To rally or not to rally — it is no longer the question, but the answer. This year the NCAA has implemented rally scoring into all five games of a volleyball match, as compared to only the fifth game in years past. This change, in which a point is earned on every serve, replaces the traditional side-out scoring format. In the old format, only the serving team could earn a point. Now, instead of playing to 15 points a game, teams will play up to 30 points in the first four games and up to 15 in the fifth if necessary. Like in the past, teams will still need a two-point advantage to win.
This change of format changes the entire style of the game, especially for Wisconsin. The Badgers were the type of team that could afford to make an error or two, knowing that they had the ability to hold opponents scoreless on serves. Now, an error on the part of the Badgers equals a point for the other team.
“It takes away the teams that we were able to hold after making maybe one error and giving them the ball and not letting them score a point,” said UW head coach Pete Waite. “Now we make an error, they get a point automatically. Last year were able to hold teams off for seven, eight or nine service attempts before we were able to make a surge and beat them.”
After watching last weekend’s Badger Invitational, in which UW lost to Northern Iowa in the championship, questions about the new format arose.
The NCAA felt that the new rules would help make the matches more exciting and quicker to watch. Furthermore, rally scoring makes it easier for networks to estimate how long a match could take. However, this was not the main reason for the change. Rally scoring is typical in international and USA junior leagues, and it was implemented last year in NCAA men’s volleyball. It was only a matter of time before the change would occur for the women as well.
But is it more exciting? Sure the games took less time, points were scored more quickly, and Wisconsin fans had the opportunity to yell “Point Wisconsin!” a little more than they were used to, but it also made stomaching the loss harder than normal. Up until last weekend the Badgers had a 12-match unbeaten streak at the Field House. But is not fair to say that rally scoring was a factor in their loss. UNI was able to take advantage of Wisconsin’s faults and capitalize on the Badgers’ 34 errors. However, it is a two-way street in volleyball, and the Badgers did benefit from Northern Iowa’s 31 errors. Whether or not that is fair is still up to debate.
There are benefits to rally scoring. Former Badger head coach John Cook, who led his Nebraska squad to an NCAA championship over Wisconsin last year, is a fan of the new system.
“In some ways this might make the game more interesting,” Cook said. “There will be a greater sense of urgency on every point, especially in the beginning of matches, because you don’t want to fall behind in rally scoring. If a team comes out flat or has an off night, there is a great chance for an upset in rally scoring. But I think that the team that wins a match will still be the team that serves and passes the best while committing the fewest errors.”
Wisconsin coach Pete Waite has sung a different song.
“I am liking [rally scoring] less the more we play it,” said Waite. It feels very long as we go to 30 points, but we have to learn that as a team.”
However, Waite did address how it is a benefit to the fans — especially the newer ones.
“[Rally scoring] is easier for fans who have no idea what is going on,” Waite said. “They know that every time someone serves it is a point.”
The thought of it being easier for fans that are new to volleyball is not a comforting thought, especially for the Badgers. Anyone who has attended a UW volleyball match realizes that the fans are in it for the long run. Throughout the Badger Invitational, fans could be heard making comments critical of rally scoring. One fan summed it up best when he said, “If it wasn’t broke, than why fix it?”
Comments like that make one wonder: If rally scoring benefits the new fans, who cares about the old ones?