A Square Peg in a Round Hole
The following is a guest post from Citadel Head Men’s Coach, Chuck Kriese, regarding the recent format and scoring changes in Division I college tennis. I would love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below.
American College Tennis Coaches have been battling about scoring systems and formats for too many years. The Solution might be quite manageable if two fundamental points were considered:
- Tennis is: ‘An individual sport that has some team opportunities; whereas, we have wrongfully approached tennis as ‘A team sport looking for individual opportunities.’ We have not made significant headway in either team or individual areas. We have therefore become a ‘Tweener’ as administrators do not see our relevance and player development has become secondary. Potential has been missed.
- Scoring System and Format are two completely different issues – Each of these should be addressed with unique perspective and considered separately. The Scoring system is a world-wide sacred tradition of our sport and should be honored as such! Formats don’t need to be; Modifications are easily agreed upon.
“In matters of Principle, stand like a rock; In matters of method, flow with the stream” Thomas Jefferson
It has always been about ‘Education vs. Entertainment’ – The Battle is between Education and Entertainment priority. Differences of perspective run much deeper than just a quick-fix to get more people in the stands. This is a great battle of the Ideologies between ‘traditions vs. trends.’ Catering to trends for the sake of mere excitement will not sustain interest nor promote the excellence that is sought for the longevity of our sport. It is only in the honoring of its heritage and its educational intangibles that will ultimately build interest that will last. Educators see the sport of tennis for its great depth and teaching opportunities. Another focus sees the potential to promote through trends of entertainment. These two ideologies do not have to be exclusive and can hopefully be inclusive. However, when both cannot be achieved, a decision has to be made! Each and every coach should have the right to interpret what the best approach for his/her school’s own interests and needs to be relevant. The recent overreach by USTA and ITA causes great concern. The heritage of tennis and time honored traditions of our sport need to be honored and protected. We ask them to do this first and foremost.
Opposing points of view have now come to a head as mandates and directives have been pushed by ITA. Transparency to their decision making process has come into question. It is known that the Power 5 conferences of; the SEC, the ACC ,the Big 10, the PAC 12 and the Big 12 (only 6 men’s teams are in the Big 12) now have conference TV stations. This provides great opportunity for these tennis programs. Their priorities are quite different from those schools without such promotional tools. The ITA has forcefully presumed the power to push forward a format and scoring system that is a widely different from the traditional/educational scoring system of tennis that has been used world-wide for years. Opposition to its implementation is large and continues to grow. The USTA has also been in knee-jerk mode in reaction to the loss of tennis popularity in the U.S.A. The USTA has also leveraged the ITA toward entertainment objectives of the abbreviated formats while attempting to persuade everyone that education will be a natural byproduct. In their overreach, both organizations have not honored the traditions of our sport! The mandates and directives to force abbreviated scoring systems forward are extremely dangerous to the core fundamentals of tennis. Both education and entertainment objectives are in danger of being dismantled in the process.
The disregard for the educational opportunity and the depth of our sport is troubling. Also wrong are the skewed results for multiple matches that experimental formats cause. Immediate parity which is not based on skill-set is a wrong approach for any sport if learning and longevity are the goals. It remains puzzling why a simple TV format for special televised matches could not be used as a compromise for all. This question should be asked.
“Let’s Unite and Become Relevant”
“An unjust law is no law at all” St. Augustine
There is absolutely no excuse for the ITA’s ongoing disregard for coach’s and player’s points of view. A planned agenda has been pushed is being pushed through. The ITA is a voluntary, dues paying, coach’s organization. Their mission is to advise and serve coaches and to present recommendations to make a good learning environment for our players. It is their duty to listen to all concerns and points of views of all; especially when that view is different than theirs! They have acted inappropriately.
- In 2012, nearly 10,000 signatures were expressed on-line against a format change that was initiated after 2012 NCAA Tournament scheduling problems. Time issues had nothing to do with scoring systems. There were simply too many teams being at the final site. The unprecedented pushback by players, coaches and fans was temporarily acknowledged; however, USTA/ITA morphed their approach and presented it again.
- In December 2013, the men coaches at the ITA convention voted 21-19 after 5 hours of discussion. The final vote favored keeping traditional scoring with simple adjustments for the 2014 winter season. This vote was ignored by ITA board and different course of action was drawn up in private meeting that same evening. That non-debated format was forced on teams and mandated to be used for the first 6 weeks of the 2014 season. Many skewed results occurred with impact to several teams and coaches.
- In ITA’s own poll of 2014 spring, 81% of college tennis players voted to not change singles and 85% voted to not change doubles. These votes were ignored. The significance of this poll was not acknowledged.
- One of the Top Players of college tennis conducted an independent petition of collegiate players in fall of 2014. There were 1347 signatures to oppose scoring changes. This was ignored.
- A petition was sent out to women’s coaches by a well-respected and veteran coach of 40+ years in late summer of 2014. In response, 194 women’s coaches voted to require ITA to have 2/3 majority to make fundamental changes that significantly impact collegiate tennis. The importance of this petition was opposed by ITA. This well-respected coach received strong criticism from ITA board members.
- An MDTA poll was conducted in summer of 2014. The vote was 67-11 in favor traditional scoring and to not change to abbreviated format. This vote was ignored.
- After tremendous pushback from coaches and players in summer of 2014, the NCAA cabinet tabled the ITA/USTA move to abbreviate the format. The ITA director sent out 3 emails within an 8-day period with directives to all coaches to use abbreviated format for fall events anyway.
- ITA has recently promoted that their coaches are unanimous for abbreviated scoring. This is an inaccurate assessment. It is based on ITA’s own board vote and their promotions. Multiple coaches were not involved and there were many abstentions to their board’s vote. ITA has recently sent out a latest directive to use abbreviated format for non-conference play. This goes against a long-standing procedure used for years in non-conference play: “When two coaches agree, they can choose to play an experimental format.” For 6 weeks in spring 2014; The fall 2014 and now in the spring of 2015, the ITA has treated their abbreviated format as the norm and traditional scoring as the novel. This is a slight-of-hand and should not be accepted. Their non-conference directive actually has taken it a step further.
- At this time, the results of the NCAA poll sent out by NCAA in the fall of 2014 have not been circulated..
‘Let’s Unite and Become Relevant’
As Coaches, we should note the following:
- The ITA is a voluntary coach’s organization! Expensive Dues are required for their services. They are a reference for college tennis information and conduct tournaments and polls. Their power is implied. It is not absolute! Mandates should not be made by ITA and a minimum 2/3 support from coaches should be required for such fundamental changes in tennis legislation. ITA has acted inappropriately.
- Just as the NCAA does not have the right nor the power to directly influence decisions made by the USTA, the USTA does not have the right nor power to directly influence the direction of NCAA sports and welfare of Student-Athletes who participate in the sport of tennis.
- The USTA is a greatly respected organization that is of great service to our youth; however, their finances to the ITA and the pressure (presumed or actual) to push forward their own agendas is a wrong thing to do.
………………….Here are suggestions to consider that will help to keep unity in our coaching ranks: (it is understood that all collegiate coaches have similar suggestions!)
- Make a simply TV format for college tennis when someone actually does get on TV.
- We could split our season into a ‘Team Season’ and an ‘Individual Season’. Our sport would again be a developmental situation for players and administrators would have two sports for the price of one. (See Coach Randy Bloemendaal’s position paper listed below)
- Format and scoring system are two completely different issues!!! Appropriate team format changes could easily be acceptable if traditional scoring is honored and not placed in jeopardy.
- ITA needs to be completely transparent. They should honor and respect their position of being a service organization first-and- foremost. Politics and policy making should be secondary and only done when 2/3 majority of coaches agree on an action.
- Although the USTA’s support of our collegiate programs is appreciated, they need to stay out of the legislative business of college tennis. They should not lobby for influence.
For the Love of our sport,
Chuck Kriese Randy Bloemendaal Gene Orlando
“All that it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing” Edmund Burke
Dear Fellow Coaches:
Here are the Email Addresses for NCAA Cabinet Members. We need your help now more than ever. The implementation of abbreviated scoring into college tennis will greatly impact the future and the very fiber of our sport for years to come. We now enjoy the same scoring that is used for championship tennis around the world. Our doubles traditions have also served as great building blocks for American Champions in an arena where every country in the world gets a big head-start in advanced development. The elimination of these important learning tools will soon be acceptable compromises in our junior ranks if nothing is done. What is most upsetting however is that so much is being dismantled for such vague and unsubstantiated payoffs.
The Cabinet’s meeting is February 11. Please write to them …..
Chuck Kriese Randy Bloemendaal Gene Orlando
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……………Coach Randy Bloemendaal’s Position Paper is below:
“Let’s Unite and Become Relevant”
A Vision….. A Solution…. By Randy Bloemendaal
Fellow Coaches, Please take a moment to read and consider:
Collegiate Tennis as an Individual Sport and Collegiate Tennis as a Team Sport….
The talk for some kind of change has been ongoing. The ITA contends that this should include the abbreviation of both Dual-Mach format and the traditional scoring system. Both are designed to save time. The claim is that both changes are needed to save our sport. Factual or not, the claim has been stated as the reason for more than 400 teams to have been dropped over the past 25years. Coaches are looking for answers. The question becomes: ‘Just what are the answers”?
- The Format for Collegiate Matches is a completely different issue than the ‘scoring system’ and should be dealt with as such. The scoring system is part of the great heritage of tennis and is used inclusively world-wide as the standard of measurement of players skill sets against one another. It is a constant to the game at multiple levels and should be protected as such. The Format of a collegiate match is not as much of a constant; therefore, these two should be treated independently for progress of some type to be made.
- The Sport of College Tennis should be treated as an Individual Sport with Team opportunity instead of a Team Sport with Individual Opportunity: Much like sports such as Golf, Track and Field or Swimming and Diving, Tennis is an individual sport; however, our sport of tennis has been marketed for many years as a team sport. This approach has made its packaging and marketing difficult. Whereas other individual sports have been marketed as individual sports with team scoring opportunity, tennis has been marketed as a team sport with individual opportunity. This is the source of the marketing problem with collegiate tennis. Team tennis is most often used as a participation event and not a performance event at other levels. At the college level, this has made popularity and marketing opportunities random and frustrating. Could it be that greater opportunity might be available if the sport made a simple adjustment in its presentation and not by making a dramatic change in scoring fundamentals.
- Splitting the Seasons could benefit Players, Coaches, Athletic Departments, Communities and present many Marketing opportunities :(note: It could be best to play the team format of the season in the fall, using excellent weather and football crowd opportunities to promote an 8 to 10 week team season. Winter and spring might best support an individual season as coaches could balance weather and travel with those opportunities needed for their players. However, this issue of whether the team should be in the fall or in the spring should not be the sticking point nor a stumbling block to the need to split the sport into two distinct seasons.)
- Consider the Following:
- Benefits for Players:
- Benefits for Coaches;
- Benefits for Schools Athletic Programs – Why athletic directors would like this
- Benefits for Community
- Marketing Opportunities
Summary and Conclusion: We have many dedicated people working together in collegiate tennis to save our sport and to make it prosper. We also have a disconnect. It is not on purpose, and it is not necessary to have this division in our ranks. It is my submission that the disconnect is not with each other as much as the paradigm that we have developed for our sport by trying to market it into something that it is not. We need to market it as an individual sport with a team opportunity instead of a team sport with individual opportunities. Splitting the season to put emphasis on each in their own unique ways would do this.
The future for our great sport is quite bright if we can see this and act now. The changes would be relatively simple to implement and would not risk serious disruption of our time honored fundamentals of our game.
Sincerely, Randy Bloemendaal