NVL restructure - how the decision was made
20th April 2018
Last month it was announced that there would be changes to the format of the National Volleyball League (NVL) for the 2018/19 season.
One of the key amendments to the current structure will be that the Super 8s divisions in the men’s and women’s game will be expanded to ten teams and the Super 8s Playoffs will be “mothballed” and not take place from the 2018/19 season.
To ensure each division in the NVL has the ideal number of ten clubs, teams will be promoted from the divisions below depending on their standings come the end of the current season. Clubs secretaries were contacted to explain the changes in full and a news story appeared on the Volleyball England website on March 20, 2018.
Following feedback from some of the membership, the Volleyball England board and competitions working group have come forward to provide transparency in how and why this new format was chosen and clearly explain how the decision-making process worked.
“Making a decision on the future of the NVL was never going to be easy but we believe we have chosen the route which is best for the whole of the sport,” says Freda Bussey, Competitions and Events Director. “Volleyball England consulted with the membership to make an informed decision. Since the announcement of the decision we have received feedback, some positive and some negative. We always welcome feedback, as we want to work with our members to do what is best for the sport.”
The backdrop of the decision was made against the financial reality the national governing body faces. Like many sports, volleyball has had its funding cut and many difficult decisions have had to be made, including changes to junior competitions, the Sitting Volleyball Grand Prix and the National Cup.
“The process began in 2015 when a competition review was commissioned to look into all of Volleyball England’s competitions. All teams were consulted on a wide range of issues, including how many teams they thought would make up the ideal number of teams for a division.”
With a new Board and new Senior Management team, it became clear the NGB needed to take decisive action to gain control of its financial situation. The team at the HUB office was cut by almost half and some programmes, including the School Games volleyball competition and Go Spike initiative, came to an end. Volleyball England worked with Sport England to secure its future funding – on a significantly reduced basis – and was set targets to maintain this income, which included focusing on connecting with its core market.
“Without a sponsor, the Super 8s Playoff Final event runs at a substantial loss,” explains James Murphy, the Competitions Working Group Lead. “It was clear that having the general membership subsidise the Playoffs were not sustainable and with limited resources, it was decided the responsible thing to do was find an alternative.”
In November 2017, a project was launched to review the Super 8s Finals and National Cup Finals. The aim of project was to find a Super 8 team, or more than one, to host the Playoff Finals and look to establish a contract for hosting. The scoping document for the project can be read here.
“We emailed the clubs to ask if they would be able to host the event for the 2018/19 season, we offered to work with clubs and offered support,” said Keith McAdam, the Super 8s lead. “We wanted to look at the possibility of keeping the Playoff as part of the calendar, unfortunately none of the teams were in a position of being able to host the event.”
The competitions working group were unable to find any clubs with the capacity and resources to host the event. The group recommended to the board that the event be “mothballed” and filed a paper to the board outlining their research. The proposal which was submitted to the board can be read here.
“Without a sponsor or a club able to host the event and based on the feedback we received, we believed it in the best interests of the whole sport to no longer hold the Super 8s Playoffs and expand the top division to ten teams,” says James Murphy. “We recognised what the creation of the Super 8s was trying to achieve – that’s why it was our recommendation to “mothball” the Playoffs, until it would again be viable to run them again.”
The group went through the competitions review to explore feedback from the teams so they could make an informed recommendation to the board. The consultation revealed that when surveyed, the teams thought that having ten teams in the league was the ideal number.
“In the competitions review, the teams had voted that they thought 10 teams per division was the ideal number,” says James. “We used the Competitions Review as it was a comprehensive study and the findings had not been acted upon previously.”
The survey also said “69% of Super 8s respondents indicated they were supportive of more regular season league matches than the 14 matches per team that are currently played in the Super 8s.”
Any decision rested with the board, which energetically debated the idea and the three options of implementing the changes suggested by the working group. The minutes of the board meeting on March 17, 2018 with the reference to the discussion on page 10, can be read here.
“The topic sparked an energetic and productive debate at the board,” explained Adam Walker, the Volleyball England chair. “It was clear there was not a perfect solution but the competitions working group put forward well thought out options and recommendations. It is the desire of the board to take the initiative and try new things to develop the sport. This involves making difficult choices and we will continually review the decisions we make and listen to different sectors of the membership to understand how we make further improvements and keep moving the sport forward.
“We reviewed the recommendation of the Competitions Working Group and detailed research provided. It was decided that we should mothball the Super 8s Playoffs and increase the top division to 10 teams."
Jefferson Williams, the Talent Director, was one of the directors who thought it was best to expand the top divisions to 10 teams.
“Without the playoff matches, there was a need for more matches for the teams at top level,” says Jefferson. “One of the problems of the play-offs is that it drives up costs as last-minute travel and accommodation cost are much higher than pre-planned.
“If you finish bottom of the S8s then you end up playing 14 matches, 15 if you finish 7th. If you have a squad of 9-12 players then there are not sufficient matches to give players the opportunities to play, especially if a team is battling for survival.
"A ten-team league, delivering 18 matches across a range of abilities, will provide more opportunities for 'Squad Players'. The Super 8s has its merit and perhaps we can find solution within a ten team league to meet the expectation of most, if not all teams.”
The effect on the quality of the Super 8s was also carefully considered.
“Our view was that with more teams rather than less it gives promoted teams time to grow rather them bouncing up and down,” says Keith McAdam, the Super 8s lead. “There would be more competitive games - albeit potentially with a split - and we give lower teams experience playing against better opposition and overall, improve competition.
“The top division is the pinnacle of the game and the top teams are working hard to push the sport forward in this country. We support that and want more teams to be able to compete at the higher level.”
When the decision was made to expand the number of teams in the top division, it was decided that it was best to increase by promoting teams from the divisions below, while still relegating all the teams which finished bottom in their respective leagues.
The announcement was made with the changes to come into effect for the 2018/19 season, meaning there is an impact on this year’s promotions and relegations.
“It was decided that it was best to implement the changes for the next season, rather than waiting for a season and making changes to the 2019/20 season,” says Freda Bussey, Competitions Director. “It means the changes are completed quickly which hopefully minimises the disruption to the NVL teams.”
The board and working groups went through extensive discussion and research to come to this choice, which included many experienced volunteers and long-time servants to the sport. As always, the board and working groups would urge anyone wanting to make change to volleyball in this country to come forward.
“This was not an easy decision to reach,” says Freda, competitions director. “Many people were involved and we can’t stress enough that it was made for what the board see as best for the sport as a whole with the limited resources we have.
“We are all part of Volleyball England, every single member,” says Freda Bussey. “Anyone who wants to help drive the sport forward is welcome to get involved. The board and many working groups are all volunteers – who are supported by the HUB staff – to make volleyball what we all want to see it become. Feedback is always welcome and if anyone has even a little time to commit to helping with projects and organising events they are encouraged to get involved. People’s time, skills and dedication is the most valuable asset that Volleyball England has.”
If you are interested in volunteering in any capacity, please join the Pool of Experts. A group of people who are happy to use their skills to support volleyball in this country.