Monday, December 15, 2014

NCAA | In volleyball, bad calls are part of the game

Is it time for video reviews in college volleyball?

Washington and Nebraska players plead their respective cases to the referee
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

When we were coaching, we learned a drill that made players howl.

During intense training scrimmages, we’d intentionally call a ball hit outside the lines as in, or vice versa. “No fair!” they’d scream.

Fairness is a pretty big deal for high school girls. Playing time. Equal treatment. Equal opportunity. But during an actual volleyball match, injustices can’t be debated. Bad calls happen. Deal with it and move on.

During Washington’s wrenching 3-1 NCAA Tournament loss to Nebraska, two questionable line calls--one on a serve, one on an attack--probably cost the Huskies the fourth set and, perhaps, the match. Now--and for perhaps years to come--it’s fans who are howling about  injustice.

Here’s our take.


Back in 2010, Washington beat Nebraska 3-1 in another dramatic Sweet 16 match in Seattle. Cornhuskers fans still grouse about a controversial line call, late in the fourth set, that may or may not have been wrong.

What those fans conveniently overlook was another call, just a few players earlier, that went Nebraska’s way. Replays showed that Washington should have been awarded that point.

We call it the red light phenomenon. Drive down a busy street, and you’ll surely notice whenever the traffic light turns red, adding time and frustration to your commute. Green lights are barely noticed, and quickly forgotten. By the time you’re off that street, you’ll swear you hit just about every red light, even if (as is usually the case), the red/green ratio was closer to 50/50. And even if it didn’t balance that day, over time, it does.

We’ve coached, played, watched and reported on thousands of volleyball matches in our careers, and barely a game goes by when we don’t comment, “That was a bad call. But that other bad call went the other way, didn’t it?”


You hear it from nearly every coach in nearly every sport: “We might have gotten some questionable calls tonight, but we shouldn’t have let the score get close enough that a bad call cost us the game.”


At every Pac-12 match, observers meet with officials before and afterwaeds to clarify expectations and critique performances. During NCAA Tournament matches, one or more “evaluators” sit in the arena and prepare detailed notes on the four officials’ performances. After the match, both head coaches are asked to fill out an officials evaluation form.

Officials selected for the first two rounds of the tournament are chosen by an NCAA committee from a list of nominations submitted by conferences around the country. Performance evaluations from earlier rounds are a major consideration when assignments are made for subsequent rounds.


These days, nearly every big-time sport has adopted some form of video review of certain calls. Such reviews are already in place for indoor volleyball at some major televised international competitions, like this year’s World Championships. It’s high time that major college volleyball conferences experiment with their own version.

Because one of volleyball’s strengths is the uninterrupted action--and building tension--toward the end of close sets, video reviews should be rare. We’d suggest that each coach gets no more than two challenges per match.


Our intentional bad call drill was meant to teach athletes to focus on the things they control, and ignore those they don’t. Great volleyball players concentrate only on the current point, and quickly forget that point once it’s over.

So, too, great coaches tend to mellow as their careers grow long. USC’s Mick Haley, Cal’s Rich Feller, and former UCLA head man Andy Banakowski are just three examples of coaches who readily admit they used to get far too animated by bad calls. A good coach has every right to approach the R2 (the down official at the net) for a clarification or even a brief complaint, but, in volleyball, the game should go on. If a coach loses his cool, his team is sure to follow.

Your turn. What do you think?


  1. I think the reason some commenters were advocating that Coach throw a fit over that last line call, was that sometimes the ref will relent and replay the point. We have seen that happen in the past year, although I don't know if this is something NCAA would condone.

    I agree with your proposal for video review, provided the coaches are limited to only two, and maybe lose a timeout if the call stands (as in football). It might be further limited to the final points of a set (maybe after the first team reaches 15 points) and maybe limited only to the tournament. Most of the time these errors don't really make a difference in the big picture, so the video review should be limited to those times where it might be most consequential

    1. I don't think a ref has ever changed a line call (in/out) because a coach threw a fit. The replay of a point rarely may occur if a coach points out a rule was misapplied or if play is mistakenly stopped (such as a whistle for a ball hitting the floor and a line judge with a better angle confirms that a player got a hand underneath.)

  2. Yes there were some very questionable calls in that 4th game, but if the Huskies had not put themselves in the position of down 1-2, it would not have made a difference.

    The real kicker with bad calls is when they happen in a game. Just like runs, for example dropping 7 straight points at the beginning of a game is not a big deal compared to dropping 2 in the last 5. The fact that a couple of those bad calls came right at the end of the game magnified their impact. But those calls had nothing to do with us being down 1-2 and on the verge of elimination.

    Replay? I'd only give each coach 1, and it could only be used after the team has reached 20pts. How about an electronic system like tennis uses? It's fast and accurate, but I'm guessing cost prohibitive.

    1. I heard Karch Kiraly state during a recent televised match that the FIVB is testing vidio replay but that there were still a number of bugs/issues to work out. I suggest that the NCAA consider using the FIVB model once it's implementted system-wide. Let them work out the bugs first.

      As to the game, UW was simply out-coached and out-played by Nebraska. There coaches did an excellent job scouting the Dawgs and the players did an equally good job implementing it. No excuses, the Huskers were the better team on that night - bad calls, or not.

  3. I agree with pretty much everything said in the article. Video replay with a limited number of challenges is inevitable, I think. It's a shame it hasn't happened already. As professional tennis proves, it doesn't have to slow down the game much, as it does in football. It is very satisfying, as a spectator, to watch the replay in a professional tennis match and know with assurance that the point was awarded fairly. I'm curious: for those of you who have seen a replay system implemented on the international level (including Jack and/or Leslie), has it worked smoothly?

  4. We should begin to implement any and all electronic devices or reasonable review techniques that could quickly prove or disprove a call. "Bad calls are part of the game" isn't fair to the athletes that have dedicated so much of their lives and energy into the game. The officials don't spend several hours a day honing their skills. They are human, they make mistakes. Their mistakes shouldn't take away an earned victory and should be minimized by any means rather than accepting them as "part of the game".

  5. The calls in game 4 were rather horrid. The attack that was called out was clearly in, much more obvious than the one that the up official overruled earlier in the match. Did he not want to overrule the same line person again (on an earlier ball called out that was in) to give UW another point? One camera per line placed at floor level facing the lines, or maybe an overhead camera for each line would be better in case players get in the way of the ball to floor contact point. The video is then sent directly to an official at the table, if the call is correct, play moves on. If incorrect, the up official is notified and the call reversed. No replay as an in/out call generally ends the rally without a play on the ball. One challenge per set, correct challenge, keep the option of challenging again; incorrect challenge, lose a time out. Another option would be 4 line persons for the tournament, but that still leaves human error in the mix. Doesn't FIVB have both 4 line persons and replay now? However this is solved, the players deserve better and something should be done. Officials should take as much pride in what they do, and work hard to be the best they can be, just as the players on the court giving every last ounce of energy for on court success. Win or lose, one should expect officiating at this level to be good. If it is not good, then it should be "fair" with questionable calls (ball handling calls seem to be the most subjective) on both sides. Seems like it was neither good nor fair that night and while the officiating didn't get UW in the hole they were in, it hurt UW more than NU based upon the late game timing of those calls. Hopefully that officiating crew didn't work another match.

  6. There is a lot to be said about the lessons learned in sports, especially when dealing with officials, that apply to life. I commend Jim and his staff for the way he coaches his players mentally to deal with adversity and control what they can. As hard as it is to watch controversial calls, it's much harder as a player to put it behind you and play the next point. Our Huskies do that very well and it's a tribute to their coaching. Way to go Huskies! You make us proud in so many ways, not the least of which is your sportsmanship.

  7. My view is that the players commit hundreds of hours through the course of a season to improve and hone their individual and team skills to advance as far as possible. In virtually all NCAA tournaments, officiating not infrequently affects the outcome of a match. It is as though the players don't count for much, and the NCAA has been slow to join the 21st century in terms of technology, travel, and fundamental issues affecting outcomes, including officiating. I notice that the NCAA Administrators appear possibly to have conducted the last 30 or so tournaments - no doubt a perk, whether earned or not. Seniority matters most. There is no excuse for the sorry linesman/linesperson performance the last two weekends. There were far more than 2 obvious and not-so-obvious bad calls in each of the four games I watched in person and rewatched later via TIVO. It is as though the linespeople were rookies, at times. That's my view in the BB Tournament in March, as well. Officiating quality and performance should matter more than it apparently does to the NCAA. Anything short of a strong program to standardize officiating and to demand better officiating performance should be absolutely unacceptable in view of the enormous amount of effort devoted to practices and games by the players and coaches.
    Further, match-deciding games or sets should have different rules for challenges than non-match-deciding games or sets.
    In the UW - Nebraska match, UW frankly was overmatched (at least on that night) by a more athletic and quicker Nebraska team, especially on the defensive side and by the setters. I don't believe UW has had a top notch setter since Courtney Thompson and has not had a top notch libero since Candace Lee and maybe Tamari Miyashiro. And I don't understand why not.

    1. Except for the loss of Katy (which was huge), this "overmatched" team is the same one that beat two of the Final Four teams, would have been three if Wisconsin had beaten Penn State.

      Are you aware that Cassie was named the Pac-12 libero if the year? Not bad for her first year at the position. And Bailey was on the Pac-12 All Freshman team as setter.

  8. You realize Strickland was named by the Pac-12 coaches as the top librero in the conference?

    1. Yes, I am aware that Cassie Strickland is Pac-12 Libero of the year; however, she was not named to the First Team All Pac-12. And I happen to be a big time CS fan. Maybe we differ as to my use of the term "Top Notch." Also, I will forever believe that the overall athleticism and quickness was the difference between UW and UN, at least on the night in question. Didn't one of their OH's hit like 860 on 15 or so swings? The Huskies generally struggled a bit with fast and quick defensively oriented teams and with teams with a considerable height advantage; but they had a terrific year. I am proud to be their fan, and I am a realist.
      Also, I wonder why Tia's performance was, in my view, stronger earlier in the year than late in the year. My guess is that her extremely high level of energy exhibited in the first half of the season was lessened by something toward the end of the season. Freshmen who are serious students sometimes are handicapped by the quality of education they received in high school, and obviously have a lot thrown at them from the coaches. Jim even admitted or at least acknowledged that he pushed the team a lot. To me, that means he thought they had an opportunity to contend for the title; and essentially they did just that. But the team was lacking in a couple of areas, which is no one's fault, and I think quickness on defense (for example, moving from the center of the front line to a blocking position on an OH, and digging big hits on the back line) and setting were two of those areas. I also believe Cassie improved an enormous amount during this season, and in the New Hampshire game, for example, she made more than one absolutely spectacular dig that only top notch libero's can make.

    2. Than you must have noticed that no liberos were named to the all Pac-12 team. So, Cassie may not be a "top notch" player in your experience, but she was the top player at her position in the top conference in the NCAA.

    3. Your comment is very fair, and factual. However, how do you explain that Cassie was not selected to the AVCA list of All-Americans for 2014 and didn't even receive Honorable Mention? Was it because of her high number of Service Errors, her play as a Libero, or what? There must be a reason, and it is hard to believe it was oversight by the entire selection group. Maybe the reason is that the UW crowd generally overrates her Libero skills due to the excitement her booming serve generates?
      A quick related note: The Libero from Stanford was honored with Honorable Mention for 2014 AVCA awards. At least on the night UW whipped-up on Stanford, the Stanford Libero was clearly outplayed by Cassie, and was surprisingly (at least to me) not very consistent or effective at all (especially in the Service Receive aspect of the match) - for the then Top Rated team in the country.
      Regardless, so far, I believe Cassie's Libero performance for 2014 is about the same than Orlandini's, but have high hopes for her continued improvement. One thing she is great at, is competing; and she may well prove to be invaluable as a team on-the-court-motivator. I sincerely hope so. Another thing she was very very good at was that OFTEN, when she had the second hit, she passed/set to Krista wherever Krista was located and in a spot where Krista could unload a hit. In retrospect, maybe she did deserve Honorable Mention. Or, were those offset by a few too many shanked serve-receives? If we sat and had coffee, I could win the debate, as at this time of the year, I would spike yours with Irish Whiskey. Tis the Season.

  9. Perhaps you intended to, but you failed to admit the one big change for UW going into the tournament. Their most experienced setter was injured and lost for the tournament. The timing couldn't have been worse. Finau played fine against UNH and Hawaii, but Nebraska was a higher level of competition. And Jones also was playing better prior to her injury than she did against Nebraska.

    That's an incredible adjustment for any team to have to make. Carlini was injured against PSU and Wisconsin lost. A few years ago, Micah Hancock left a tournament match and PSU lost.

    This hand-wringing about what was Washington's problem, IMO, completely overlooks the obvious problem. Injuries.


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