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‘It Would Be Fun To Watch’: Penn State Men’s Volleyball Coach Mark Pavlik Pitches Changes To Sport

Penn State men’s volleyball consistently dominates its conference. Head coach Mark Pavlik and Co. have won their last 32 regular-season conference matchups, but unlike the majority of Penn State’s varsity sports, including women’s volleyball, they don’t play in the Big Ten.

The Nittany Lions compete in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA), a conference made up of Penn State, Harvard, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton, Charleston, and George Mason. The last EIVA team to beat the blue and white during the regular season was George Mason — in April of 2021.

Penn State isn’t alone in its stronghold of an eastern conference, as Ohio State, the only other pre-realignment Big Ten school with a varsity men’s volleyball program, has won eight of its last 15 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) championships.

Even though it’s a non-conference matchup, Pavlik is pleased he’s been able to schedule the Buckeyes as a regular opponent so his team gets to take part in the heightened atmosphere of a heated school rivalry. If Penn State and Ohio State were to be in the same conference, though, playing the Buckeyes would become mandatory.

“It’s a rivalry in the sense that we finally get to experience what the rest of our athletic departments experience on a regular basis,” Pavlik said after his team’s sweep of the Buckeyes in late January. “I think that’s something very special.”

Last week, the Nittany Lions took their biannual trip to the West Coast to take part in the Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge where Penn State faced off against UCLA and USC. Next year, neither the Trojans nor the Bruins will be a part of the Pac-12 after both schools announced they would join the Big Ten in 2024.

The move brings the total number of Big Ten schools with varsity men’s volleyball programs to four — two shy of the number of teams that play in both the EIVA and MIVA and three short of the number in USC and UCLA’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) conference. With schools like Wisconsin, Purdue, and Illinois having well-established club programs that could make a Division I leap, a Big Ten men’s volleyball conference isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“Teams are connected because we’re at Big Ten institutions,” Pavlik said. “Our guys and their guys know there are pure athletes on those campuses.”

“They hear about playing the Big Ten schedule and everything that goes along with that storied conference,” he continued. “Unfortunately, we’re not a part of that conference yet.”

All four of the future Big Ten conference’s men’s teams have spent time ranked inside the top 15 of the national coaches poll this season. With Penn State dropping its matchups against USC and UCLA over the road trip and taking Ohio State to four and five sets over its two-game sweep, a Big Ten men’s conference would be tough.

Tough, however, isn’t a negative for Pavlik. Moving up in the poll depends on quality matches, something Penn State had to travel to the West Coast to get. Despite schools leaving the conference over the past few decades, the play Pavlik sees in the EIVA is much more competitive than it used to be, and he likes it that way.

“There was a time when we could come back from spring break and I could schedule an EIVA match knowing that the starters were only going to play in one [set], and we’d still win it in three,” Pavlik said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

While Pavlik believes conferences across the nation are headed toward more parity and competition, a Big Ten conference would rival the likes of the Big West and MPSF, who regularly have the most competitive schedules with the men’s game being a predominantly West Coast sport.

A Big Ten conference would also mean a change to the NCAA Tournament format. Last year, the EIVA, MIVA, Big West, MPSF, and Conference Carolinas champions got automatic bids with only two at-large teams making the field. If four of the regular powerhouses moved to one conference, at-large bids would have to be expanded to ensure the best teams have a chance at a national title. The NCAA, however, has already approved an expansion from eight to 12 teams pending next year’s budget, which should make a Big Ten conference more attractive for its competitors.

Pavlik spent time during his weekly media availability talking about potential rule changes and the state of the men’s game. Coaches across the nation are involved in talks to change the substitution rules and potentially adopt the double contact rule recently announced for the women’s game. For right now, though, a Big Ten men’s volleyball conference is just an idea — albeit an exciting one.

“If we get a Big Ten men’s volleyball league going, that conference is going to be brutal,” Pavlik said. “But it would be fun to watch.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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