Yesterday was a big day for many schools around the country as the NCAA announced championship host sites for 523 championship events across all three divisions for the next four years. It was exciting to see Iowa State selected to host two events in one of the 2015 Women’s Gymnastics Regionals and the 2017 Cross Country Midwest Regional, but there was another event that, while not being hosted by Iowa State or in Ames, caught the eye of Iowans following the events. That is Des Moines being selected to host a 2015 NCAA Volleyball Regional Semifinals and Finals round.
The 2015 Volleyball Regional Semifinals and Finals, which UNI will be the host institution for, is a credit to three groups of people. The first are the people at UNI who put the bid together and were willing to be the host for an event that would be almost three hours from their actual university. The second is the Des Moines Area Sports Commission, a group who has helped put on many successful events over the years in association with Wells Fargo Arena and the NCAA, regardless of who the host school has been. However, the third group of people who deserves credit is the fans of Iowa State volleyball.
It should not fool anyone by seeing where Iowa State has been sent for its Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight appearances over the years that being able to get fans is a very important factor to being able to host these events. It is also important to have a great facility and a great operations and event management staff (both of which Iowa State does), but if you can’t bring people into volleyball matches, you will not host. There are no two ways around it.
Two of this year’s host for the Regional Semifinals and Regional Finals, Nebraska and Illinois, rank in the top-10 nationally for attendance. Los Angeles is one of the volleyball capitals of the world and have two consistent big attendance teams in town in USC and UCLA. Then Lexington, Ky. has really risen up and began to bring in bigger crowds over the past few seasons.
It is more of the same for 2014 when Louisville, Minnesota and Washington join Ames and Iowa State to host the rounds. Iowa State will have its seventh-straight season ranked in the top-20 nationally for attendance in 2013, and arguably its best ever season in terms of fan support. Though ISU’s average of 2,700 per match is not its highest in school history, the 2,734 average attendance in 2009 was greatly inflated by the ISU-record 10,203 that was at the Nebraska match that season. If you take that match out, the average attendance drops to 2,159.
I don’t want to take away from that crowd (even though that Nebraska match was the only home match we lost that season), but it shows the consistency of this year’s crowd. The season-high was 3,707 against Oklahoma which, while outstanding, is still only good enough for ninth in school history. However, the season’s smallest crowd was 1,991 against Texas Tech. That did not catch us by surprise as it was a late match at 8 p.m., it was the night before Halloween and Ames High had a football playoff game, but it shows how great the fan support was this season. If ISU averaged 1,991 for the season, it would have still ranked in the top-20 nationally.
That does not even take into consideration that Iowa State broke its season ticket record this season with 1,300 season tickets sold. The fact is, Iowa State fans show up and when the NCAA awarded Iowa State the 2014 Regional back in 2010, it knew that Iowa State would put on a good event and support the teams that are there, especially if that team is Iowa State.
Then you look at yesterday’s awarding of a 2015 Regional to Des Moines. You can say it has nothing to do with Iowa State, because when you scratch the surface it really does not have anything to do with Iowa State, but it does. The NCAA knows what it is doing when it awards volleyball events to Omaha. Creighton is the best-supported volleyball team in the Big East, and does a great job running all the events that it has hosted over the years. However, the NCAA looks just over 50 miles away (they have great eyesight) to Lincoln and the Nebraska fan base that always filled the NU Coliseum for matches. Then this year moved to an arena twice its size in the Devaney Center and doubled its attendance number and became the nation’s attendance leaders overnight. They know if there is a shot to get Nebraska volleyball relatively close to Lincoln, they will take it there and they will fill up an arena.
The exact same goes with Iowa State and Des Moines. Yes, UNI ranked in the top-10 again for average attendance even as its team had a down year. And yes, UNI hosted a huge crowd of 6,621 when the Cyclones rolled into Cedar Falls back in September. And yes, as we already mentioned, that UNI does a great job hosting whatever events are put on its plate. However, the NCAA looks 36 miles to the North and sees the big crowds that Iowa State is able to bring in and how much the fan base continues to grow. It knows that if the chance arises to give Iowa State a short trip to Des Moines, they will take it because the Cyclone Nation will knock down the doors to get in.
Obviously, the elephant in the room with all of this is that Iowa State has to get it done on the court and it is understood if there may be some nervous fans after our season ended far sooner than we had hoped for. You have to learn from the experiences and move on. Fortunately for Iowa State, the next two years present great opportunities for Iowa State to take big steps as a program in front of a group of people who have helped guide and been along for the ride of so many of the steps Iowa State has already taken.
Secondly, because Iowa State is not the host of the 2015 Regional, the NCAA technically does not have to send Iowa State there. Regardless, Christy Johnson-Lynch and the rest of the volleyball staff understand the big opportunity that is ahead. The Iowa State volleyball fan base understands in the same manner and when the opportunity knocks next season, they are ready to jump on board and get behind the Cyclones.