Daniel Sipocz

Nothing evokes questions, concerns or fear like change.

Change is exactly what women's volleyball is facing in the Mid-American Conference. The conference and school officials have begun discussions regarding the future of the tournament and how to ensure postseason play for as many teams as possible.

While the MAC considers suggestions made at last week's meetings, another conference has completed an alteration to its women's volleyball tournament.

"Change scares people," said Alfreeda Goff, senior associate commissioner of the Horizon League. "But change leads to improvement."

The Horizon League found itself in a similar situation as the MAC two years ago. The conference was having solid competition, but the student-athlete experience was lacking. It was time for a change.

Six months of meetings between athletic directors and school officials allowed the Horizon League to settle on a format that rewarded regular-season success.

The regular-season champion earned the right to host the six-team tournament. The top two seeds earned first-round byes. The lowest remaining seed from the first-round matches would play the top seed in the semifinals.

A format similar to the Horizon League's is something Ball State coach Steve Shondell would love to see in the MAC Tournament. Shondell has been outspoken about the regular-season champion deserving to be rewarded.

"There's not many teams that can play its best volleyball on three straight days on the road to win a conference tournament," Shondell said. "It's just unfair that a regular-season champion would have to go through that."

The Horizon League tried its new format on a one-year trial. It received mixed reviews among coaches and administrators. The limited number of qualifying teams rubbed them the wrong way.

The athletes praised the changes and led the Horizon League to implement the format full time in 2010.

"We use on-campus exit interviews with all our student-athletes and online surveys to get feedback from everyone," Goff said. "What we learned was that the student-athletes felt if they hadn't earned the right to make the tournament they didn't belong and needed to work harder to belong.

"Student-athletes said their experience was better and there was more competition for the six tournament spots."

The new format caused minimal changes to the budgets of the Horizon League or the teams participating. Goff said teams who didn't have to travel for the conference tournament invested the money into recruiting or other areas.

Northern Illinois coach Ray Gooden said the MAC needed to do a better job at building up to the tournament but acknowledged improvement over the years.

"The MAC has done a great job of focusing on improvements to our tournaments and championship games," Gooden said. "But we need a better build up to the culmination of the season for the championship games. It's something the MAC is working hard on and we appreciate that.

"We hope they continue to support us the way they have been."