We Must #SaveCollegeTennis

I’d be willing to bet that, for most of our kids, college tennis is the goal. Maybe not The Dream, but definitely The Goal. But what will college tennis look like by the time our kids get there? For my kid, that’s only one year from now. Let’s take a look at what’s there as of today and what’s coming down the pike . . .

  • Right now, as a result of Title IX, a fully-funded Division I women’s tennis team has 8 scholarships to distribute; a fully-funded men’s team has 4 1/2. That means, if you’re the parent of a tennis-playing-boy, the likelihood that he’ll get a full ride to college is pretty much zero – if he’s a top 20 player, the odds go up, but, otherwise, he may or may not get a small percentage of the overall cost to attend. Given that most private and out-of-state tuitions are now topping $50,000 PER YEAR, your ROI for the years of lessons, drills, equipment, tournaments, etc. is pretty negligible. And, let’s not forget that our children are competing against players from the international tennis community for those few coveted spots and scholarship dollars. At present, in Divisions I, II, and III, there is no limit on the number of international players who can be on a team or receive scholarship money. Junior colleges, on the other hand, limit the number of non-Americans to 1/4 of the team’s allotment of scholarship players.
  • The current scoring system for a college dual match (a match played against another college team) is as follows: (1) Teams simultaneously play three lines of doubles matches that are played as an 8-game pro-set with a 7-point tiebreaker at 7-all. Whichever school wins 2 of the 3 matches earns 1 point in the overall dual match score. All three matches are played to completion. (2) Teams simultaneously play 6 lines of singles matches, 2 out of 3 sets with a 7-point tiebreaker at 6-all. Each match win earns 1 point in the overall dual match score. In men’s matches, there are no service lets – if a serve touches the net and lands inside the service box, it is considered in play. Whichever school accumulates 4 points overall (3 singles points plus the doubles point OR 4 singles points) wins the dual match. All six singles matches are played to completion except during tournaments where it is clinch/clinch. At the end of the dual match season (which occurs during the Spring semester), the top 64 teams compete in the NCAA tournament for a spot in the coveted Sweet 16 in May and a chance to be National Champions.
  • Last year, the ITA and NCAA agreed to test out a format during the Fall (individual) season and the National Indoor Tournament (held in February before the start of the dual match season) which used no-ad scoring. The decision to test the format came out of discussions between the ITA, USTA, and NCAA on ways to shorten the overall match time in order to increase fan support and, supposedly, to increase the chances of garnering television contracts. I watched several of the matches on livestreaming – I was not impressed. After the Men’s Indoor Tournament, a player poll was conducted regarding the scoring experiment. The result: 80% of players who played singles in the tournament were against no-ad scoring and 85% of players who played doubles were against it. I would call that an overwhelming mandate opposing no-ad!
  • Now, ITA has announced the use of no-ad scoring in all matches during the Fall and Spring seasons (click here to read the announcement), and is hoping for it to be approved for use during the NCAA tournament as well. The stated reason for this scoring change is to get more fans in the stands for the matches in order to help the teams become self-funding (tennis is a non-revenue sport in Division I). Several women’s DI coaches, led by Indiana University’s Lin Loring, have signed a petition opposing the process by which no-ad was adopted (click here to read more on this topic from ZooTennis). On the men’s side, The Citadel’s head coach, Chuck Kriese, has taken the lead role (click on the link below to read Coach Kriese’s letter).

On Monday, August 11th, I will devote the ParentingAces radio show (the podcast is now online and posted below) to a discussion of these changes and their potential impact on both college tennis and junior tennis. Bill Mountford, USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments, flat out told me during the 2014 NCAA Tournament that however the scoring system goes in college tennis, junior tournaments are likely follow, so this thing has great implications for all of us. While I haven’t had a chance to speak with Bill directly since the ITA announcement, I did get a voicemail from him last night saying that USTA is considering experimenting with no-ad scoring in entry- and intermediate-level tournaments in the name of shortening events. I urge you to tune in at Noon ET on Monday and/or to listen to the recorded podcast which will be online later that day.

As of now, none of these organizations has asked for input from the players themselves which is in direct opposition to NCAA’s recent actions putting student-athlete welfare front and center. To quote NCAA President Mark Emmert, “Today, the student-athlete voice is an essential part of our processes. Who better to consult on student-athlete welfare than student-athletes?”

We Tennis Parents need to understand what’s happening and to voice our opinion – either individually or as a group – to the ITA, USTA, and NCAA. I’m hoping we can help effect a change and that our governing bodies will fulfill their stated purpose of preserving and growing the beautiful game of college tennis while standing up for the student-athletes who make it possible. To that end, I encourage each of you to contact Mark Emmert, NCAA President, via telephone at 317/917-6222 or via email at memmert@ncaa.org and to add your thoughts in the Comments below. Maybe a parent petition is in order as well? It’s time to rally. Together, we can save college tennis.

Coach Chuck Kriese’s Men’s Division I Tennis Association (MDTA) update letter (Click link to read)

NCAA President’s letter – Spring 2014 (Click link to read)

 

 

9 Comments on “We Must #SaveCollegeTennis”

  1. Here is the email I sent to the NCAA’s Mark Emmert today:

    Good morning! I am writing to you as a concerned parent and advocate for college tennis. Yesterday, the ITA announced a scoring format change for the 2014-15 school year including its hope that the NCAA tournament will adopt the same format (please see http://parentingaces.com/we-must-savecollegetennis/). I am vehemently opposed to the use of no-ad scoring, reducing the number of games played in both singles and doubles matches, and otherwise bastardizing the scoring system for college tennis.

    I understand that tennis is a non-revenue sport and university athletic departments are putting pressure on the coaches to earn their keep. However, I do NOT believe these format changes are the answer. In fact, I believe the changes will have the opposite effect, driving away committed college tennis fans and driving our top junior players away from college tennis and directly onto the professional circuit.

    After last year’s experiment during the ITA Men’s Indoor Championships, the players were polled as to their thoughts on no-ad scoring. The results showed that 80% of singles players and 85% of doubles players were against no-ad scoring. Now, despite those poll results, the ITA has gone forward with no-ad scoring for the entire 2014-15 year. If collegiate sports exist for the betterment of the student-athletes themselves, and if the ITA and NCAA are committed to doing what’s in the best interest of those student-athletes, I simply cannot understand how or why ITA would adopt such a policy without bringing the student-athletes to the discussion table. This is yet another case of back-door politics and policy-making with no one being held accountable.

    Please, Mr. Emmert, stand up for the student-athletes you represent. Give them a voice. Do not allow this new scoring format to be used.

    Thank you.

  2. You lost me at the first paragraph. I always cringe when someone mentions girls getting more tennis scholarships than boys. Most tennis playing boys are healthy, athletic, upper middle class Caucasians. Sorry, but throughout the history of the US, that is one group that has gotten more than its share of the pie. So in tennis some girls get an advantage with more scholarships, whatever.

  3. Thanks for helping to publicize this issue Lisa. My daughter plays for a large conference (SEC) school. At the risk of being overly dramatic, this change is flat out horrible for college tennis. In the ITA press release, the justifications for the change are all over the board—will help player development (pointing to 1980s college players who turned pro after playing no-ad in college), will draw more fans (faster matches), will lead to televised college tennis matches, and an “easy to understand scoring system” (yes, that’s actually in there….). These arguments — to justify such a substantial and fundamental change to college tennis — just do not add up.

    First, how exactly does no-ad scoring enhance player development? I must have missed the announcement that the pro tours are going to no-ad. So, playing “first-to-four” games and promoting shorter, no deuce matches are going to help develop college players for the pro tour, where the players are used to grinding out games under normal scoring? The fact that some 1980s college no-ad players had good pro careers sounds great, but the international tennis scene was nothing then like it is now (in fact, international tennis began to grow dramatically only after tennis debuted in the 1988 Olympics). You can’t draw the conclusion that college no-ad scoring is the reason more US players had professional success back then (any more than you can say it was the short shorts the men wore…). If it was so successful, why did college tennis drop no-ad scoring in 1988?

    Second, the hope that the new format will lead to greater fan support and more televised matches is also full of holes. Why would a non-tennis fan be more likely to come support a college team because the match may be shortened by fifteen to thirty minutes? Is that really the hold-up? College tennis is no more likely to generate substantial television revenues than college lacrosse, college soccer, or college wrestling. All great sports, but not the kind people sit around and watch on television like college football or basketball. To change the nature of the sport by tinkering with the scoring, hoping that more folks will show up or it will get matches on television, makes no sense.

    Even operating under the mistaken belief that fans/viewers will flock to college tennis if it’s just a little shorter, the committee could have looked at other options — play 1 doubles (for the doubles point) simultaneously with four singles matches. First team to 3 points wins. But, you don’t fundamentally change the game. If this committee’s logic is solid, college baseball should move to a 1-1 count on each hitter, golf should only play 9 holes, lacrosse….well, I don’t know the rules well enough, but you get the point. This proposal is not the answer — the answer is to better market the sport to the college students. Look at what the most well-attended schools do to get crowds to their matches: theme nights, assign a fraternity/sorority to each court for conference matches, etc. There are schools where the students turn out for tennis. If you change the scoring, but don’t do the marketing, you’re not going to see any measurable changes from a fan perspective.

    What the committee has proposed and what is likely to take effect this fall are changes that put NCAA tennis on the path with Team Tennis, and not on the same path as Junior Tennis (where you only play no-ad as a last resort, when the tournament is rain-shortened) or professional tennis. What surprises me the most is the number of college coaches who have allowed their names to be identified in support of the format changes. I’m not surprised that the changes have the “strong support” of Patrick McEnroe and the USTA, only because I’ve stopped expecting thoughtful and well-reasoned positions out of those two. I’m hopeful that the ranks of college coaches who oppose the changes (which outnumber those in support) and the voices of the players (who tried this format last fall and hated it) will be heard.

    Keep this issue out front between now and the NCAA vote on September 9!

  4. People aren’t coming to tennis because of the scoring system. You either like the game enough to show up or you don’t and no-ad is not going to get anybody to come to a match if they aren’t interested in the game. To use that as justification to change a system that is already working and provides a pathway to the next level is ridiculous

  5. Just a counter argument that people are not posting here.

    College Basketball is not the same as Pro Basketball and yet we continue to produce world class basketball players (20 minute halfs, 5 fouls, longer shot clock, etc.). Is it a bastardized version? Nope. Some would argue it’s actually better than the Pro Game.

    Let’s face it, college tennis players are more likely to get into World Team Tennis than ATP/WTA. Guess how they play WTT? First to 4 right?

    To me, it doesn’t matter how a game is played. It’s really the player who makes a difference. You can change the rules, and eventually the superior player would prevail 9 out of 10 times.

    You guys are so close to the game that your views become myopic. There’s billions of people out there who may have different opinions on what construes better entertainment. As someone new to the game, I prefer shorter 2 hour matches. It’s so painful watching 2 guys do the same thing over and over again for 5 hours. Call me crazy but I can think of a million ways to spend that extra 3 hours of my life.

    Having no-ad is exciting. It makes each point matter. When it’s 40-all, I am at the edge of my seat. Nothing beats the adrenaline of sudden death…

  6. I suspect NewTennisDad that you haven’t attended many college tennis matches. The college game is not identical to the pro game (and doesn’t have to be). In many ways, college matches are much more exciting than junior tennis or many pro events because college tennis is team-based. Three doubles teams playing at once for the doubles point, followed by six singles matches all going at the same time. As matches finish and teams approach the finish line, the pressure/excitement mounts. No one is suggesting that everything about college should mirror the pros. It’s the ITA that is trying to justify the change by arguing it will enhance pro player development, when there is no basis for connecting no-ad scoring in the 1980s to successful US pros. As you point out, most college players don’t turn pro. They also don’t join WTT. Most play in college and are finished.

    You could take any sport and change the rules in the name of “entertainment” to make it something a non-fan might watch, I suppose. You could have golfers pick up their ball after they get to bogey—-keeps the scores tighter and the rounds faster. Also, gives the weaker player a better chance to win. But, it changes the game. It’s the same with no-ad. You’re giving the weaker player a better chance; giving the less conditioned player a better chance (with no multi-deuce games). And the time difference you’re achieving (which is supposed to turn non-fans into college tennis attendees somehow) is not 3 hours, per your example; it’s 15-30 minutes.

    The Committee that adopted these changes seems set on making change for change’s sake. They failed to take into account the views of coaches or players—players tried this format last fall and 85% were against it. Women’s college coaches already have a letter out requesting that the format changes not be implemented — 170+ women’s coaches (a large majority of women’s D1 coaches) have already signed on and it just went out a few days ago. Folks who want circus tennis are welcome to watch WTT. That’s not what juniors, college or the pro ranks should aspire to….

  7. If it’s a money issue (isn’t everything, it seems?!?), maybe what college tennis needs is better outreach efforts to raise money from alumni and community supporters. UCLA does a great job at this. I’m sure other schools do as well, but maybe they all need to redouble efforts . . . just a thought . . .

  8. Tennis is designed to be a game of skill and athleticism. In a game of skill if you decrease the sample size used to obtain a result you are decreasing the likelihood of a “true” (best player wins) result. Endurance is an element of athleticism and has been a hallmark of tennis champions at every level of the game. The suggested changes by a bunch of clueless bureaucrats with who knows what real agenda (Lisa is probably right – money) would dramatically change the game of tennis and it would be similar only in the type of equipment used.

    Tennis is never going to appeal to the couch potato who wants entertainment while he munches on his 1 lb. bag of potato chips and drinks a 12-pack. He has football. To each his own.

    If tennis outside of the majors isn’t television friendly, tough. The world (and sports) should not have to revolve around television. Tennis, and sports in general, should not be twisted into avenues of employment with that being the end all of the sport in question. Keep tennis a game and let it stand on its own merits regardless of what results.

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