USTA GA Piloting New Scoring System

670px-Keep-Score-for-Tennis-Step-7The following appears on the TennisLink page for an upcoming Georgia Super Champs (Level 3) tournament:

USTA Georgia has asked us to pilot / test a new scoring format at this GA Level 3 tournament. ALL matches in the 12s-18s, both main and back draw, will play three sets. But, they will be short 4-game sets, with the score starting at 2-games-all. This format allows the normal ebb and flow of a full 3-set match to be maintained, without the “sudden death” mindset of tiebreakers. At the same time, it does not change the maximum number of games (and time) required to play matches. OLD FORMAT = 2 regular sets (7-6, 6-7 max) then a 10-point tiebreak (1-0) in lieu of a 3rd set. That totals 13+13+1 games = 27 games. PILOT FORMAT = 3 short sets (5-4, 4-5, 5-4) which totals 9+9+9 games = 27 games). Since they start at 2-all, the reported scores will “look” like more games were played (7-6, 6-7, 7-6) but only 9 games per set maximum (not 13) will be actually played. Please be sure to give feedback after the tournament, by using the SURVEY form to communicate with USTA Georgia.

When I first heard about this pilot (from a Fellow Tennis Parent), I immediately reached out to the head of Junior Competition for USTA Georgia as well as the Executive Director. It seems the idea for the pilot came through the volunteer-staffed Junior Competition Committee, not through the paid employees at USTA.

Robert Sasseville, who happens to be one of my favorite tournament directors in our section and a well-respected tennis historian, is the one who initially proposed this change, so he and I had a lengthy phone conversation about his reasons for doing so. Robert shared with me the dilemma of running junior tournaments . . . having larger draws to provide opportunity to as many players as possible while simultaneously trying to minimize the number of school days missed and keeping kids from getting injured from playing too many matches in a shortened time frame. It’s a tough one to resolve.

“I would like to move away from the use of ‘Tiebreak in Lieu of a 3rd set’ and replace it with the ‘Best of 3 short sets’ (starting each set at 2-all),” says Sasseville. “For close matches the maximum number of games played for ‘tiebreak in lieu of a 3rd set’ or ‘3 short sets’ is exactly the same (27 games). One-sided matches would likely be somewhat shorter, since winning 6-2;6-2 would only require 8 games instead of 12. Playing 3 sets, none of which is a ‘super tiebreaker’, takes away the belief that anything can happen in a tiebreaker, since all 3 sets allow a player to lose 3 games and still feel like they have a chance to win the next game, and maybe get back into the match.”

Todd Kennedy, Vice Chair of USTA Georgia’s Junior Competition Committee, feels differently. “Call me a traditionalist but I like the idea of playing regular sets. They do it on tour, in college at ITF events, etc. I can’t think of one tennis event globally where short sets are played. I understand when bad weather forced tournament directors to make changes to scoring formats to ‘finish an event’, but don’t agree with doing it at the start of a tournament.” He continues, “Also one break of serve and a short set can be over. Playing to 6 allows a player to get back into a set. I like the 10 point tiebreaker for the third (if a third set can’t be played) because it teaches kids the importance of every point. I’m fine with maybe testing this for level 5 events but strongly disagree with anything else.”

Personally, I have very mixed feelings about the pilot scoring system and am happy my son won’t have to deal with it. On the one hand, I hate the 10-point tiebreaker and would be happy to see it disappear completely, at least from main-draw matches. This short-set format gives players the opportunity to play [almost] a full third set so that a player’s fitness level [almost] stays part of the overall equation. On the other hand, why do we have to keep tweaking the scoring system of our beautiful sport? And please don’t throw the “they do it in pro tennis” argument at me. That’s a totally different animal that is governed by ticket sales, sponsors, etc. Junior tennis should be about developing players and creating life-long tennis enthusiasts. I feel the exact same way about college tennis and all the experimenting that’s happening there. But, hey, maybe that’s just me? There is value in winning a set 6-0; that will no longer be possible with this pilot format (scores where one player wins all the games will likely be reported as 6-2, 6-2). And, what will this do to systems such as UTR that take score into account when rating players? Will they have to tweak their algorithms to account for this change? Or will it simply skew their rating system?

As stated on the upcoming tournament TennisLink page above, USTA Georgia is seeking input from parents and players via an online survey. I took a look at the survey, and there are no questions specific to the new scoring format, only space to write in comments. I’ve asked but haven’t yet gotten an answer yet as to how USTA Georgia will determine whether or not to roll out the scoring system statewide or recommend it to other sections or USTA National. If your child is playing in one of these pilot tournaments, I hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts via the comments section of the survey or via direct email to USTA Georgia. Otherwise, you’ll have no leg to stand on if this pilot becomes the standard in junior tournament play.

A Look Back … The Past 30 Years of National Junior Tennis

Little Theatre

[The following post was written by Robert Sasseville, long-time tournament director and participant in the world of competitive junior tennis. While quite long, Robert’s post gives a thorough history of the junior tennis tournament and ranking structure and explains how we got where we are today. A huge thank-you to him for doing this extensive research and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format!]

The extended discussion that occurred on ParentingAces.com about a week ago (terminating on February 16, 2014) would be amusing if the situation weren’t so sad. The issues associated with tournament admittance and rankings are fraught with contradictions, largely imposed by the national organization.

Although opinion is sprinkled within these notes, an effort was made stick to the facts.* Some older dates have been approximated.

Technology and increased population mobility have served to change all youth sports in the United States. The concept of sports academies (residential or local), and more recently, homeschooling, were foreign to tennis in 1980 except in Soviet Bloc countries.

There have been dramatic philosophical changes that irrevocably altered the landscape of junior tennis between the early 1980’s and 2010, the year before the National Schedule began to be compressed. These changes not only affected the structure of the competitive environment, they also created expectations on the part of players, parents. and coaches.

In 2014 we see abrupt changes to a system that had evolved over a 20-year period. It’s no wonder that many are confused, conflicted, and downright mad.

Changes in the past three decades include:
• Computer Rankings
• Limiting Results that counted for ranking
• Establishment of Tournament levels
• Optimum schedule and the first use of National Standing for selection for National tournament play
• Points Per Round Rankings (PPR)

In the 1980’s tournament play and rankings were independent and existed in “parallel universes”. Rankings were of little practical import except for early year seeding. But all that changed 14 years ago with the adoption of the Optimum Schedule. In 2000 tournament structure and rankings became intertwined and remain so today, so it is impossible to discuss one totally independently of the other.

Any discussion of tournament structure would be incomplete without a “rankings” component. Tournament history without mention of ranking denies the existence of the symbiosis that now exists by USTA fiat. Today almost every aspect of one affects the other, from event levels to draw formats to PPR point tables, one influences the other. And, they all affect how players make their competitive participation decisions.

Appendices
Everybody knows about tournaments. You register… you check your match time… you show up and play your match … and you do it over again … and again until you lose twice. However, the history, evolution, and utility of “Rankings” are unfamiliar to a great many. A detailed history of USTA ranking concepts is in Appendix A.

The selection process has been closely tied to Rankings since 2000, so Appendix B shows the apparent philosophical inconsistency which has now been imposed on the 2014 schedule.

Appendix C addresses the 2014 national point tables.

Appendix D is for those who appreciate details. It contains the laborious selection process for National Selection Tournaments and Open Regionals.

Now let’s look back to see how we got to 2014.

1983
When was I first involved with a National Championship (1983 Girls’ 14 National Championship), most of tennis as we know it didn’t exist. Draw size was 128. Format: Full FIC in singles; Single elimination in doubles. All matches played the best of 3 sets.

In 1983 there were no computer rankings. In fact hand-held cell phones and the wide-spread use of personal computers were still in the future. The National tournament calendar basically followed the traditional school year. The Hard Courts were in late June, the Clay Courts were in July, The Nationals (Kalamazoo, etc.) were in August, and the National Indoors were during Thanksgiving. The Easter Bowl was a traditionally strong invitational event held during the March-April Easter spring break period.

Age Control Date Change
Rankings (national, sectional, and district) were generated once a year at the end of the ranking year. In 1983 the ranking year ended on September 30. Around 1988 the 12 and under age group began transitioning to the calendar year age control date to align the U.S. with the international age convention. Older age groups continued to use the October-September ranking year until they aged out around 1994.

Player Record Sheets and Rankings 1983
Since no computers were used, the USTA had a Ranking committee made up of one or more “rankers” for each age group. Tournament records were submitted on player record sheets by players for consideration by the committee. [The very first thing a player had to do at check-in at our Girls’ 14 Nationals was turn in an updated copy of their player record sheet. That record, along with the tournament draw sheets would be given to the tournament rankers for Girls’ 14 and was the basis for those players’ year-end national rankings. Other players were free to submit their records to the ranking committee for consideration.]

Results from any event played were considered for ranking. Events like the Easter Bowl, Midwest Open, Texas Open, Florida Open, and even smaller local events generated results that were taken into account. In like manner each section, and even each district in larger sections, had a ranking committee. They generated year-end rankings based on paper player record sheets submitted by the players who “applied” for ranking. Rankings were an evaluation of 12-month’s play and an attempt to order players based on whom the committee felt would likely prevail in head to head match play based on that year’s results. Since rankings were “after the fact” they had limited utility for seeding and tournament selection purposes except early the next year.

Because rankings were static for 12 months, and widespread out-of-section travel and play weren’t common, a system for admittance of players to national championships was devised that relied on sectional play.

Sectional Endorsers and Entry Process 1983
Again, since computer rankings were still in the future, sections had committees that created ordered “endorsement” lists based upon the criteria that each section independently determined. Each section had an individual who was the “Endorser” for each national age group. That person was responsible to collect the paper entry forms, player records, and entry fee checks for all applicants from their section (including alternates) and submit them along with their sectional ordered endorsement list to the national championship. The endorser was the tournament’s point of contact with the section and often with their players as well.

Sectional Quotas 1983
Since there was no equitable way to evaluate player strength other than on-court, each section was given a “quota” of players based on the section’s percentage of junior membership. The total of all quota spots in 1983 was 100.

Selection Process 1983
The remaining 28 players were selected based on an analysis of all alternates’ player records submitted by the endorsers. However, alternates had to be selected in the order in which they fell on the sectional endorsement list, unless permission was granted by the endorser to select a player out of order. Some sections permitted it, others didn’t. This created the situation where a deserving player was denied entry by the intransigence of the section, or a weaker player (in the opinion of the National tournament) was admitted to allow the selection of a strong player ordered below him. The tournament made an effort to get the best players possible in the event based on the information available. It was our goal to get the best 100 players in the draw of 128. Obviously, weaker players were admitted because of quotas, but it was amazing to see some of those weaker players blossom in later years. Who knows, maybe that tournament is what made the difference? This was the national structure in the “Golden Years” before tennis became an Olympic sport and tennis became a true international sport.

12 and Under Nationals Eliminated and, National Hard Courts Discontinued
However, in 1989 USTA Junior Competition Committee was convinced that National Championship competition for ‘12 and under players’ was too much too soon, so the members voted to eliminate all National 12 Championship play. They also felt that the summer calendar was too crowded, so the National Hard Courts (mainly in California) were eliminated, as well. So, in 1990 half of all summer National Championships were eliminated. In 1989 there were 24 events. In 1990 there were only 12, and Kalamazoo had 2 of the 12. The National Indoors at Thanksgiving dropped from 8 events to 6.

Computer Rankings
Around that time computer rankings started creeping into use. Eventually, all sections adopted a version of computer ranking and most used the STAR system. Midwest used ‘Sapphire’, and the experimental ‘WinRank’, probably the best of all, was piloted in parts of the Southern section. With the introduction of computer rankings, it became possible for sections to use the generated lists as “endorsement” lists.

192-Draw
In 1996 at least two summer National Championship tournaments conducted 192-draw pilots. Based on responses from players, parents, coaches at the pilots, the 192-draw size was adopted for the 1997-2013 National Clay Courts and The National Championships (August). In 1997 the 192 draws were filled in the following order:
• 144 players from sectional quotas
• 4 wild cards
• 48 (or more) sectionally endorsed players not already selected in the order they fell on the National selection list. Selecting endorsed players to fill remaining vacancies at the end of the process allowed the tournament to mitigate inequities in the quota selection process. Our goal was to get the best 128 players who applied in our draw of 192.

12’s Restored in 1999
In 1999 the 12 and Under National Championships were restored. Initially, 12’s had the same draw size (192) and draw format (full FIC) as the other age groups. In 2000 the draw size for 12’s was reduced to 128, and in 2004 (or 2005) the draw format was changed to compass.

Ranking Challenges and the Creation of Tournament Levels
In 1999 to qualify for a ranking players participating in “The Nationals” (August) had to submit their updated “Player Record Sheet” before beginning play and submit additional tournament results to the ranking committee by September 30. Any subsequent results until the end of the year were to be submitted “as they occur.” Year-end National rankings were also generated by computer. Initially, USTA entered national events and any results submitted by the players from any event played.

Since the summer National Championships expanded to 192 players and there was the expectation that all results should be entered in the computerized ranking program, a problem arose at the national level. There were so many results to enter from across the country that USTA was unwilling to invest in sufficient staff to input the player data. This reluctance on the part of USTA to input all tournament data resulted in a limit being placed on the number events whose results would be considered for ranking, and ultimately caused the creation of tournament levels. It is ironic that when technology finally enabled the USTA to input all data through their sections and districts (which was happening) and import all the data into a national database that they elected to exclude the majority of data. So, in 2000 the concept of levels was born. Initially, ranking levels were to used to limit the quantity of results that counted for national ranking and to determine participation points. Events below District qualifier were designated as level 6 and did not count for ranking. Below is the 2000 table of levels:

Level 1 USTA Super National Championships (6 pts)
Level 2 National Open Championships (4 pts)
Level 3 Other events on the National Junior Tournament Schedule (4 pts)
Level 4 Sectional Championships (2 pts)
Level 5 District Qualifiers and sectional designates (2 pts)
Level 6 All other events (1 pt)

To qualify for a National ranking in 2000 a player had to have played in at least one National Championship or two National Opens, have acquired at least 22 participation points, and have at least 2 wins over players who had qualified for national ranking. Otherwise, he was ineligible for national ranking. Even though results were not being imported into the ranking system, USTA’s crediting participation in Level 6 events did allow players to qualify for ranking without having to travel to only major events to acquire every one of the 22 points required.

If it ain’t broke … The Optimum Schedule
At about the same time, around 1999, members of the junior committee felt that certain inequities existed in the sport that could be addressed using recently acquired ability to generate rankings instantaneously, if needed. Among them were:
1. Fixed ranking year
2. Uneven distribution of National Championships
3. Single pathway to National Championships

Fixed Ranking year: The calendar year rankings were viewed as unfair to those who had “bad” birthdates. They felt that there was institution inequity for those who were born late in the ranking year and that the concept of “Rolling Rankings” would mitigate those inequities. Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, looks at youth sports and found that those with “good” birthdays had a significant advantage throughout their youth and adult careers, so maybe the committee members were way ahead of their time on this issue.

Uneven Distribution of National Championships: If the traditional school year was to be honored, but “Rolling Rankings” were to be implemented, the national tournament calendar had to be revised.

Single pathway to National Championships: There were always horror stories of deserving players not being admitted to Nationals because of overly strict sectional requirements, players foregoing opportunities to compete in other tennis events or other worthwhile activities, or deserving players who were injured and couldn’t meet endorsement requirements.

On August 1, 2000 the Optimum Schedule was born and for the first time:
• National ranking (standing) was used as a basis for player selection to National Championship events.
• Remote Qualifiers (National Opens) for succeeding National Championships were created
• Sectional endorsement was no longer required for the top nationally ranked players, nor was it required for National Open qualifiers.
• Age Eligibility was based on month of birth rather than the former birth year.
• Birth month was the criteria for inclusion in ranking lists.
• Rankings were generated monthly (Rolling Rankings) and year end rankings used a composite of the players highest monthly rankings during the calendar year.
• Sectional endorsement was not required for entry
• Sectional endorsement order had no bearing on player selection except for those who fell within the section’s quota.

The Optimum Schedule:
• Eliminated the National Indoors at Thanksgiving
• Created the Winter Nationals in late December and
• Established the Spring Nationals (which absorbed the former Easter Bowl).

This gave a more year-round national schedule, while still leaving the fall and winter school year unaffected. In 2000 the selection order for 192-draw summer National Championships was:
• All who entered listed in the top 60 on the Super National Selection List (rankings)
• 24 National Open Qualifiers (6 from each site)
• 100 Sectional Quota Players*
• 8 Wild Cards
• Remaining Vacancies selected from Super National Selection List

By 2003 the selection order for 192-draw events changed to:
• Players listed in the top 24 on the Super National Selection List
• 24 National Open Qualifiers (6 from each site)
• 100 Sectional Quota Players*
• 8 Wild Cards
• Remaining Vacancies selected from Super National Selection List
* Because Sectional Quota players were selected after ‘Top 60’ or ‘Top 24’ and after ‘National Open Qualifiers’, much lower ranked players likely fell within the quota and made quota player selection much less reliable than they had been in the previous years, when sectional quota players were selected first. The Optimum Schedule created a radical break from tradition and was the first step away from sectional play being the staple for most players.

2004: Points Per Round Ranking System is Hatched
2004 was a watershed year and the face of junior tennis experienced a radical change, both in perception and in reality. In 2004 the Points Per Round ranking system (PPR) was adopted and each section was directed to designate 12 Sectional Ranking Tournaments which would offer national ranking points. Regardless of the section’s size, each section was allotted 12 events with identical national ranking points. In small sections with few strong events this offered an opportunity to grant National status to events that previously could not qualify based on strength, while in some larger sections it caused some event to lose National ranking points, since some events had been granted National Level 5 status based on strength of field (e.g. GA Jr. Open). The points per round ranking concept took on a life of its own, and the junior competitive landscape was forever changed. The rationale for implementing a PPR ranking system was that players needed more match play and head-to-head ranking systems discouraged play because of fear of losing. The proponents were right! Data indicated that there was a dramatic increase in match play, so PPR had succeeded in getting more players to play more matches.

Exit: DUCKING
Enter: POINT CHASING
(That seems like that is the reason PPR was adopted in the first place.)

USTA created a ranking environment that begets inequity, but encourages play, so the only way to keep deserving players from “falling through the cracks” is to increase the number of opportunities and make draws at major events larger, not smaller.

By 2005 the following changes occurred in summer Nationals:
• In 18’s players listed in the top 40 on the Super National Selection List were admitted.
• The number of National Open Qualifiers admitted was reduced to 12 (3 from each site – effective 2004)

NOTE: At some point June Closed Sectional Championships were elevated to Level 3.

National Junior Tournament Schedule Expands “Regional” Play
There had been many popular and often unique Level 3 events on the National Junior Tournament Schedule scattered throughout the year. Several were “Bowls” (Copper, Fiesta, Gator, California, etc.), others were “Opens” (Florida, Texas, Midwest, Southern), while many identified a sponsor, a memorial, or location (Pacific Coast, Kentucky Derby, St. Louis Gateway, Peach State, K-Swiss, Muterspaw, Columbus, Franklin, Quicksilver, Roxy, Sportwall, Gamma). These events offered unique and very competitive environments. In 2006-07 the USTA decided to institutionalize the concept of “Regional” play, renaming what had formerly been National Junior Circuit Tournaments as Regional Tournaments. They actually decided to INCREASE the number of Regional events. Apparently, the belief was that players would limit their play to the events held in the player’s geographic “region”. In 2006-08 the number of Regional events increased. Events like the Mike Agassi No Quit in Las Vegas, NV filled vacancies in the calendar. However, the term “Regional” was just that, a “term”. It was not predictive of who would enter the event. Because these events were geographically near transportation centers and well dispersed throughout the calendar, they were very attractive.

Instead of keeping players close to home, “Regionals” attracted players who wanted good competition, new unfamiliar opponents, and an excuse to travel. The first year of the Mike Agassi No Quit in Las Vegas (2007) we had more than 700 applicants for 256 spots. It’s hard to imagine that 700 players were all “Point Chasers”, particularly since the tournament was very strong.

USTA had set in place a system that encouraged play and was offering more opportunities to do so. USTA created a ranking environment that begets inequity, but encourages play, so the only way to keep deserving players from “falling through the cracks” is to increase the number of opportunities and make draws at major events larger, not smaller, and yet …

Death of National Schedule Events and the Ascent of Concurrent “Regionals”
Around 2010 someone decided that the system was working too well and …
• Players were playing too much.
• Players were traveling too much.
• Players were missing too much school (at least those who were still attending traditional school).
• More Sectional play was needed.
• Point Chasing was rampant and was the downfall of US Tennis.
• Parents were stupid and didn’t have sense enough to keep their kids at home.
• Most players wouldn’t be professionals anyway

So, in a blinding moment of enlightenment, in 2011 the committee concluded:
• Why don’t we neuter all of the National Junior Schedule Level 3 tournaments and rename them “Regional (name of location)”,
• Make them all the same, except summer events can have 64-draws (for a while)
• How about let’s pick 4 weekends out of 52 weeks on the calendar and stack all of the formerly unique events one upon the other.
• In fact let’s have 8 concurrent events on each of the 4 weekends and let’s break up age groups and disperse them throughout the U.S.
• Never mind that we don’t have a computer entry system that will accommodate such a structure.

In 2011 the following changes occurred in National Championships and the tournament calendar:
• The number of National Open Qualifiers admitted was reduced to 8 (2 from each site)*
• The draw sizes of summer Boys’ and Girls’ 14 National Championships were reduced to 128.
• All Boys’ and Girls’ 14 National Championships adopted the compass draw format.
• National Open draw sizes were reduced from 64 to 32 (4 sites)
• Generic Regionals replaced National Schedule events
• Regionals were limited to 4 weekends with age groups scattered at different sites, as determined by the National Junior Sanction and Schedule committee to spread the wealth among competing sites.
• 8 concurrent events were held in each age group.

So what happened?
• Players desperately entered 4 sites in 2 age groups to assure that they could play in one of the few events available.
• Because of the awkward and confusing entry process, families of selected players often found that siblings had been accepted at events 1,000 miles apart.
• Others had other commitments on one or more weekends and missed 25% of the “Regional” year for each conflicted weekend.
• Strength of field took a tremendous hit and was much lower. With 256 spots available on a weekend vs. 64 or 96, it doesn’t take a savant or rocket scientist to realize that the last 100 players selected will be much weaker when there are 8 concurrent events.
• Many, many events that had rich histories of service to the sport were destroyed.
• Rest in peace Copper Bowl, Peach State, Muterspaw, Fiesta Bowl, et al.

Even that didn’t work. Apparently, Point Chasers cannot be discouraged so easily. It appeared that the only way to eliminate them was by putting a stake through their heart, or by just doing away with their quarry. Take away the point-bearing events and there is nothing left to chase.

Charge of the Lite Brigade
A well-meaning committee directed by what appeared to be disenchanted leadership, decided that “enough was enough.” The committee was to reinvent junior tennis and the sport would be better for it. No longer would players spend tons of money chasing a dream that was merely a vapor. It would be back to the real world, and back to school. So, subcommittees met and talked, planned, maybe even argued about the future of junior tennis. Not all sections were included in the subcommittee doing the heavy lifting. In fact, the largest section, Southern, was not included in the subcommittee charged with recommending the new and improved tournament landscape.

2013-2014 Proposed Competitive Structure is Unveiled
On November 16, 2011 a document was prepared and sections were given a peek at what was to happen. Here are some of the things the original proposal contained:
• Elimination of Spring Nationals

• Elimination of Winter Nationals

• Reducing The Nationals (August) to 128 draws for 14-18’s effective in 2013.

• Reducing The Nationals 12 draw size to 64.

• Increasing the number of wild cards for The Nationals 18’s to 16.

• Reducing the 2013 Clay Court Nationals to 128-draws for 14-18’s

• Reducing 2014 Clay Court Nationals to 64-draws and moving event to Memorial weekend

• Replacing 4 National Opens 4 times a year with 2 National Selection tournaments held 2 times per year (Level 2)

• Mandating that concurrent National Selection tournaments play on 3 different surfaces- hard, clay, and indoor (one 32-draw on each … Can you say, “Huh?”).

• Creating Grand Masters event in which four 14’s play to advance one player to join seven 16’s who would advance two players to join 14 18’s and play do determine a champion. Losers would stay and train while the others played. (Level 1, but not sure which age group)

• Creating National Masters for 14’s and 16’s at same time as ITF Easter Bowl (Level 1A) [All sixteen participants who completed the event would be admitted directly to the 64-player National Clay Courts].

• Created a July National Masters for 14’s and 16’s (Level 1A) [All sixteen participants who completed the event would be admitted directly to the 128-player National Championships].

• Creating a Level 1 Winter Team event for 32 players to replace Winter Nationals

• Creating a Level 2 Winter Team event for 32 players to replace Winter Nationals

• Replacing 8 32-draw Level Regionals held 4 times per year with: 4 32-draw Level 3 Regionals held 3 times per year played concurrently with National Masters and National Grand Masters tournaments and 4 32-draw Level 4 Regionals held 2 times per year played concurrently with National Selection tournaments

• All Regionals would be closed to players within the region and selected based on sectional quotas.

• Each Sections would be given an additional National Level 3 event (total of 2) and 4 National Level 4 events to do with as they pleased.

• The 8 sectional Level 5 events previously allowed would be eliminated altogether, so sectional designated events no longer had national value.

• The Level 3 August doubles event would be elevated to a Level 1 National Doubles Championship.

• Entry to National Clays and The Nationals based solely on Quotas (except wild cards and the sixteen National Masters entrants directly admitted to 14’s and 16’s).

• Sectional Championship winner admitted directly to The Nationals.

• Quotas would be determined by 60 % on strength (players ranked in the top 150 nationally) and 40% on membership.

While few knew about this November 16, 2011 proposal, or even understood it after a cursory review, those who understood it had grave reservations.

Resistance to the Proposed 2013-2014 Structure and the ‘Listening Tour’
Although it took a few months to coalesce, individual and industry stakeholders began to express their disapproval through Facebook, online petitions, blog articles and discussions, and other public and private communications. The pushback to the proposal took a quantum leap forward when Sean Hannity published an article on his website questioning the wisdom of a system that eliminated more than 50 percent of national competitive opportunities and more than 75% of national play outside a player’s region compared to the 2010 opportunities, and calling on the tennis community to get involved. (June 26, 2012)

Patrick McEnroe responded publicly on the USTA.com website, but deferred to Timothy Russell, chair of Junior Competition, for comments. Dr. Russell used a little sarcasm in his response, so the battle was on. Because of the uproar created when these changes became public and began to draw fire, the USTA made an effort to educate the tennis community by sending Patrick McEnroe and others from Player Development to the 2012 National Championships to conduct player/parent/coach forums to explain why the changes were in the best interest of tennis. At the meeting at the Girls’ 14 Nationals in Peachtree City, GA there were civil and courteous interchanges of opinions, but the vast majority of the comments were negative. It became obvious that Patrick McEnroe had very limited knowledge of the changes and had been recruited to make an appearance simply because of his celebrity status. [About 3-4 months later Junior Competition was moved under the Community Tennis umbrella.] In September and October 2012 two meetings were held between USTA staff and officials and a group of individuals who were labeled as “industry” representatives. As a result of the October meeting, USTA agreed to maintain draw sizes for all events in 2013 and to conduct a “Listening Tour” at various events and sections’ annual meetings around the country. While some events were very well attended and opposition to the new schedule was generally overwhelmingly expressed, the die had been cast. The USTA staff and board were unwilling to pause implementation of the plan for a year to have further review, but were willing to make some modifications to the original plan. However, at the end of the day, the opportunity reductions from 2010 (or even 2013) to 2014 were dramatic and the attempt to “pause” the proposal for at least a year failed. USTA had been encouraged to have a “blue ribbon” task force look at the proposal and make suggestions regarding modification, implementation, or scrapping it and starting over.

If you compare the proposed changes above with what actually occurred in 2013 and what is scheduled for 2014, you will see that the “Listening Tour” resulted in some important changes , namely the restoration of the Winter Nationals, maintaining the National Clay Courts in July with larger draws, and keeping 128-draws for the 12 Nationals. Qualifiers were added to the 16 and 18 summer Nationals in an attempt to mitigate the reduction in draw size from 192 to 128.

The Final Product
After analyzing what was being added and what was being deleted from the 2011 and 2010 schedules, the data showed at least 50% of the individual national competitive opportunities that existed in 2010 had been eliminated. The continued stacking of events of different levels scheduled concurrently on the same weekend exacerbated the reduction of opportunities. A player cannot compete in both a Level 2 and a Level 4 event, even if he would be qualified to do so, if they are held at the same time.

Additions to the schedule seemed to favor the highly ranked players. After years of access to national events and national championships, USTA decided to limit both access and availability to events that had become cherished and desired. USTA by implementing a PPR ranking system had created a demand for national play, and with the stroke of the pen (or delete key) USTA was slashing the supply. The effect is that many will give up trying to acquire the product at all (they may find other sports are more appealing).

Top Players Will Suffer

Since the number of events are fewer, and thereby creating geographical dispersion, it will be more costly for players who do have the necessary standings to compete. Lower ranked players who don’t qualify and remain close to home will have to appreciate a reduced number of opponents and hope that unhealthy relationships and habits don’t ingrain themselves because of boredom or familiarity. The select few who are the top players have recently realized that they don’t have any periods during the year that can be set aside for training and preparing for major events because of the changes.

Top players have the traditional National Championships, the Orange Bowl, Eddie Herr and other ITF events that important to them. Now USTA has created new boutique events for top players, and on top of that, mandated that they play within their sections, since National Championship admittance is exclusively at the pleasure of the sections’ endorsement order (except the June Sectional Champion who qualifies for the Nationals in August). So, top players must add sectional events to their list of “must play” events. The concept of “periodization” is a casualty of the latest tournament structure.

Sections are back in control (partially)?
In 2000 Sectional Play was an unintended casualty of the Optimum Schedule. With multiple pathways to National events, players no longer had allegiance to their sections. Southern California was an extreme example, where their sectional championship could likely have been held without their top 10 players in some age groups. The current schedule attempts to restore sectional sovereignty. Unfortunately, it has overlaid sectional control over a process that has evolved for over 15 years and relied heavily on the nationally ordered selection lists. The tennis community is now being asked to revert to an older more nostalgic time when interstate travel was uncommon and intersectional play was almost unheard of except 4 times a year. It’s no wonder that there is discontent about quotas. The discontent is about the entire system and the perceived withdrawal of opportunity for the majority of those who were formerly competing in National events. The attempted reversion to a pre-Optimum Schedule structure is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. You might get it back in there, but you certainly wouldn’t want to brush your teeth with it.

Simple Solution Overlooked!
The saddest part is that all of the constituencies could have been satisfied by maintaining the 2010 tournament calendar and merely adding the requirement that all players admitted to National Championships must be endorsed by their home sections.

Players would have more flexibility, and likely lower expense, with a year-round schedule of events which offered all age groups at the same or nearby locations. Sectional influence over their stronger players would have been restored to pre-Optimum Schedule levels, and those who needed or wanted an expanded menu of opponents and surroundings would have been free to fulfill those needs and desires.

It’s not Quotas that are the problem, although they tend to illuminate the problem. The real problem is the contraction of the system to which players and families had become accustomed and largely satisfied with for more than a decade.. It’s taking a system that was using protocols like PPR rankings to expand, then diametrically deciding to compress it.

The Ideal Gas Law says it best: PV=nRT

If you increase the pressure on a closed system, the temperature within the system will rise. And so it has!!!!

Appendix A:
National Rankings – The Past 30 years – A Brief History, Just in Time
In 1980 rankings were an evaluation of how well a player had played against those in his age group. Because they were head-to-head based, they were a starting point for college recruiting and the basis for qualifying for manufacturers’ “Free Lists”. Number of players ranked Rankings were based on head to head results, not points. The total number of players with 1994 year-end National rankings per age division were:
Boys’ 18 – 199; Boys’ 16 – 181; Boy’s 14 – 180
Girls’ 18 – 177; Girls’ 16 – 164; Girls’ 14 -1983

The total of all Nationally ranked players in 1994 was 1,084. Standings did not yet exist. For perspective, there are 2,111 Boys’ 18 players in the 2/20/14 national standings.

Rankings give way to “Standings”
The Optimum Schedule spelled the end of the line for year-end “Rankings” as the standard. Starting in 2000 “Standings” became functionally important while “USTA Rankings” became a beauty contest with no prize for the winner. The Optimum Schedule used ordered lists to select players, so the rankings used for that purpose were renamed “standings”. In addition, they were further used to order alternates, so “rankings/standings” took on an absolute value. Since the ordinal aspect of standings was absolute, it was important to have them include as many players as possible. Subsequently, when that was realized, the minimum point threshold needed to be listed in the “standings” was removed. Under the Optimum Schedule if a player, particularly a sectional player ranked near, or just below, the bottom of the sectional quota, wanted to assure that he would have a chance to get to play in National events through at least one of the pathways, he would have to acquire a national “standing”.

After 2004 and the adoption of the Points Per Round ranking system acquiring a national standing meant harvesting points. This system was easy to understand, eliminated fear of losing, and encouraged more match play. A points-based system is by its very nature an incestuous creature. Those who are in the system and have the points are able to get into more events where points may be accumulated. It’s an imprecise and generally arbitrary way to apportion competitive reward, but because it has been shown to increase play and eliminate “ducking”, its concomitant inequities can be overlooked.

USTA created a ranking environment that begets inequity, but encourages play, so the only way to keep deserving players from “falling through the cracks” is to increase the number of opportunities and make draws at major events larger, not smaller.

Rankings have been used as a behavior management tool. Doubles play had long been promoted as being essential to a well-rounded all-court game, but some coaches and players had decided not to play doubles and rest or drill instead. Since the committee agreed that doubles was essential, they decided to establish standings (used for selection purposes) that combined both singles and ranking points into a single standing list.

In 2008 combined standings became the norm, and guess what? Doubles play immediately increased, and remains so today.

You may ask, “If we allow people who can afford to travel to gobble up all of the ranking points, then how will players of lesser financial means ever have the chance to be recognized?” Those with resources will have an advantage if they choose to exercise it. But that is the case in all endeavors, not just tennis. However, removing the opportunity to travel and play events outside of their home area won’t have any effect on those who don’t have the resources or inclination to do so. The elimination of national play opportunities levels the playing field for everyone, but it does so in a “lowest common denominator” fashion. It also removes the developmental and social benefits that may be associated with those events. Elimination of events also reduces the chance that a player will have a national event close to home or a relative’s home.

One other point here …
The Sectional pathway to National Championships has never gone away! A player who elects to play only within his section, still can compete in all four National Championships, Zonals, and any other national event held within his section. There is no requirement that a player leave his section to qualify for national play. Contrary to what has been alleged, players of limited means can still play within their section and have the opportunity to play at Kalamazoo, San Diego, or any of the other National Championships. Because of the evolution of rankings from a year-end ordering process to the basis for entry into many national events, a demand has been created in the playing population to have opportunities available to seek an improved ranking and thereby improved chances to be included in more national events.

Appendix B:
2014 Selections … Sectional Quotas or National Standing? It Depends!!
Selections for Level 1 National Championships (Clay, The Nationals, Winter) and Level 4 Closed Regionals are via sectional quotas and wild cards. (8 players for 16-18 Clay and The Nationals are qualifiers.) Selections for the Level 1 Grand Masters and National Doubles Championship (gold ball), Level 1A Sweet 16’s, Easter Bowl 12-16 National event, Level 2 and Level 3 National Selection Tournaments, Level 3 National Warm-up Tournaments, and Qualifiers for 16 and 18 summer Nationals are made based on USTA National Standings.

What this means is that if a player wants to play Level 1 national championships and other Level 1, 2, and 3 national events, he must have a high sectional standing plus maintain a national standing, as well. The system bounces from sectional quotas to national standings in a whimsical selection process that forces players meet both sectional and national ranking requirements if they want to have the opportunity to play in the complete national menu of events. The selection process has evolved over the 10 years that the Points Per Round “ranking” system has been in place. The point/ranking criteria for selection for national play has been periodically adjusted.

These selection criteria demand a large pool of players with national standings, while the structure itself serves to limit the numbers of players in the pool who qualify through intersectional national play and substitute them with players who acquire national ranking points in sectional events.

To see detailed 2014 selection criteria, see Appendix D.

Appendix C:
Radically Increased 2014 Point Table Values
Point totals will change radically in 2014 as the year progresses. While the opportunities to acquire points nationally drops, the points awarded to each win are 200-300% higher than their corresponding level in 2013. [The #1 player in Girls’ 16 just won one of four Level 2 32-draw National Selection Tournaments and received 1500 base points, compared to her 1250 base points for winning the Girls’16 National Championship in San Diego.] It is hard to understand this logic, since the relative weighting within the table is relatively close to 2013. Multiplying each value by 3 only serves to devalue results acquired in 2013 and excessively weight results from sectional events with National points. The winner of a 2014 sectional National Level 3 event will acquire more points that the 5th place finisher at the 2013 Nationals at Kalamazoo.

Increasing the point values for rounds reached by 200-300% basically keeps the players point totals similar to 2013 while representing many fewer matches played. Had the point tables been applied retroactively, the desire to increase the importance of National Championships or finishing in the top echelon of any National event would have been satisfied without the skewing that is now occurring, particularly as a result of early-year closed Sectional Level 3 and Level 4 events.

One parent related that his child had no points to defend in January and February and yet has dropped 50 places in the standings

Appendix D:
Selection Process for National Selection Tournaments and Open Regionals
According to the 2014 USTA Junior National Tournament Committee Manual. selection of players for National Selection Tournaments sets no minimum number of points, but rather uses “top 200” of the National Standings List of the next-younger age division, and has no limit on the age division of the event.

Ordering of alternates for National Selection Tournaments uses the top 600 of the natural age division, followed by top 400 of the next lower division, followed by all below 600 on the Standings list of the division, followed by all below 400 on the Standings list of the next younger division.

The 2013 Year-End National Rankings have only one age division (Girls’ 16) with more than 400 “ranked” players. They have 401. None come close to having 600 players, so “rankings” give way to “standings” in the National Selection tournament selection process.

The Open Regionals selection process has different set of tiers, using “top 250” as the cutoff for next-younger age division selection and no cutoff or the age division of the event. Filling remaining vacancies has no restrictions except that the age group of the division is considered first. Alternates are ordered first from the division of the event considering all those with 100 or more points, then those in the next-younger division with 100 or more points.
_____________
* Sources include:
• 2002 and 2009 National Junior Tournament Schedules
• Friend at Court: 1994 to 2014 (except 1995 and 1998)
• USTA Yearbooks as far back as 1995
• 2014 USTA National Junior Tournament Committee Manual

“If You Don’t Like Us, Find A Way To Get Rid Of Us!”

sprnats

 

“If you don’t like us, find a way to get rid of us!”  That was Patrick McEnroe’s response to a parent’s question regarding the 2014 Junior Competition Changes at last summer’s Girls 12 Nationals in Atlanta, and it was really the beginning of my extensive coverage of the new calendar that USTA was planning to implement beginning January 1, 2014.

Now that the calendar changes have been finalized and approved at the National Board level, I figured I should do a sort-of recap of the process around the changes and how they came to be . . .

  • Some time in 2011: Jon Vegosen, then president of USTA, charged his Junior Competition Committee (JCC) to devise a new national tournament schedule.  Please note that the JCC was chaired by Tim Russell, a former tennis parent who was currently a music professor at Arizona State University, and his assistant chair was Andrea Norman who had very limited experience with junior tennis.  The JCC created the new calendar, some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2013, and some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2014Tom Walker found out about the changes and organized several meetings as well as wrote several opinion pieces that were published on various websites.  The news spread at junior tournaments, and parents were terrified that the rumors were true – who in their right mind would want these changes, especially after investing years and thousands of dollars in a system only to have it changed mid-stream and, for some, right when their children were trying to get into college?  Harsh warnings were issued to people within USTA to keep all information about the changes under wraps until after the March vote.  A woman in the Midwest Section was purportedly fired because she was stirring the pot about the changes.  Sean Hannity published an op-ed on his website that was seen by millions of his readers; he offered personally to fund a survey of the USTA membership to gauge support of or opposition to the changes.  Tim Russell responded to Mr. Hannity’s article with a 17-page memorandum [Note: the link to the memo that was posted on USTA’s website seems to have been deleted] that was hung on tennis club bulletin boards all across the country.
  • March 2012: At the USTA Annual Meeting, the 17 USTA sections approved the new Junior Competition Calendar with a vote of 16-1.  The Southern Section was the only one opposed.
  • Late Summer 2012:  Patrick McEnroe and other USTA staff members traveled to the various National Championships across the US to “hold court” with parents and coaches on the new calendar. These meetings were basically a disaster for USTA and really got parents riled up anew over the changes.  USTA’s stated goals of saving families money and reducing missed school days were proven to be completely bogus – the new system is going to be far more expensive for most families.  And, the new system pretty much guarantees the need to homeschool in order to play at the national level.  Immediately following this “tour,” an online petition was launched by a tennis parent to oppose the changes, and it eventually garnered close to 1000 signatures.
  • September 2012: After getting bombarded at tournaments by parents and players who were against the changes, Sean Hannity (national talk show host with 2 nationally-ranked children), Steve Bellamy (founder of The Tennis Channel with 4 nationally-ranked children), Robert Sasseville (one of the US’s longest-working tournament directors), Kevin Kempin (CEO of Head with 3 nationally-ranked children), and Antonio Mora (broadcast journalist with 1 nationally-ranked child) met with USTA leadership in Northern California and then again in Chicago to discuss their concerns about the calendar changes.  The “Fab Five” were able to get the leadership to agree to a pause for 2013 as well as to hold a “listening tour” across the country with parents and coaches.
  • November 2012:  The “listening tour” kicked off in Reston, VA.  Turnout was extremely low due to the late notice of the meeting.  The meetings clearly demonstrated that virtually no one who was part of the junior tennis world and who understood the changes were in favor them.  With little to no publicity, USTA announced the creation of the LetUsKnow@usta.com email address for folks who were unable to attend one of the “listening meetings” to express their feelings about the changes.  I published the first of many controversial blog posts on the changes, and ParentingAces’ readership began to increase dramatically.  USTA began issuing public statements regarding the changes via its website which were emailed to various media outlets including ParentingAces.  By now, every conversation at every tournament was focused around whether the pause for 2013 was going to be sustainable or whether USTA would forge ahead with the changes in 2014.  College coaches expressed concern about having the ability to see players outside the very top of the rankings.  Tennis pros and facilities were concerned about losing business as parents and players spoke of abandoning the game altogether. One parent went so far as to say, “We just spent nearly $400 thousand on our daughter’s tennis over 5 years, and right as she is about ready to be in a position to be seen by coaches, she won’t be able to play in any of the tournaments where coaches go.”
  • December 2012:  Robert Sasseville created two spreadsheets comparing the tournament opportunities under the pre-2012, current, and proposed calendars which I published on this blog.  That post garnered many comments, some of which were posted under aliases that were USTA volunteers and/or staff members.  The USTA PR machine went to work again, getting an article published on The Examiner about the changes and the listening tour.  Former professional player and current junior coach, Johan Kriek, spoke out against the changes in an interview on TennisNow.com.  The 2013-2014 JCC members were announced – Steve Bellamy and Kevin Kempin were among the new members.  TennisRecruiting.net announced its National Showcase Series of tournaments as an alternative to limited national play under the new USTA calendar.
  • January 2013:  The “listening tour” continued, and I had the opportunity to attend the one in Atlanta.  Tom Walker created a Facebook page to oppose the changes, which quickly gained over 3500 members.  As a point of comparison, USTA’s Junior Comp Facebook page had only 170 members after a full year.
  • February 2013:  The “listening tour” concluded in Grapevine, TX.  I had several phone and email exchanges with Bill Mountford who encouraged me to remain hopeful.  I worked with several other tennis parents and coaches to mount a campaign to contact local USTA leaders and board members in hopes of convincing them to vote down the changes at the March 2013 Annual Meeting.  At the Scottsdale listening meeting, USTA President Dave Haggerty acknowledged that about 90% of the tennis community was opposed to these changes.
  • March 2013:  Lew Brewer informed me that the JCC made some amendments to the junior comp changes at its committee meeting.  At the 2013 USTA Annual Meeting, those changes were approved but still needed Board approval.  Rumors started circulating that Jon Vegosen had made a deal with Dave Haggerty prior to his taking office as President that if any changes were going to be made, Dave had to insure that they didn’t scrap the entire plan and start from scratch with the calendar.
  • April 2013:  The USTA Board approved the modified junior competition calendar to go into effect January 1, 2014.

So, to summarize, here’s where we stand . . . we have a national junior competition schedule that:

1.  Was created by a music professor who didn’t spend any substantive time at junior tournaments and who was subsequently removed from his position;

2.  Was adjusted by Player Development which was then promptly removed from the process;

3.  Was passed by a Junior Competition Committee with only one active junior tennis parent out of the 20 members, and that one active parent was opposed to the schedule.  It is interesting to note that half of the 2011-2012 JCC members were removed when Dave Haggerty took office in 2013;

4.  Was passed by a Board comprised of voters, many of whom admitted after the fact that they were pressured to vote for it and that they really didn’t understand the implications of the changes at all.  Then, the changes were exposed to a 9-city “listening tour” after which USTA executives were told by Dave Haggerty’s own admission that over 90% of the tennis community were opposed to them;

5.  Was then put into the hands of a new Junior Comp Committee with only 2 parents (out of the 20 members) with kids currently competing at the national level, both of whom pushed heavily for a pause.  Please note that it was this new Committee which added back some of the competition opportunities in March 2013;

6.  Was pushed through via the most non-transparent process USTA could’ve possibly utilized.

Never once was the membership polled or asked for its opinion in a meaningful way.  Geoff Grant, a fellow tennis parent, offered to fund a study or any type of mechanism in order to “get it right” – USTA did not take him up on his offer.  And, even though the listening tour comments, Facebook posts, and (admitted by President Dave Haggerty, himself) the majority of consumers were against them, the changes with some opportunity added back were passed.

So, I have to ask USTA one more time:  If the overwhelming majority of your customers, the overwhelming majority of tennis pros, all industry dignitaries who have spoken out (Robert Landsdorp, Wayne Bryan, Jack Sharpe, among others), the brands themselves (Head, Inc. published a letter on its website, and Athletic DNA provided the video footage posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page), the college coaches who have commented – with all of the opposition, why would you go forward with these changes?

The only group of people who are in favor of them are the USTA folks themselves, most of whom are NOT parents of current national junior players.

The US tennis community has spoken.  We do not want any of these changes.  We want the 2010 system back in place.  We want experts – not volunteers – to make these decisions on behalf of our junior players, and we want them to make the decisions via a transparent process.

Social Media In Action

Tom Walker (you’ll recognize his name as the one who wrote the Call to Action on the Junior Competition changes in March 2012) has created a Facebook page entitled USTA – Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes (click here to see it).  His mission is reprinted in its entirety below.  I encourage you to visit the page, “like” it, then share it with your tennis friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other means you have available.  There is definitely strength in numbers, and Tom’s goal is to show USTA in no uncertain terms that a critical mass of its constituents are opposed to these changes and want to see the Junior Competition Committee go back to the drawing board:

This page is dedicated to spotlighting the insane 2014 changes to the USTA National Junior Tournament Calendar and hopefully to motivate Dave Haggerty, Kurt Kamperman, the new Junior Tournament Competition Committee, the 17 Sections and the new USTA Board of Directors to permanently pause these changes and devise a new plan that is thoroughly vetted, transparent, and agreed upon by the tennis industry at large.

Background:

Last year the USTA sections passed a sweeping new National Junior Tournament Plan that was to take effect in 2013 and 2014. This plan involved shrinking the opportunities to play National tournaments for US juniors by a significant margin.

The goal of the changes as stated by the USTA was to address three major concerns:

• The rising costs of competing at the national level for juniors and their families;
• The desire to reduce the amount of time juniors would be absent from school;
• The creation of a logical progression of earned advancement from local play to sectionals to nationals to ensure that the best players move on to nationals (the best have earned the right to play) – not the players from families with more economic flexibility.

While those stated goals are noble on the surface, many in the industry question if those were the actual goals and anyone with the slightest knowledge of junior tournament tennis quickly realized that the 2014 plan did exactly opposite of these stated goals for the overwhelming majority of players.

Cost – under the 2014 plan, players will have 9 chances to play National tournaments during the course of the year. If a player was going to play 9 national events in the year, they would now be completely wed to this schedule. You could likely poll first graders and realize that if a player had 9 chances to 9 events, it is going to cost more than if they had 30 or 40 chances to play 9 events.

School – school breaks and testing schedules have never been more fragmented. Again when choice is taken away, the homeschooled kids with flexible schedules or the lucky kids whose breaks and test schedules match up with the USTA schedule will be fine while the rest of the kids will be left missing more school and will have more balancing of tests and tournaments.

Earned Advancement – this is nothing more than propaganda to pretend like there are a bunch of rich kids flying around in private jets chasing points and unfairly advantaging themselves against the kids of lesser financial means. There has always been earned advancement. The 2014 plan doesn’t change any of the earned advancement for the rank and file junior tennis player, but it does give the USTA more wild cards so that their own players are not subject to have to play in their sections. So this plan of earned advancement not only doesn’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist, it creates a pathway for a few of the chosen ones to completely avoid earning their advancement.

So on all three stated goals, these changes completely fail any reasonable smell test.

The 2014 plan has been universally panned by an overwhelming majority of parents, coaches, junior players, college players, professional players, famous ex-pro players and virtually every person of significance in the tennis industry.

To the credit of some of the USTA brass in October of 2012, a group: Jon Vegosen (past USTA President,) Kurt Kamperman (USTA CEO of Community Tennis,) Dave Haggerty (USTA President,) Gordon Smith (USTA GM) and Bill Mountford (USTA rep) met with a resistance group of tennis parents and industry figures including: Antonio Mora (father of a junior,) Robert Sasseville (tournament director,) Steve Bellamy (father of 4 juniors and founder of Tennis Channel,) Sean Hannity (father of 2 juniors) and Kevin Kempin (father of 2 juniors and the CEO of Head.) From that meeting, the USTA agreed to “pause” the 2013 changes and have a “listening tour” in various parts of the country.

Right now as stated by the USTA President Dave Haggerty in the Atlanta meeting, “the 2014 changes will not go forward as they are now and there will likely be some sort of a compromise that puts some opportunity back on the table.”

The history of the changes are that Jon Vegosen (former President) enlisted Tim Russell (music professor no longer involved with the junior comp committee) and his committee of 20 (of whom virtually none were parents or coaches of junior players and 1/2 of whom are no longer on the committee) to come up with a new plan. That plan was then given to player development (which is no longer involved in the process) who supposedly were the ones who cut all the opportunity and gave themselves more wildcards.

This plan was then pushed around the USTA sections under the guise of cutting costs, upping school attendance, criminalizing the supposed points chasers and giving the sections back all their talent who were now playing Nationally. Although the plan was passed by a margin of 16 to 1, rampant were reports of anyone speaking out against the changes being ostracized, bullied to get on board and even fired. Many section leaders who voted for the changes now say that they would not have voted the way they did had they understood what they were voting for. Others have said they received substantial political pressure to vote for the changes. Basically an election in a country with a dictator took place to slam the changes through while Vegosen’s administration was in place.

Virtually no parent, coach, college coach or person in tennis was apprised of these changes prior to them being passed and there were specific directives from USTA managers not to let the tennis industry know about the changes until after they had passed.

Additionally, little foresight was given to the impact of the changes to college coaches. The changes will directly push a large portion of college coaches out of using their recruiting travel budgets for USTA events and move them to ITF events, therefore creating even fewer US players getting seen by college coaches which is the driving reason that many US kids play junior tennis.

We believe that these changes are going to be some of the most detrimental in the history of the sport and will basically do the following:

· Make junior tennis cost more

· Significantly detract from some kids’ school

· Overly benefit kids who can get wildcarded in

· Push more foreign players into college tennis by more exposure to college coaches

· Make kids quit tennis because so many kids will be playing the same kids week after week in their same section

There are many other negatives as well.

The goal of this page is to mobilize the tennis industry to push the USTA to get this process permanently paused and a new plan put in place that is transparent, smart and vetted by all the parties impacted in junior tennis.

In lay terms, WE DON’T WANT A COMPROMISE BY ADDING BACK OPPORTUNITY TO AN UNVETTED, BROKEN PLAN. WE WANT A NEW PLAN AND THE ABILITY TO WORK WITH THE USTA TO GET THE PLAN THAT IS BEST FOR U.S. JUNIOR TENNIS.

I again urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

I Dream of Genie

Since my home-base of Atlanta is the next stop on the USTA Listening Meeting Tour this coming Sunday, I figured I’d better brush up on my junior competition history.  Who better to contact than veteran junior tournament director, Robert Sasseville?  You’ll recognize his name as one of the folks who met with USTA in Chicago in the Fall to discuss pushing the pause button on the 2014 junior comp changes.  Robert has been around the junior tennis world for several decades and is always very gracious about sharing his knowledge and experience.  Here is what I learned from Robert (the info below is a reprint of a document that Robert composed and emailed to me last week) . . .

The year was 1862 and the American Civil War had just begun.  Abraham Lincoln was desperately trying to keep Britain and France from recognizing the Confederate States as an independent nation.  France was concerned that the closed southern ports would cut off the supply of cotton to their booming textile industry.

In those days “King Cotton” was used in reference to the southern states.

Today, while cotton t-shirts are still a staple souvenir item at tournaments, synthetic moisture management fabrics have taken over the performance apparel industry.  Just look at any sports apparel catalog.  Aside from Under Armour’s Charged Cotton (moisture management cotton), it’s hard to find a cotton item other than t-shirts or an occasional sock.

However, unless it is determined that polyester is carcinogenic, the days of “Cotton is King” are gone.

It’s virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

The world, as we know it, has changed radically in the past 30-40 years.

The completion of the Interstate Highway system, first envisioned by President Dwight Eisenhower as escape routes from major population centers in case of nuclear attack, made cross-country automobile travel possible, and actually desired.

Air travel, once available only to businessmen and people of means, has become affordable and a travel option available to everyday citizens.  The days of business suits and five-course in-flight meals have given way to tennis shoes, t-shirts, and pretzels.

Since 1975 the numbers of domestic flights have increased four-fold, while the average cost adjusted for inflation has dropped.

Air travel is the “new” mass transit.

It’s virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

Thirty years ago Nationally titled play was  limited to the 4 National Championships.  The Easter Bowl was a fifth event that had the prestige of a National Championship without the restrictions imposed on national events by USTA.

The reason that there were only 4 Nationally titled events (Indoors, Clay Courts, Hard Courts, and The Nationals) was that there were no limits on results that could be counted for National ranking.  Any USTA sanctioned tournament match, regardless of location, could be submitted as part of a player’s record.  There was a National circuit which included major open events like the Florida Open, Midwest Open, Texas Open, etc., but since all matches counted for National ranking, there was no need to designate them as “national”.

For many, many years “ranking” had been an examination and evaluation of a year’s tournament results.  It was a manual project that basically compared a player’s results with those of a like age group and then ordered the players based on the players’ overall records.

Then along came the computer and its obvious superiority for handling massive amounts of data and comparing results in a purely clinical setting, free of human biases.

Programs were written and protocols adopted by USTA and its various sections to move rankings away from the “year-end” ranking committee concept to the computer-generated ranking model.

One major problem arose:  as the USTA moved to computer-generated rankings, it became obvious that capturing all tournament results for inclusion in rankings was a Herculean task for the Junior Competition staff, so what could be done?

Junior Competition decided that there needed to be hierarchy of tournaments, and only results from events near the top of the food chain should be included in “National” rankings.

USTA National Levels were born.

As time passed the number of events that met National Level 3, 4, 5 criteria increased.  This prompted Junior Competition to limit each section, regardless of its size, to 4 level 4 events and 8 level 5 events.

It’s virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

Until the expansion of National Championship draws to 192 and the implementation of the Optimum Schedule with multiple pathways to be admitted to USTA National Championships, one’s National ranking was a point of pride, as well as a vehicle to get on a manufacturer’s “free list” for equipment, footwear, and maybe even apparel.  Player selection for National Championships was based solely on the ordered sectional endorsement lists.  Once the 100 quota spots were filled, the 28 remaining spots had to be filled by players in the order in which they appeared on each section’s list.   National ranking was of no consequence for selection purposes.

Then the Optimum Schedule was implemented in the late 1990’s.  Rankings were transformed from being an evaluation report to being the heart and soul of the selection process for National Championships.   Approximately a quarter of the competitors were selected based on National ranking.  While some of those remaining vacancies selected by National ranking had to be sectionally endorsed, the top 16-40 players plus the 24 National Open qualifiers did not require sectional endorsement.

National Ranking now had a value. 

For the top players, it was a way to bypass sectional play.  For “beyond quota” players in strong sections, it was a way to ensure that they would be selected as “remaining vacancies”.

It’s virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

Now that National play had a value, the demand for “national” events rose, and then one more concept appeared that increased the demand exponentially.

The introduction and implementation of a Points Per Round Ranking System opened the flood gates…..  And that’s exactly what was envisioned and desired by its creators.

The STAR ranking system had some quirks.  Although mistakenly, the fear of taking a “bad loss” encouraged players to avoid play once they felt that they had secured their ranking.  The PPR system was simple, but more than that, there would be no penalty for losing.  Only winning generated reward, so the system encouraged more match play.

And more match play they got.

PPR rankings took the place of STAR head-to-head rankings.  Since rankings were used for admittance, and subsequently seeding as well, it became important for players to acquire as many points as they could and the points chase began.

While there currently seems to be negative focus on the “chase”, the “chase” only bears fruit if the player “wins” once he gets on the court.

As George Orwell said at the end of Animal Farm, “… some animals are more equal than others.”  The USTA has now decided that some play is more desirable than other play,  that play at some locations is better than play at other locations, and that the USTA via wild cards and special events has the responsibility to declare which players are more equal than others.

While the Town Hall listening tour may, or may not, attract every tennis family in the U.S., those that it has attracted have made it abundantly clear . . .

It’s virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

If This Doesn’t Convince You . . .

Spreadsheet Links

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -with teams

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -Individual entries-No Teams

The two spreadsheets above were created by Robert Sasseville, a member of the group that met with the USTA folks in Chicago in October.  Robert has run the Girls 14s Nationals for the past 30 years and has been involved in junior tennis in some way, shape, or form for over 40 years, so he’s seen the evolution of the competition calendar and ranking system over a long enough period of time to understand clearly how the 2014 changes will impact our junior players.

The first link shows a comparison between the 2014 national competition opportunities and those in 2012 and 2009, including the new team events.  The second link shows the same comparison but without including the new team events so there is an “apples to apples, oranges to oranges” comparison.  The spreadsheets are broken down by weeks, so that when viewed, it is obvious how restrictive the current and proposed 2014 schedules are compared to pre-2011.

If, after studying the spreadsheets, you still aren’t convinced that the 2014 calendar will greatly reduce competition opportunities for our juniors, please let me know in the Comments below. I have Robert on stand-by!

The following was written by Robert Sasseville and posted in another article‘s Comments section:

It was today one year ago, December 1, 2011, that I first received a copy of the proposed changes to the National Junior Competition Structure.  It was that night that I composed my first “comparison” of competitive opportunity reductions.  That night I compared 2014 with 2011, 2010, and the 1980’s, our recent “golden age” of junior tennis.  I compared only Level 1 and Level 2 changes.

In the original proposal the Winter and Spring Nationals were eliminated.  Both remaining Level 2 Nationals were reduced to 64 draws, while The Nationals (Hard Courts) were reduced to 128 draws and the National Clay Courts were moved to Memorial Day weekend and reduced to 64 Draws.  Depending on age group the Level 1 reductions from 2010 were 75% for 12’s, 60% for 14’s,  59% for 16’s, and 58% for 18’s.  Sweet Sixteen’s weren’t counted because they were automatically entered into the succeeding Level 1 National.

The Level 2 events were all reduced from 16 events with 64 players each in 2010 to 6 events with 32 players each in 2014.  That was a reduction for all age groups of 81.25%.

The National Junior Competition Schedule that passed in March had some changes, like not moving the Clay Courts to May and adding a 32-draw Spring event for 12’s, 14’s, and 16’s, so our updated numbers have changed as modifications occurred.

To get a picture of how the schedule changes will affect playing opportunities for juniors, I put together a spreadsheet comparing 2009 with 2012 and 2014.  It was not only designed to show percentage decrease in opportunity, but also the event distribution.   Because it was laid out in a 52-week format, the flexibility inherent in the 2009 schedule contrasted with the rigidity of the 2014 schedule was readily apparent.

The original comparisons were based on National “developmental” opportunities, which meant that a single player could enter a  tournament with the opportunity to play another player from anywhere in the United States.  (A player from College Park, Maryland could possibly have opponents from Spokane, WA, Houston, TX, and San Juan, PR, or any other location within the United States.)  In our original computation we included the proposed 2014 Winter Team Championships, although they are really not individual events.

We did not include 2014 Regionals in the computation, because they are “National” in respect to “point opportunities” only, as opposed to the current events labeled “Regional” which currently have no geographic restrictions, and are truly “National”.

In this document we expanded the spreadsheets and looked at both the individual events, the team events, as well as the new ‘Regional’ events and computed percentages based on individual and team events, separately and together, as well as, including the new  “Regionals”.

It all depends on one’s definition of “National”.

If “National” means you have the possibility of playing anyone from anywhere …..

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 82.47% to 86.75%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 71.00% to 80.75%.

If “National” means the tournament has “National” or “Regional” in the title, and you will receive National points  …….

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 60.73% to 65.90%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 51.24% to 61.65%.

Another reduction, for those defining “National” opportunities using the criteria that National Points are available, is the fact that the number of Sectional events offering “National” points has been reduced by 50%.   Each section’s number of events carrying National points has been reduced from 12 to 6.  Even though the events eliminated were Level 5, elimination of 6 events spread throughout the year reduces opportunities for players whose schedules are restricted by school or other commitments.

If you are defining “National” by the opportunity to acquire National Points, you might want to consider exactly what National Points and National Rankings will do for you in 2014.

Already, National Rankings are basically a tool used by the USTA online entry system for player selection and seeding.   Having a “National” ranking has devolved to the point where its only real value is in the selection process for “National” events.

Seldom does one hear people talk about National ranking, particularly as a player reaches college age.  Now people mention, or aspire to be, “Blue Chips”, “5 Stars”, “4 Stars”, etc.  USTA Rankings have become irrelevant for college recruiting purposes because they don’t take into account the quality of play.    Once USTA moved away from a merit-based head-to-head ranking system, the value of the ranking secured by point acquisition is merely the value granted to it by USTA.  The value is that if you have more points, you will be admitted ahead of someone who has fewer.

Additionally, the number of events accepting entrants based on a player’s National ranking shows a staggering decrease. The events per age group admitting players via National ranking in 2014 compared to 2009 and 2013 are:

  • 12’s    28 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    •  [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each) and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)
  • 14’s    29 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 79.3% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 16’s    31 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]  Reduction: 80.6% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 18’s    32 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), Winter Team event (64 players)]  Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)

Imagine being a rising 17- or 18-year-old and having your National Ranking used for admittance to only 3 National level events for all of 2014, when in 2013 there had been 12 events played in 10 different months that admitted you via your National Ranking.

So, one thing is certain.  National individual opportunities for all will be reduced anywhere from 51% to 86%, depending on your age group and your definition of “National”.

The numbers of events where your National Ranking will have any significance at all will drop by 79.3% to 89.3%, or 50% to 75%, depending on which year you choose as a comparison.

Severely reducing the number of events making selections based on USTA National standing serves to diminish the value of a USTA National ranking, and therefore the value of events that carry National points, but no National developmental opportunities (e.g., 2014 Level 3 and Level 4 Regionals).

While there may be argument over the exact percentages, there is no argument that the operative word for 2014 is REDUCTION.