No-Ad a No-Go
Yesterday, Colette Lewis of ZooTennis tweeted a link to her article announcing the NCAA had decided against using the ITA’s new scoring formats for the 2015 NCAA Team and Individual Championships to be held at Baylor University this May. Though very little information has come out from the ITA or NCAA, Colette did include the verbiage from NCAA’s email to all college tennis coaches:
Men’s and Women’s Head Tennis Coaches,
Normally, we would prepare a formal memorandum but realize time is of the essence so we provide this brief update: the Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet took no action on the tennis committee’s scoring format request and will refer the issues to the appropriate championships entity in the new Division I governance structure for consideration.
For clarification, the scoring format utilized for the 2014 Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships, team and individual, will be utilized for the 2015 championships.
Further googling led me to Bobby Knight’s blog post on the topic (click here). Bobby writes, “With this hitting the wire it’ll be interesting to see what format the conferences use between now and the NCAAs because it would make the most sense to play the format that will be used during the season ending NCAA Championships.”
I decided to reach out to my son’s future college coach, Derek Mills of Santa Clara University, a member of the West Coast Conference that also includes BYU, Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Pacific, Pepperdine, Portland, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco, and St. Mary’s. Coach Mills tells me the WCC coaches will be making a decision this week regarding which format to use for the remainder of the dual-match season. “Honestly,” he says, “I have no idea what we’re going to decide, and we have a match this Saturday!” When I asked him how he felt about the NCAA decision, he said, ” My thoughts are very mixed. One thing I do know: it is incredibly frustrating that changes are made during the season. It seems like the ITA, NCAA and the Head Coaches cannot get on the same page and it is frustrating and embarrassing at the same time. I hope everyone can come together and decide on a format that we can stick with going forward. For this to happen it will take leadership from all sides to do what’s best for college tennis. We have a great college sport – it’s a shame we cannot figure this out.”
I’ve been pretty vocal in my opposition to the no-ad scoring and especially the reduced number of games played in doubles. Add to that the ridiculous clinch-clinch rule which is already proving to skew the ITA rankings, and, quite frankly, this whole thing looks very little like the college tennis I’ve grown up watching and loving.
The most confusing aspect of all these changes is the “Why?” behind them. At first, all we kept hearing was: “We have to get college tennis on television! That’s the only way to save the sport!” What I am finally learning and understanding is most of this is being driven by the Athletic Directors in the Power 5 conferences: SEC, ACC, PAC-12, Big 10, & Big 12. Come April, the NCAA Organizational Chart will start changing, giving way more power to these 5 conferences, so schools in the other conferences are going to have to learn to play nicely if they want their tennis programs to survive, especially on the men’s side. And, let’s face it, women’s tennis isn’t safe by any means either. These Power 5 ADs are telling their coaches to make tennis relevant, and “relevant” is defined as “make it fit in a 3-3 1/2 hour television format.” The AD’s job is, first and foremost, to generate revenue for the university. Getting tennis on tv equals money for the school in the form of advertising dollars. If that happens, then tennis becomes a revenue sport which could lead to some negotiating power to get what we all want in the future.
So, maybe the pertinent question for now is: If we can find a 3 1/2 hour format that will save college tennis, would you be okay with that, even if it includes no-ad scoring, shortened doubles, and/or clinch-clinch (or some other tweak that hasn’t been openly discussed yet)? Or, would you rather see tennis relegated to a club sport at the collegiate level? Because the sad truth is that’s where we seem to be heading, at least for now.
I promise you, I’m not happy about it. And neither are many of the coaches who have resigned themselves to this new reality in college sports. But, putting on my rose-colored glasses now, maybe if tennis DOES become a revenue sport then it opens the door to discussions around limiting the number of international players and – dare I say it? – increasing the number of scholarships on the men’s side. Your thoughts?