Sept. 10, 2021, was a day of change for BYU as the school officially accepted an invitation to become a member of the Big 12 Conference. On that warm September day, every Cougars sports program was officially welcomed into the power conference, except one: men’s volleyball.
“We’re as much involved in the improvements on campus, the resources on campus as any other team — as all the teams going into the Big 12. No one’s looked at us and put us in a corner because we’re not going to the Big 12.” — BYU men’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead
That team will not be moving to what would be its third league. BYU coach Shawn Olmstead, however, and his players have still been beneficiaries of the school’s move to the Power Five league.
“We’re as much involved in the improvements on campus, the resources on campus as any other team — as all the teams going into the Big 12,” Olmstead said. “No one’s looked at us and put us in a corner because we’re not going to the Big 12.”
The men’s volleyball squad may not be playing in a new conference, but it is in a great position right where it is. Since its inception in 1990, the program has competed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation nearly every year, playing all but three seasons in the league. The conference has proven to be one of the best in the country when it comes to men’s volleyball, with proof of that seen this year as all but one of its teams is nationally ranked in the latest poll.
Still, Olmstead says he frequently has to explain to people that his program will not be switching conferences. Despite not making that change, he has observed the positive impact the transition is having at the school.
“We are, in fact, the only team here at BYU not going (to the Big 12),” Olmstead said. “But as it relates from our administration, starting at our university president down to our athletic directors, down to the needs of our program, none of that is overlooked because we aren’t going into the Big 12. In fact, we’ve seen nothing but a benefit to the campus community (and) to our athletic department.”
At BYU’s formal press conference announcing its changes in league affiliation, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe explained why Olmstead and his squad would not be making the move with the rest of the Cougars’ athletic programs to the new conference.
“All of our teams play sports that the Big 12 carries except for men’s volleyball,” he said. “Men’s volleyball is a member of the … Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and has been for a long time; same thing was true in the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference. So that won’t change for Shawn and his group.”
With that in mind, BYU men’s volleyball will be in familiar territory as a team not included in the same league as the flagship athletic programs at the university. The stability that will come from staying in the MPSF, while still benefiting from the school’s newfound financial latitude, could be very advantageous for Olmstead’s program.
In an interview on “BYU Sports Nation,” Holmoe talked about the financial implications of being part of the Big 12 and how it will impact the athletic department as a whole. “I think what that does is it gives us opportunities,” he said. “That’s what we’ve always been waiting for, is opportunities for our student-athletes.”
That includes the men’s volleyball team, as all of BYU Athletics looks to capitalize on, and prepare for, the opportunities that lie ahead when the majority of BYU teams enter their third league in the last 14 years.
When asked if it inspires him and his program watching the other teams at BYU try to meet a higher standard as they go through the transition process of entering a new conference Olmstead replied, “A hundred percent. You know, it always is. There’s so much excitement. And there’s so much excitement just everywhere. You know, everywhere. For just the competition, the play, going to the next level, going to whatever you want to call it ‘big time.’ It’s just really exciting top to bottom.”
Much like the other teams at BYU, men’s volleyball has set a high standard for itself. It hopes to build off a big Friday win over No. 6 UC Irvine when it gets back on the court this week. The Cougars have road matches against Ball State Thursday at 5 p.m. MST and Saturday at 1 p.m. MST.