The bracket for the NCAA volleyball tournament will be announced Sunday during a selection show at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.
Then in eight days, all 48 teams will begin to arrive in Omaha for COVID-19 testing and practices. The entire tournament will be played in Omaha over 11 days beginning April 14.
Kristin Fasbender, a director of championships for the NCAA who manages tournament operations for the Division I volleyball tournament, shared details on how the tournament will work.
Omaha was already scheduled to host the Final Four this season, so when the decision was made to have the full tournament in one city, Omaha was an easy choice. In a normal year, the first and second rounds are held at 16 sites.
All of the practices and matches will be played at CHI Health Center Omaha, which includes both a large convention center and an 18,000-seat arena.
But no matches will be played in the arena during the first three rounds, in part so it's equitable for all teams. The general public isn’t allowed to attend matches until the tournament shifts to the arena for the final three rounds.
Playing matches at other arenas — Creighton, UNO and Ralston may have been options that would have accommodated more fans — was discussed. But they chose to limit the exposure to one group of event workers instead of four. Also, the COVID-19 testing site will be at the convention center.
There will be four courts for matches in the convention center, split among two halls. There also are eight courts for practice.
For the matches in the convention center, they’re working with Nebraska, Creighton and UNO to use the Taraflex courts that many schools use. For the first and second rounds, each team can have about 80 spectators. That number will grow as teams are eliminated.
The teams will stay at six hotels near downtown Omaha.
The NCAA recently faced backlash because some of the accommodations weren’t equitable for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, including the weight room.
But Fasbender said to date that hasn’t changed anything about the plans for the volleyball tournament.
“We’re learning from all of our colleagues,” Fasbender said. “None of us have done this before where we’re putting everybody in one spot. We’ve learned and we’re continuing to learn and work through it and see what we can do to provide a great experience.
“It’s going to be different. It’s going to be unique and something that everybody has worked really hard on so far to make sure they have the best opportunity to have a championship experience this year."
In the 48-team bracket, the top 16 seeds will get a bye in the first round. Unlike in men’s and women’s basketball, the entire volleyball tournament is not seeded. During a traditional season, that can keep teams closer to home and cut down on travel expenses. Even though all the teams are in the same city this year, the tournament still won’t officially seed all 48 teams.
“Per the competition oversight committee, we’re only allowed to seed 16,” Fasbender said. “But as we’ve said over the years, the committee tries to put teams in some kind of an order if they can. But the other bracketing policies that come into play override that opportunity sometimes. We want to avoid first- and second-round conference matchups.”
The 32 teams that play in the first round will arrive April 11, three days before they play. Those teams begin COVID-19 testing the next day and practice on April 13. Teams with first-round byes will start the process one day later.
The health considerations
For the men’s basketball tournament, one team (VCU) wasn’t able to play after arriving in Indianapolis due to COVID-19 protocols.
There isn’t a definitive rule on what would force a team to have to withdraw due to COVID-19 after arriving.
“I think every circumstance is different depending on the potential contact tracing would be, or what the pieces and parts are. Each case would be evaluated on its own,” Fasbender said.
A team won’t need to have a minimum number of players available in order to play.
If you have access to ESPN3, you’ll get to watch a lot of volleyball, with matches running from 11 a.m. to at least 10:30 p.m. for the first two days of the tourney. Four matches will start at the same time on those days.
The Elite Eight on April 19 is all on the same court, with two sessions of two matches each beginning at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
The TV lineup
Each of the matches in the first and second round (April 14-15) will be broadcast online on ESPN3, and for the third round, a few matches will be on ESPNU. To get ESPN3 you’ll need to access it via the ESPN website or app and have a cable subscription.
By the Elite Eight, most matches will be on ESPNU. The semifinals and finals will be on ESPN2.