lewis Coach Dave Deuser resigned in May, the Lewis release did not mention any reason for the resignation, just that he had, in fact, resigned.
To add to the confusion, in cases like these, the school returns the trophy but the players keep their individual trophies. The schools, as in the case of Hawaii, are required to delete the record of the team's performance, but in the media, the list of champions would include the mention of Hawaii like this: Hawaii* (*Championship vacated by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.)
The NCAA Committee on Infractions has yet to rule in Lewis' case and Lewis could have a similar listing.
In all the confusion there are things that still ring clear. Many, like myself, enjoy watching sports for the contrast that was so clearly spoken of in the old ABC Wide World of Sports introduction which pointed out the "Thrill of Victory" and the "Agony of Defeat." When competitions are on the championship stage, that contrast is magnified.
What rings clear to me about the 2003 championship is the look on coach Deuser's face when the final ball dropped and it was clear that his underdog team had done the unexpected.
But an echo of that ringing, is that while we still want the underdog to win, we don't want to underdog to break the rules. The thrill of Lewis' victory has turned into an agony of tainted victory.
History will show that Lewis' championship is no more, and may show that men's volleyball disappeared from the college sports map -- but I hope I will always remember the good that was in men's collegiate volleyball.
Ray Dise is the editor of CVU.com and contributes a weekly volleyball notebook to CollegeSports.com.
Ray's Last Notebook
Oct. 14: Volleyball Notebook: Quick Hits Around The Top 10
Lewis' former head coach Dave Deuser