The Country’s Newest League: Athletes Unlimited Volleyball

Following its successful softball season, Athletes Unlimited launches the country’s only professional women’s indoor league this week.

By Alex Holmes

Fantasy sports meets reality as the only professional women’s indoor volleyball league in the United States makes its debut this Saturday, Feb. 27. The Athletes Unlimited Volleyball season will run for six weeks of competition with all the action taking place in Dallas, TX. While the gameplay might look familiar, this league will operate a bit differently from traditional sports leagues. There will be no consistent rosters, no team owners, and no standard volleyball scoring system. In a brand new sports model, Athletes Unlimited presents another women’s sports league where players earn points from individual performances on their quest for the league championship, MVP, and cash bonuses.

Last fall, Athletes Unlimited established a new softball league that ran for six weeks and rewarded players for individual performances. In a few days, Athletes Unlimited will make history again, this time with volleyball. Throughout the season, 22 of the 30 matches will air on national television networks CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports. Fans can watch the other eight matches on Dailymotion, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitch. Players will compete as a team, but will also score individual points based on their statistics in serving, kills, sets, digs, passes, and blocks. All points that a player earns count toward her weekly point total, which will accumulate at the end of the season to decide the Athletes Unlimited Champion.

Scoring System

In the Athletes Unlimited league, all volleyball matches will be played to three sets, even if one team wins the first two sets. Like traditional volleyball, the first team to 25 points (win by 2) wins the set. The total score decides the overall match winner, meaning one team can lose two sets but win the overall match. For example, if the Gold Team wins the first two sets 25-23 and 25-22, and the Purple Team wins the third set 25-15, then the Purple Team wins the match with a score of 70-65. This changeup in match rules will force teams to compete for every single point through all three sets. Even if one team dominates the first two sets, the opposing team still has a chance to make a comeback and win the entire match with a strong performance in the third set.

‘Win Points’ are given for winning individual sets as well as the overall match. Each set that a player wins is worth +40 points, while winning the overall match is worth +60 points.

After each match, members of the Unlimited Club will decide which three players had the best performances. The player receiving the most points for match MVP will earn +60 points toward her individual total, while the match’s second-place MVP will earn +40 points, followed by the third-place MVP’s +20 points.

Points are also up for grabs based on individual statistics. An ace is worth +12 points, while a service error will result in the player losing -8 points. On attack, a player can earn +8 points for a kill or lose -12 points for an attack error. Players will be penalized the most for attacking, setting, and passing errors as each mistake costs -12 points in the individual standings. A successful pass is worth +2 points and a successful assist results in +1 point. Sports fans unfamiliar with volleyball rules and lingo should stay tuned for a She Plays primer on volleyball for beginners.

On the defensive end, players can earn individual points from digs and stuff blocks. A dig is the first contact made after a ball is sent over to the defensive team from an attack and is worth +5 points. A stuff block occurs when a defensive player at the net blocks an attack and the rally ends on the attacking team’s side of the court. The stuff block is worth +12 points. Players are not penalized for attempting to dig and block.

Jordan Larson (SOURCE: VolleyMob, Eczasibasi Vitra Istanbul)

Weekly Draft

As mentioned before, there are no set teams in Athletes Unlimited . After each week’s last match, the top four point scorers are named team captains for the following week. The week’s top player will take command of the Gold Team and the second-rated point scorer becomes captain of the Blue Team. The week’s third-best player takes control over the Orange Team, while the fourth-best finisher is the new captain of the Purple Team.

The four captains draft their teams, which will be streamed online each week. Once all 44 players are selected to a team, preparation for the next week begins. Team captains can consult with anyone prior to the draft to help them make their decisions, and patterns will likely emerge as players start to find their favorite pairings. The drafts add a whole new element to fans’ experience of the season, and tracking the drafts can be its own exciting event each week.

About Athletes Unlimited

In the United States, professional indoor volleyball has had a tough time establishing itself on the national scene. Major League Volleyball was one of the sport’s first initiatives that lasted for nearly three seasons before folding in 1989. Another go at a women’s professional league came over a decade later, with the United States Professional Volleyball League beginning and ending in 2002.

The lack of professional opportunities for indoor volleyball players left a vacuum for Athletes Unlimited founders Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros to fill. The two began dreaming about an unorthodox, player-centered league in late 2018. The following year, they hatched a plan to bring America’s best softball and volleyball players on board to experiment this new model of playing and paying.

Scrimmages have begun in Texas (SOURCE: Athletes Unlimited, Jade Hewitt Media)

After months of planning, Athletes Unlimited Softball debuted in the fall of 2020, volleyball begins this week, and the Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse league is slated to begin this summer.

Athletes Unlimited is providing a platform for an underserved market of female athletes who have either had no professional league to play in or have had to spend a majority of their careers overseas. After seeing several domestic leagues fail, the organization broke away from traditional structures to experiment with the player-centric approach in building its leagues. The players are in charge of recruiting, creating league rules, and retaining equity in the league. Athletes are in control inside and outside the lines of play.

The players are truly at the center of the Athletes Unlimited model. Featuring 44 of the world’s best players, professional indoor volleyball is finally returning to the U.S., and hopes are high that this time it could be here to stay. 

The 2021 Athletes Unlimited Volleyball season begins this Saturday, Feb. 27 with games slated for 5 P.M. ET and 8 P.M. ET. The first match will air live on Twitch and YouTube, while the second math will broadcast on FS2. A full schedule of matches and television coverage is available here. Detailed information on television coverage is available here.

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