Back when Marquette volleyball was scheduled to play at Wisconsin in Madison earlier this fall, MU head coach Ryan Theis mentioned to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would like to see his Golden Eagles face Kelly Sheffield’s Badgers at Fiserv Forum. At the time, I thought it was just Theis doing a little PR out in the public eye, throwing out a trial balloon and so on.
About a week after that happened, #17 Creighton and #2 Nebraska broke the NCAA regular season attendance record for their match at CHI Health Center in Omaha, drawing 15,797 to the building that plays home to CU’s men’s basketball team. About a week after that, #4 Wisconsin moved from the Field House to the Kohl Center for a one-off match against #16 Florida and broke the attendance record again, drawing 16,833 people to UW’s home for basketball and men’s hockey.
All of this must have gotten a lot of attention in the right quarters, because on Saturday, during the Marquette/Wisconsin men’s basketball tilt at Fiserv Forum, the two athletic departments announced that we will be seeing Division 1 volleyball at Fiserv for the first time ever when Marquette hosts Wisconsin in that building on Wednesday, September 13, 2023.
Because I know you’re wondering already: Marquette and Wisconsin drew 17,760 to Fiserv Forum for men’s basketball on Saturday. The volleyball playing surface takes up about as much space as a basketball court, so the seating comparison is right on target. If that attendance were to be duplicated for volleyball, yes, that would be a new Division 1 record.
Marquette and Wisconsin are both currently in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after winning two matches over the weekend to advance. It is the second Sweet 16 in program history for Marquette and the 10th straight for Wisconsin. Both squads spent the majority of the regular season ranked in the AVCA top 25 after Marquette moved into the rankings by starting their campaign with a road win over then-#11 Kentucky, and they are currently both in the top 16 of the poll. Both teams are coming off of regular season conference titles as well, with the Golden Eagles picking up their second straight Big East crown in 2022 and the Badgers securing their fourth straight Big Ten championship. Both programs have been regular NCAA tournament participants for more than a decade now, and Marquette’s ascension to a nationally prominent program under the direction of Ryan Theis has led to the two sides renewing their series on a yearly basis since 2017.
Marquette athletic director Bill Scholl:
“What better way to highlight the incredible volleyball being played in this state than by packing Fiserv Forum,” said MU Vice President and Director of Athletics Bill Scholl. “We are excited for the opportunity to showcase two elite NCAA Division I programs with some of the best volleyball players from the state of Wisconsin. Volleyball has seen a remarkable rise in youth participation and broadcast ratings in recent years and we expect a great turnout and tremendous atmosphere at Fiserv Forum.”
Marquette head coach Ryan Theis:
“We jumped at this opportunity to elevate the sport of volleyball in the state of Wisconsin and highlight two programs with Final Four aspirations,” said ninth-year MU head coach Ryan Theis. “It is an opportunity to showcase the volleyball community in the state and the amazing support our two programs receive. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to host a Final Four ourselves at Fiserv Forum.”
“This is an exciting announcement and I’m thrilled that our volleyball team will have the opportunity to play in such a terrific venue. We are always seeking impactful experiences for our student-athletes and this promises to be a special event. We know the Milwaukee community loves the Badgers and I can’t wait to see a packed house.”
Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield:
“We are excited and looking forward to playing Marquette in Fiserv Forum next year. Last year, not only did the Badgers win the Division I National Championship, but we also celebrated as UW-Eau Claire won the D3 National Championship. This year, Marquette and Wisconsin have both earned top-16 seeds in the NCAA tournament and both teams have enjoyed record crowds in recent seasons,” said UW head coach Kelly Sheffield.
“In addition, the club and high school volleyball participation numbers in the state are also in the midst of an explosion,” Sheffield added. ”The sport has never been better than it is right now, and we are excited to continue this great rivalry and move it into bigger venues where more fans can experience watching the match in person. Earlier this season, Wisconsin set the all-time NCAA Volleyball attendance record in a sold-out and packed Kohl Center. We are looking forward to breaking that record in a sold-out Fiserv Forum.”
With the volleyball season starting in late August, tickets will go on sale at some point in the summer of 2023. With Wisconsin selling out the Field House every night to the tune of over 7,000 and Marquette averaging just over 1,200 a match this year and pulling in just over 2,000 for their NCAA tournament contests this week, you can see how this could easily turn into a very red building in downtown Milwaukee. I would certainly like to see some kind of program for not only MU’s volleyball season ticket holders but also men’s and women’s basketball season ticket holders to get first crack at these tickets before a general public on sale date. It is MU’s turn to host the yearly meeting in 2023, so it only makes sense to try to tilt the table in MU’s favor. In the interest of fairness, I wouldn’t be against Wisconsin’s season ticket holders getting second crack at the tickets before the public on-sale. After all, it is likely to be a historic record breaking event, and UW’s most loyal supporters deserve to be in attendance if possible.