CHICAGO — The Big Ten stands at the helm of collegiate women’s volleyball, with three of its member schools winning five out of the last nine national championships. This week, the conference broke ground with the inaugural Big Ten Volleyball Media Days, marking a new age in the sports’ media coverage.
“This is the first-ever (Big Ten Volleyball Media Day) and this is the coolest opportunity,” Ohio State senior libero Kylie Murr said. “And little girls are going to want to keep playing volleyball because it’s going to give them opportunities like this. And I think that’s what was missing and I think we’re heading in that direction, but it’s obviously still not perfect yet.”
Representation in the media opens the door to even more possibilities. Young girls reading sports articles or turning on Big Ten Network see volleyball players beginning to receive equitable treatment to football and men’s and women’s basketball players. And while the longstanding popularity of volleyball may suggest that the media days are overdue, the execution and success should be celebrated.
Two players and the head coach of every Big Ten volleyball program were in attendance and had opportunities to speak at a press conference and for outlets like Sirius XM, NCAA.com, ESPN and the Big Ten Network’s digital media and television. Recap shows aired live on Big Ten Network each day, including an interview with Big Ten Conference Commissioner Warren.
“I think our sport’s growing so fast right now,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “We have 55 matches this year on the Big Ten Network or ESPN from our conference. That’s going to be huge for us. … (Volleyball is) a sport people are watching because it’s fun to watch, because it’s exciting, it’s drama, (it’s) great athleticism. They’re seeing this and they’re getting attracted to our sport.”
Out of the six Big Ten matches featured on ESPN2 or ESPNU in the fall, Michigan is slated in three of them — twice against Wisconsin, and once against Ohio State. And the Wolverines’ other matchup against the Buckeyes will be one of two matches featured on FS1.
Volleyball’s popularity is growing rapidly, and as it receives more television exposure, that growth becomes more sustainable. The 2021 National Championship between Nebraska and Wisconsin set a record with 1.19 million viewers as the highest viewership for women’s volleyball on any ESPN network.
And the sport’s popularity has also translated to name, image and likeness success. In the first year after NIL was passed, women’s volleyball ranked fourth in total NIL compensation on Opendorse’s platform, and fifth in total NIL activities.
Given the popularity of the sport, events like the Big Ten Volleyball Media Days are necessary to support growth. Exposure to the public is crucial to build upon teams’ successes season after season.
“(The media) keeps evolving,” Michigan junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik said. “And I think there’s always new ways to get content out there, but I just think the media has helped build this little community within volleyball itself. These kids that come to camp, they take pictures with us and they tag us on their Instagram and then they follow us on Instagram. It’s cool to have this network and community with people from all over the world.”
The changing media landscape, the introduction of NIL and the popularity of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram make it possible to learn more about the person beyond the names on their backs. The engaging aspects of social media help student-athletes become more accessible to fans, and the increased news coverage and television time for volleyball players from the Media Days amplifies that.
“And I think especially with today, this is a huge step in the volleyball world. We’re definitely setting precedent for people to follow,” Mruzik said.
The Big Ten made history with its recent television contract and the inaugural media days. Now, eyes turn to other conferences to follow suit and allow coverage to grow alongside the sport.