A survey conducted two years ago determined that there was a significant demand for more tickets for Nebraska volleyball matches than the 4,000 per match at NU Coliseum.

But there are some times you don’t need a survey to know a change might be for the better.

When Nebraska coach John Cook takes the court before each match at the Coliseum, he walks past long lines of fans waiting outside the women’s restroom. In the past, Cook has received notes from fans disappointed they had missed entire sets of matches while waiting to use one of the two restrooms available to fans.

So, yes, it was probably time for a major upgrade for the volleyball program, at least in terms of the number of seats, different seating options and restroom and concessions available to loyal fans.

Still, only time will tell if the Nebraska volleyball team's move to Devaney Sports Center next season will be able to re-create the same intimate atmosphere that can be electric — and downright loud — during matches at the Coliseum.

The Coliseum has arguably been the toughest place to play in the country, and made a Husker volleyball match an event many Nebraskans want to experience.

Project managers and architects are confident the atmosphere and noise at a renovated Sports Center can be comparable to the Coliseum. If nothing else, numbers will be in the Huskers’ favor, and more tickets means young volleyball players, along with high school and college students, will have a better chance to attend matches.

The details are still being finalized, but the Sports Center is expected to have between 6,000 and 7,000 seats for volleyball matches, according to John Ingram, associate athletic director for capital planning and construction. A curtain in the upper sections will allow more seats to become available to meet demand. Devaney could still be used for gymnastics and wrestling meets and state basketball tournaments.

Plans are still in the works as to what the move will mean for current volleyball season-ticket holders. Cook hopes the now 10-year-old sellout streak will continue at Devaney.

Seeing the artist renderings for the project gives you a feel of the excitement planners have for the makeover. The ceiling has a bit of the old charm of the Coliseum, and makes the arena seem smaller than it is. A new lobby will have displays to honor the program's three national championship teams — along with a growing number of Olympians — and will be more accessible for fans.

“When I saw the first set of drawings,” Cook said, “the first thing I thought was, ‘This is a new version of the Coliseum.'”

Two-a-day practices for the Huskers begin Aug. 8, and the upcoming season will be the last one for NU at the Coliseum, the historic building one block east of Memorial Stadium. Nebraska will shift practices and matches to Devaney for the 2013 season.

Cook thought the Coliseum would always be the home of Husker volleyball. Then the perfect storm occurred. Lincoln voters approved a new downtown arena, giving the Nebraska basketball teams a new place to play. And the volleyball team had outgrown the Coliseum. Last season, single-match tickets sold out in less than 30 minutes.

Initially skeptical of the move, Cook was not eager to lose what the team had at the Coliseum.

“Devaney is a completely different building. It’s a big, square building,” he said. “The great thing about the Coliseum is that it doesn’t matter where you’re sitting, you feel close and part of the action. You can feel the speed and power of the game. You feel like you can almost reach out and touch those players. We have those courtside seats where people get hit with balls. That’s what you want. That’s why they love volleyball. You feel it. You experience it.”

After sitting in on several project planning meetings, Cook is fully behind the move. For matches, the floor-level A section will be redesigned, bringing fans as close to the floor as possible. The number of courtside seats will double to 128. Two students sections will be added near the benches to possibly include as many as 500 students.

There are minor upgrades that will make life better for the athletes and coaches — expanded locker rooms and training rooms — but it’s the south side of the arena that has Cook most excited.

“Everything is going to be in one place, and it’s going to be a very powerful look when you’re sitting down on the court looking up at (five) skyboxes, offices, fans, all the banners. That’s going to be the signature wall,” Cook said. “We’re designing it so that’s what TV is going to be showing. I think that’s going to be the great visual. You’re going to look at that and think, ‘Something special is happening here.’”

The move could also give Nebraska a chance to one day overtake Hawaii as the women’s volleyball attendance leader. Hawaii led the NCAA for the 16th straight year in 2011, with an average of 6,814 fans per match.

Hawaii is also the only volleyball program that turns a profit. More chances to generate revenue from ticket sales mean the volleyball program could soon become a revenue-generator at Nebraska, even without sizable revenue for the rights to television broadcasts, like football and basketball.

The $20 million for the project had previously been set aside by the athletic department for future Devaney improvements.

“To have a female sport that doesn’t have to rely on football, I think that’s a powerful statement,” Cook said.

Reach Brent C. Wagner at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com.


Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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