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Published August 7, 2012

LONDON (AP) – Even as Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor ready themselves for another gold medal championship match, they stand at an important crossroads for USA Volleyball.  Though they remain at the top of their game, they may be asked to step aside in professional competitions at home.  The reason: lack of sex appeal.

Women’s sports always have struggled for an audience equivalent to men’s.  The great equalizer has been flattering outfits with volleyball at the forefront.  In fact, professional women’s volleyball produces almost twice the revenue of women’s basketball while overall basketball dwarfs volleyball in popularity.  Experts credit the smaller and smaller bikinis volleyball players wear. 

“Even when the action is boring, you can spend an eternity watching their butts,” said Tate Wong, communications professor at Sonoran State College in Mesa, Arizona and media analyst.  “If the sex­­­­ goes, the viewers go,” he said.  Brian McFee, president of USA Volleyball, famously is reported to have said off-camera “[e]veryone that loves volleyball loves a little booty and a little booby.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a USA Volleyball board member said that Treaner-Jennings drag the sport down due to their age and general appearance.  “These women had their day, but they look like harsh in hi-def,” he said.  “Misty’s man-butt and Keri’s Larry Bird-mug ain’t helping any,” he added.  “It might be suggested that they retire from the tour.”

Many have observed Walsh's separated-at-birth relationship with the former Celtic great Bird.  Bird, for one, is not pleased with the comparison.  “I never won any beauty contests, but I thought I would do better than that,” said Bird via telephone Wednesday morning.

Chuck Bowles, former USA Volleyball president, talked down uninviting the best ranked women's team to the tour.  “If we exclude any women for their looks, the illusion of pure sport is destroyed,” he said.

In the near term, the not-so-pretty duo have their sights firmly set on an Olympic gold medal.  “We want to seal the deal that we’re the best team that’s ever happened,” Walsh Jennings said Tuesday night after the two-time gold medalists advanced to their third consecutive Olympic final.