SFU hopes to become first Canadian university to offer NCAA beach volleyball

The women's beach volleyball program would pull players from the existing indoor women's team.

SFU hopes to join in on the NCAA’s fastest-growing sport by launching its own NCAA beach volleyball program as early as 2018 or 2019.

The initiative to bring a beach volleyball program to SFU has been spearheaded by women’s indoor volleyball head coach Gina Schmidt, who has wanted to establish a beach program since it was recognized as an official NCAA championship sport in 2015.

The tentative plan for the program is to start small, and to pull from current indoor players and coaching staff. Currently, only a women’s team is planned to be introduced at SFU, as the NCAA does not yet sponsor men’s beach volleyball.

Beach volleyball is relatively inexpensive to implement compared to other programs, taking roughly $100,000 to $150,000 to implement, with operating costs between $35,000 and $50,000. As such, the Department of Recreation and Athletics’ goal is to build sand courts on the Burnaby campus, to be used for the program, as well as by recreational groups and the SFU community.

The courts and the program would eventually be able to generate revenue themselves according to SFU Athletics, as the courts could be used to hold beach camps, leagues, and tournaments. Currently, the unused tennis courts by the visitor’s parkade are being proposed as a location for sand courts.

In general, the basic skills and concepts in indoor and beach volleyball are alike. However, the two sports differ in the number of players on each team (two for beach, six for indoor); the outdoor elements that beach players face, such as sand, sun, and wind; and the different strategies required.

Besides allowing current indoor volleyball players the opportunity to play both indoor and beach, a beach volleyball program could also give SFU huge advantages in terms of recruiting prospective athletes.

Schmidt noted, “Currently, beach volleyball is not a sport sponsored by the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity League), so it would make us unique in that regard.

“The NCAA indoor season (August to December) is different than the CIS season (October to March), so athletes could play indoor in the fall semester and beach in the spring semester.”

Schmidt also noted that the large pool of high school athletes in BC and across Canada who presently play beach volleyball could be a good source from which to draw when building a new team. “If we were the only school in Canada providing the opportunity to play beach in college, I’m confident there would be a lot of interest in our program,” she added.

Because of the limited number of universities with beach programs on the west coast, SFU would also have the notable opportunity to play top Division I schools with well-established beach programs, such as Pepperdine and UCLA.

With 55 schools currently offering an NCAA beach volleyball program, the sport shows no sign of slowing down. In Canada, the two hotspots for beach volleyball are here in Metro Vancouver, and in Toronto, where the national team training centre is located.

Schmidt concluded, “Even five to six years ago, beach was just something young kids did for fun in the summer. Now there are beach clubs, camps, and full time training for athletes interested in specializing in beach.

“With at least three Canadian beach teams qualifying for the Games in Rio, I can see the sport continuing to grow in popularity.”