By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

WHEN the volleyball tournament of Season 82 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines finally fires off on the rescheduled date of March 3, one conspicuous facet of the offering will be more exposure for the men’s competition.

Inspired by the success and good showing of the national team in the 30th Southeast Asian Games and the interest that men’s play has gotten of late, league officials have deemed it fit to give the men’s tournament a fair share of the spotlight with that of the women’s side.

As per the approved program format of the UAAP, men’s and women’s games will be alternately played in the morning and afternoon sessions in three scheduled play dates — Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays — per week.

The program format is different from past seasons where men’s play was confined to the morning sessions.

For the first round, the teams facing off for the men’s side will also be the same paring in the women’s game.

“With the success of the men’s volleyball team in the last SEA Games, it is about time that we put men’s volleyball side by side with the women’s volleyball,” said UAAP President Emmanuel Fernandez as he talked about the program change.

In the SEA Games, which the country hosted in December, the men’s national team turned heads on its way to the silver medal finish, something the country had not done since 1977.

The concerted effort of the UAAP to give the men’s side its due recognition is welcomed by the league coaches even as they expressed their gratitude to UAAP officials for the move.

“I’m happy because the men and women can now be watched alternately. It’s good for the game of volleyball and it surely benefits the men’s play,” said University of Santo Tomas men’s coach Ogie Mamon as he underscored how giving the men more exposure would further enhance the popularity of volleyball in the country which the women’s game helped elevate.

He was seconded by Arnold Laniog, coach of De La Salle University, who said, “We are thankful for the opportunity given to men’s volleyball. Through it we can entice younger players to play the game. We have seen that the men’s game here can level up and this will help that.”

Even coaches of the women’s teams support the move of the UAAP.

“It’s good to promote both the men’s and women’s game. It’s still the same game and I commend the organizers,” said University of the Philippines women’s coach Godfrey Okumu.

“This is the UAAP levelling up,” Oliver Almadro of the defending women’s champion Ateneo de Manila University, for his part, said.

Defending UAAP men’s champion is National University, which defeated Far Eastern University, 2-0, in the finals in Season 81 to claim back-to-back titles.

“We’ve lost some key players from last season to graduation. But even before they graduated, we were already preparing. We are ready to defend the title,” said NU men’s coach Dante Alinsunurin while also expressing gratitude for the focus being given by the UAAP on men’s volleyball.

Meanwhile, with the start of the tournament delayed over concerns on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), UAAP volleyball will have Tuesday matches — one each for men and women.

The volleyball tournament was supposed to start on Feb. 15 until league officials heeded the advice of health officials against the holding of large gatherings like sporting events to prevent the further spread of the communicable disease which has hit the sports scene not only in the country but in different parts of the world as well.

The first Tuesday matches will have FEU versus UE at 2 p.m. (men’s) and 3:30 p.m. (women’s) on opening day at the Mall of Asia Arena.