A Record Crowd Shows Buildup of Nebraska Volleyball and Women’s Sports

According to Patrick Rishe, the director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, rules allowing athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness, known as N.I.L., as well as shifting societal views on gender equity, have contributed to greater investment in women’s sports, leading to events like Volleyball Day.

Not every Division I school has the same set of circumstances that would allow it to conjure what Nebraska has with its volleyball team. The state has no major professional sports teams, and the football program for its flagship university enjoys a near-monopoly on college sports fandom. (Ask Husker fans about fair-weather fans of Creighton men’s basketball.)

According to public records obtained by The Lincoln Journal Star, just one of 522 women’s sports programs at public universities in six major conferences — the Big East, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12 — turned a profit in 2022. That one program was Nebraska volleyball.

In Lincoln, an immediate catalyst for Volleyball Day was competitive fire. The previous attendance record for the sport also belonged to Nebraska, but it came by way of a loss to Wisconsin in the 2021 national championship match in Columbus, Ohio, which 18,755 people attended. Motivated by that defeat, and boosted by a loyal fan base and even the state’s governor, Jim Pillen, the school made a plan to break not just the N.C.A.A. volleyball attendance mark, but the record for all women’s sports globally.

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