When No. 6 Penn State opens up its conference schedule on Jan. 25, it won’t be seeing the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin or Illinois on the docket.
Nebraska’s Herbie Husker, Minnesota’s Goldy Gopher and Purdue Pete won’t be invading Rec Hall this season either.
The foe that will be looking across the net from Penn State in its conference opener is actually a member of the Northeast Conference: Sacred Heart.
Deviating from most NCAA sports, men’s volleyball doesn’t use traditional conferences such as the SEC, the ACC or the Big Ten.
While Big Ten banners hang from the rafters inside Rec Hall, the men’s volleyball team is actually a member of the eight-team Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.
The EIVA is comprised of a hodgepodge of teams from a variety of conferences including the Ivy League, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Great West Conference and of course, the Big Ten.
One team, Rutgers University-Newark of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, isn’t even a Division I school and has plans to leave the EIVA following the 2014 season.
In fact, Penn State’s only Big Ten playmate, Ohio State, calls the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association its home for men’s volleyball.
“I wish men’s volleyball was bigger and we could actually have a Big Ten Conference,” senior Tom Comfort said. “It would be nice to have traditional conferences, but playing in the EIVA isn’t bad at all.”
Although the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are in different divisions, the two schools will face off two more times throughout the course of the season.
Despite its different conference surroundings, Penn State’s success has been as constant as ever as it figures to be the EIVA team with the largest target on its back.
Before the season began, the Lions were pegged as the preseason favorites to claim the EIVA title once again, picking up six out of eight first place votes.
“There is a little bit of pressure to win the EIVA and we know that every team is gunning for us,” Comfort said. “We’ve traditionally won our conference and this senior class doesn’t want to be remembered as the team that didn’t win it.”
Penn State has racked up 16 out of the last 17 EIVA conference championships.
While the number of conference championship victories are eye-catching, the real numbers reflecting Penn State’s nearly two decades of EIVA domination are 197-5 — coach Mark Pavlik’s win-loss record in conference play.
Pavlik’s EIVA duties extend beyond simply being a member of the EIVA coaching fraternity, as he also serves as the conference’s vice president.
The Sacred Heart Pioneers will be the first EIVA team to venture to Rec Hall this season.
Even though the 0-3 Pioneers could be win No. 198 for Mark Pavlik and Penn State, the Lions aren’t taking their winless opponents lightly.
“We know Sacred Heart is very physical and they’ve got some guys on that squad that can put up some points,” Pavlik said. “I think our guys want to make sure we leave no question that we’re prepared for the EIVA year.”