Earlier this month, my channel-surfing self wandered across the Kentucky-Louisville volleyball match (yes, I need to get out more). It turned out to be a terrific contest, UK snapping a nine-match losing streak to its intrastate rival by winning a five-game thriller.
As I listened to the familiar work of veteran Lexington broadcaster Dick Gabriel do the Cats-Cards play-by-play, I kept noticing the broadcast's color analyst was really good — informative, concise, occasionally funny.
I know that voice, I thought.
And I did.
It was Kathy DeBoer, the former Kentucky volleyball coach and one-time high-level UK athletics administrator.
Which made me wonder. If one is capable of being a high-level volleyball TV color commentator, are there enough televised matches to make a career out of it?
Surprisingly, DeBoer says the answer is yes. With the proliferation of college sports-oriented cable channels such as the Big Ten Network and the Fox regional sports channels, more than 100 college volleyball matches are being televised each year now, she said.
Which is not to say that DeBoer, 55, sees a big future for herself working as a national college volleyball analyst.
"I don't want this to sound like a cranky, old broad," she said, "but what the cable channels want in their female analyst is young and attractive and I'm neither. I don't say that in any kind of self-effacing way, I just don't qualify on either count they are looking for."
It may not be on national cable TV, but in her "day job" as executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association DeBoer is something of a volleyball missionary.
The Lexington-based group represents coaches of both male and female volleyball teams at all levels of the sport — club teams, high school, college. "Basically, I'm the coach of the coaches," DeBoer said in explanation of her role.
For a variety of reasons — not least of which is the popularity of beach volleyball superstars Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — DeBoer believes the sport is at a moment in which it has a chance to go "mainstream."
Starting in the 2011-12 school year, the NCAA has granted "sand volleyball" status as an emerging sport.
DeBoer said colleges that start such programs will compete in a manner similar to how college tennis programs do now. A school will field five teams of two players (a la tennis doubles teams). In a match between schools, the university that wins the most of the five matches is the overall winner.
Not everyone is thrilled with the move. Some college coaches of "court volleyball" fear it will "cannibalize" the more traditional form of the sport, taking players, media attention and resources from it.
On the other hand, other coaches figure that a rising tide lifts all boats and that anything that brings more attention and more participants to any kind of volleyball is good for the sport overall, DeBoer said.
In her days at UK, DeBoer essentially had two careers. In the 1980s, she built Kentucky into a national volleyball contender, reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 1987.
After leaving coaching in 1992, DeBoer became an administrator and, for a time, seemed on track to become a BCS conference athletics director.
When C.M. Newton retired as UK athletics director and Larry Ivy was promoted from within to replace him, DeBoer became the No. 2 administrator in the Kentucky Athletics Department. In 2001, she was a finalist for the athletics director job at Kansas.
However, in 2002, Ivy was forced out by then-new UK President Lee Todd. When Mitch Barnhart came on as Ivy's replacement, he brought his own people with him and DeBoer — so close to landing a major-college AD position — found herself out of a job.
She said she has no regrets about departing the major-college athletics director pipeline even though she was near to reaching the top.
"I'm proud of what I did in my time at UK," she said. "But I don't find myself with too much desire to raise money to put the latest plasma TV inside a locker room."
As for getting a hankering to again be a major college volleyball coach, DeBoer acknowledged that she misses one part of college coaching.
"I miss winning," she said. "I don't miss the losing. And I really don't miss the recruiting. And, trust me, without some real effort at recruiting, there wouldn't be much winning."
Apparently, there won't be much TV work, either.
"I enjoy it and do it here locally when I have time," DeBoer said. "But I don't think I'm what the cable channels are looking for nationally."
If so, that's too bad.