WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Changes in MAC tournament could be coming

MAC officials to decide changes in format, venue of tournament

Change appears to be certain for women's volleyball in the Mid-American Conference.

"I just came from MAC meetings about volleyball," Ball State athletic director Tom Collins said on Wednesday. "Someone else has made a bid on the site. The SeaGate Centre has had a good run."

It is unclear which city and venue made a bid to replace the SeaGate Centre, a convention center in Toledo, Ohio, that has served as one of the six MAC championship neutral sites across all sports.

Jeff Bacon, assistant commissioner for championships and sport programs, said via e-mail Sunday morning that the MAC evaluates neutral-site tournaments every two to six years.

"The venues for these championships are solicited by our office and then vetted and approved by the membership," he said.

The current timetable for changes is unknown. Bacon said in the past the MAC has used a 12- to 24-month timetable for changing a venue.

Ball State coach Steve Shondell was outspoken about the negatives of the current location and format of the MAC Tournament after a loss to Toledo in November when his team was the top seed in the tournament.

"It's just very unfair for a conference champion to win the league and still have to put everything on the line after two months of hard work and winning the regular season," he said. "I don't care who [the regular-season champion is]; they earn the right to be rewarded.

"This year, we had to play an away match in this year's tournament. Other teams have faced it in the past."

Northern Illinois coach Ray Gooden said the discussions covered a lot of ground.

"Everything is up for discussion right now," he said. "The site and the structure have been discussed. I'm pretty confident that the current format of the tournament will be changed."

Gooden did not elaborate on what kind of changes were discussed or expected. He noted the idea of ending the tournament altogether was discussed.

"I'd be in favor of a true neutral site, the regular-season champion hosting or ending the tournament and relying on the standings after a round-robin conference schedule," Shondell said.

Many conferences have made changes to their volleyball tournaments in the past. Even the MAC has made changes to the tournament in the past with formats allowing the regular season champion to be the host. The MAC has also limited the number of teams eligible for the conference tournament in previous formats.

Balancing all the factors of lodging, cost, accessibility for fans and teams, facilities and atmosphere can be difficult. All the factors affect attendance at the most important matches of the season.

Most of the quarterfinal matches in the MAC Tournament in November had 250 people listed in attendance. The championship had 1,250 fans.

"The bottom line is making the student athlete experience the best we can," Alfreeda Goff, senior associate commisioner of the Horizon League, said. "Not all our student athletes are going to experience the NCAA Tournament so we have to make the conference tournament experience the best we can."

The Atlantic Coast Conference is among several conferences that do not have a tournament. If the MAC relied on regular-season standings, Ball State would have earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Shondell's thoughts matched the ideas proposed in the current round of talks by the MAC. It is unclear how far along discussions progressed. Collins said no decisions would be announced until May.

With talks of a new format, location and venue, there is a lot on the line for the student athletes. The issues aren't lost on Collins.

"I won't make any kind of decision without talking to my staff and Steve," he said. "I'd rely heavily on Steve in giving our opinion for Ball State. He knows what would work best and be the best fit for our student-athletes."



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