It would be a nightmare for the BCS if it tried to figure out what to do with Penn State’s men’s volleyball team.
The Nittany Lions are perennially the heavy favorite in the EIVA, winning the conference every year since 1999. But their consistent success may be a result of something outside the team’s control.
For the remainder of the 2013 season, No. 6 Penn State only has four matches against teams currently ranked in the AVCA top 15, with none of those matches being conference events.
On paper, Penn State should roll into Los Angeles for the Final Four in May. The Lions just need to win the EIVA tournament in April to advance.
But the teams they could run into there would be battle-tested, with competitive experience that the Lions may not get from their regular season schedule.
Comparatively, teams from the West Coast appear to have much fiercer schedules. Hawaii, Penn State’s opponent from last Friday, does not have a match against a currently unranked opponent for the duration of the season, due to its placement in a conference that holds 12 of the top 15 teams in the country.
Head coach Mark Pavlik calls those rankings “propaganda” and that they hold little value.
“I’ve been in gyms where a top team from the West Coast was in the gym with a team that wasn’t even in our top division in the EIVA, and they were facing match point,” Pavlik said. “The teams that we play are very good.”
The schedules are out of the control of EIVA teams, which Pavlik says leads to unfair categorizing of the schools.
Many West Coast teams cannot make trips east to face these unfamiliar opponents, but the coach says that is no reason to assign qualitative value to the teams that do not face them throughout the season.
“Teams like [George] Mason and Princeton stay home and don’t get the chance to play [West Coast teams],” Pavlik said. “Now, suddenly they are looked at as being lower level? I think that’s disingenuous at best.”
In other collegiate sports, teams frequently have the opportunity to travel and face teams outside their conferences.
But that is not the case for men’s volleyball.
“We don’t have what basketball has or what women’s volleyball has,” Pavlik said. “The myth of strength of schedule is perpetuated when people don’t understand that.”
With the scarcity of intranational play, Pavlik does see the importance of the few matches played against the powerhouses of the West.
“It’s a measuring stick, it shows what we need to do better,” Pavlik said. “That’s what we use them as.”
Penn State faces Lewis on Friday, the third ranked opponent the Nittany Lions will take on this year and the first at home. The Lions also have two remaining matches against No. 10 Ohio State and will travel to top-ranked UC Irvine in April for a match against the defending champion.
“People automatically assume every team over there is better, just because they’re ranked,” Pavlik said. “I don’t buy this crap.”