Mercer is set to introduce women’s sand volleyball as its 16th official athletic program beginning this fall.
Head volleyball coach Noelle Rooke said sand volleyball is the newest NCAA emerging sport, and Mercer is among the first schools to launch it. Other schools introducing the sport include Florida Gulf Coast University, Stetson University and the University of North Florida.
Unlike indoor volleyball, sand volleyball is played in “doubles” with teams of two competing against one another. Mercer will field five teams, so ten students will be required to play.
The 10 players are being pulled from Mercer’s existing women’s volleyball team, which currently has 16 students. Therefore, more than half of these students will be playing both sports — indoor volleyball in the fall and sand volleyball in the spring.
Rooke said she was not told specifically why sand volleyball was brought to Mercer, but she assumes it was a move to fulfill the university’s Title IX requirements.
Title IX is a law enacted in 1972 that amends Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Although it is most often associated with collegiate athletics, the original statute made no specific mention of sports. Its basic requirement is that universities receiving federal forms self-evaluate to determine whether they offer equal opportunities based on sex.
Until recently, Mercer had seven men’s sports and seven women’s sports. The addition of lacrosse in the fall tipped the scale in favor of men’s teams.
Because football is a non-scholarship sport, Rooke said, it does not affect Mercer’s Title IX obligations and will not unless it becomes a scholarship sport.
Rooke also said that, to her knowledge, each university can choose whether or not to follow Title IX guidelines.
The students who will be playing both sports will only be receiving a scholarship for indoor volleyball, Rooke said.
Cole said the implementation of scholarships is largely left up to individual coaches. He also said, however, that the university reassesses scholarships every year and, in the future, every sport is eligible for an increase in scholarship.
Cole said he and President Underwood are always looking to find more opportunities for athletes to participate and they look at athletics as a great recruiting tool. He also thinks the sport will be valuable to the volleyball players.
“I think it’ll be a great tool for the girls already playing to get more practice and exposure,” Cole said.
Rooke agreed that sand volleyball will benefit students. “I think it’s a great opportunity for these kids because … on sand … you’re forced to do everything,” she said.
Junior Amiee Frutchey said she is looking forward to playing on the sand volleyball team. “Sand volleyball is a sport everyone loves to play, whether just for fun on the beach or in a competitive setting … I think the team will draw a lot of interest from people who like to play the sport themselves,” she said.
Frutchey said it is not common for an athlete to play two sports on one scholarship, but she emphasized that she and the other students playing both are doing so because they love the game and because it improves their abilities for indoor volleyball as well.
“You can jump higher, move faster, and it gives you a bigger arsenal of shots. In sand you rarely ever hit a ball as hard as you can so it forces you to think of other ways to score points. And it gets us out of the gym and into the gorgeous sunny Georgia weather, so that’s a plus too,” Frutchey said.
Mercer took three teams of two players to a tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. last weekend so the students could practice competing in the new sport.