At a chicken joint in Springfield where they know Jim Moore’s order by heart, the TV above the cash register was tuned to the Pac-12 Network.
Right there, in the middle of the lunch-time rush, Moore’s team was playing Oregon State in a replay of a volleyball match from last November. It wasn’t a night Moore wanted to relive — a rare loss to the Beavers, Oregon’s third in the past 12 meetings — but it illustrated a bigger point.
It was volleyball. It was on TV. In July.
Moore watched a few moments and turned away, returning to the issue at hand. We were there to discuss Moore’s plan for the Oregon volleyball program, one he’s been pitching this summer to anyone who will listen.
It probably sounds crazy to some. Moore, Oregon’s volleyball coach since 2005, doesn’t deny the audacity of his goal.
“I think it’s a 10-year plan,” he said.
To put it succinctly, Moore wants to turn a non-revenue sport into a money-maker. Or if not that, he wants his program to break even, to prove that a women’s sport can thrive without subsidies from the men.
Oregon’s volleyball program, like almost all non-revenue programs around the country, relies on money generated by football and men’s basketball for its budget. Even the richest athletic departments are losing money on most of the sports they sponsor, and it’s only the wild popularity of football — and, to a lesser extent, basketball — that keeps non-revenue sports afloat.
Moore looks at this and wonders why. Why can’t a successful women’s program, one that played for a national title in 2012 and competes in the NCAA Tournament almost every year, also be a financial winner?
“That goes back to my point on women’s sports — we’re always asking,” Moore said. “I say we need to pull our weight.”
On paper, Moore acknowledged, the task looks daunting. According to financial documents filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Oregon’s volleyball program generated $387,000 in revenue and $1.6 million in expenses for 2013-14.
Even so, Moore considers this a good time to try something big. Exposure for his sport has never been higher, with the Pac-12 Network televising more than 100 matches every year and ESPN’s NCAA Tournament broadcasts drawing record ratings.
The TV exposure cuts two ways. It means more fans are watching the sport, but it also means they have a reason to do so at home instead of buying a ticket.
For Moore’s plan to work, the Ducks will need to double their home attendance and expand their season-ticket base from 300 to roughly 2,000. While some sports — basketball in particular — have seen a negative correlation between TV exposure and home attendance, Moore said volleyball has been one of the big winners from the Pac-12 Network.
“I think it’s helped our sport tremendously,” he said.
Going head-to-head with football will always be a challenge for college volleyball coaches. Moore dislikes the excuse, but it’s real: Between Sunday NFL, Monday night football, Thursday night football, Friday night preps and a full slate of Saturday games, football is an all-consuming obsession from September to January.
Moore hears that argument, and he’s ready with a counterpoint: Look at Nebraska, a football-crazed school where volleyball thrives.
Nebraska has a rich volleyball history, including 33 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, 11 Final Fours and three national championships. According to The Omaha World-Herald, the Cornhuskers also posted a $400,000 profit in 2013-14.
To emulate Nebraska’s success, Moore hopes to harness the power of football instead of pushing against it. That’s why he wants to film promos with football players and why he’s trying to educate fans on the tactical similarities between the two sports.
“Basically, it’s misdirection,” Moore said. “The net is like the line of scrimmage, and you’re trying to create deception from one side to the other.”
Moore realizes this will have to be a long-term plan, but patience doesn’t always come easily.
Ten years will pass quickly, and to accomplish something this big, he knows he’ll need every minute.
“There’s so many things I want to do, and it’s all right now,” he said. “I have to keep pushing to get the things we want done. You don’t have forever.”
It’s hard to predict whether Moore’s plan will work, but his ambition is something to admire.
Coaches in all non-revenue sports would be wise to think in the same terms, because with schools setting aside more money for their athletes, self-sufficiency could become increasingly vital.
More than 40 years after Title IX, women’s sports still lag behind men’s in popularity and profitability. But as exposure continues to grow, Moore is right to sense both an opportunity and an obligation to reach a larger audience.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” he said. “We need to create an atmosphere where people come and want to watch that form of entertainment.”
It’s a lot to chew on, but give him credit for biting off something big.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG . Email email@example.com .