Recruiting & College Tennis

NCAA Changes

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When we are confronted by challenges, we have a choice:  sit back and accept them (glass half empty approach) OR take action and attempt to turn them into something positive (glass half full approach).  Concerning this week’s announcement by the NCAA that it is changing the format of the Division 1 year-end tennis tournament, I’m choosing to join several of the current, future, and recently-graduated players and take action.

In a nutshell, NCAA has decided that, during its year-end tourney, (1) players will have no on-court warmup; (2) the six singles matches will play first and will play a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a third set; (3) changeovers will last 60 seconds instead of the current 90; (4) the three doubles matches will be played after a 5-minute break; and (5) doubles matches will be one 6-game set with a 7-point tiebreaker played at 6-all.  These changes go into effect beginning September 1, 2012, for the 2013 Championships.  To read the complete report from the July NCAA meeting, click here.  The report includes a list of the committee members in attendance along with their university affiliation.

Hayley Carter, a high school senior who recently committed to play for UNC, emailed me the following:  “Although I sincerely appreciate all the NCAA does for us in providing us with scholarships to play the sport we love, I do not agree with the new rules they have put in place. My plans are to use college tennis as a stepping-stone into professional tennis. Looking at the WTA success of former college players, such as Irina Falconi and more recently Mallory Burdette, I have no doubt that I can use the experience of college tennis to help me make it on the pro tour, but with the recent rule changes it will make it that much more difficult.”

Hayley goes on:  “No matter if it results in a win or a loss, third sets are times when players give everything they have when they have no energy left, when they learn to fight and compete for every point no matter the adversity, and when, most importantly, they grow as a player. In my opinion, the change to a 10-point tiebreaker greatly diminishes all of the things that are learned through a hard-fought third set. Skill and hard work become more easily replaced with luck, when just a few points can have such a big impact on determining the outcome of a match.”

Hayley’s sentiments are echoed by many of her tennis compadres as evidenced by the number of members (over 2400 after less than one day) and posts on the *OFFICIAL* Against the changes to NCAA tennis Facebook group.  These young players are outraged by the seemingly revenue-driven changes to the sport they have devoted over half their lives learning and mastering, all for the chance to play at the collegiate – and maybe professional – level.  All the NCAA is doing is “dumbing down” our sport, eliminating the fitness factor for players, and making college tennis a less attractive option for our juniors.

Wise words from another collegiate player:  “The bottom line is in tennis you are either going to have fans or you aren’t. Don’t keep using that excuse as a way to change the rules. Fans will stay whether the matches are two hours or ten hours. Those who aren’t fans don’t show up anyway. Tennis is one of the few sports that doesn’t have a clock involved and that is what makes it special. Do you think the matches between Nadal and Djokovic, Federer and Nadal would have been as inspiring if they played a 10 point breaker for the 5th set?”

I hope you’ll join me on Sunday’s radio show to discuss these changes and what, if anything, we tennis parents can do to convince NCAA to overturn them before any long-term damage is done to junior tennis in the U.S.  My guests on Sunday’s show are Drake Bernstein, Assistant Women’s Tennis Coach at the University of Georgia, and Colette Lewis, tennis journalist and creator of ZooTennis.com.  Please plan to tune in and call in (714-583-6853) so we can try to figure out the next step.

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