Does the Answer Lie in the Big East?

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

As I reflect on and re-read my last post on the NCAA’s decision to stick with the 2014 scoring and format this year, I keep trying to figure out what we can do, besides bastardizing the scoring and cutting out games, to fit college tennis into that 3 1/2 hour tv window. Because, if nothing else, at least we now know that’s the thought process behind all these scoring “experiments” over the past couple of years.

I’ve heard all sorts of interesting suggestions – from playing singles and doubles simultaneously to playing the doubles an hour before the tv broadcast begins to televising only the top 3 courts – some more viable and productive than others.

One Fellow Tennis Parent called me on Friday and said I should watch the ESPN 30 for 30 film on the creation of the Big East Conference – Requiem for the Big East. I took his advice. The film is available on Netflix right now for those of you who would like to see it.

As a brief synopsis, let me just say this documentary addresses the challenges faced by the basketball programs at some smaller, lesser-known colleges along the East Coast, the birth of ESPN as a television network, and the forward-thinking coaches who understood ESPN’s need for content to fill air-time as well as their own need to recruit local players to build interest in their programs.

Interestingly, college sports are faced with a very similar scenario in 2015. The Power 5 conferences have created their own tv networks and are hungry for programming to put on the air. As one PA reader commented, the SEC Network is currently airing repeats of 5 women’s basketball games, 2 live women’s games, and its SEC Now show for 9 hours. I would say they are definitely in need of content! (Click here for the PAC-12 network schedule and here for the SEC network schedule to see for yourself.)

Back to that 30 for 30 film . . . the basketball coaches of those independent (i.e. not currently part of another NCAA conference) schools got together and formed the Big East Conference and found a way to differentiate themselves from the basketball programs in the ACC and Big 10. They recognized the gritty nature of their players and capitalized on it, creating a brand for themselves that looked very different than a Duke or a University of Kentucky. They knew that, in order to convince local talented players to choose THEIR schools instead of going off to the larger conferences, they needed a way to showcase their teams in a very public way, so they went to the ESPN headquarters (which happened to be located within driving distance) and pitched the idea of a Big East Championships to be held at Madison Square Garden. What college athlete doesn’t want the chance to play at Madison Square Garden in front of a huge crowd? The rest, as they say, is history.

Why couldn’t college tennis accomplish the same feat? Why couldn’t college tennis create an event like the Big East Championships from the 1980s, hold it in a big arena, sell tv rights and advertising, and generate the excitement and buzz around our sport that it should have? If we have that One Big Event – tennis’s Final Four if you will – maybe that would be enough to grow interest in college tennis at the local level, helping teams become revenue-producing for their universities, leading to the all-important “relevance” the ADs keep talking about. Then we have something tangible to promote . . . The Road to Phoenix, The Road to LA, The Road to Miami . . . We give fans a destination, a place to travel to for a grand event, a place to cheer on their favorite team and have fun doing it. Maybe we tie it into a pro event, like both the US Open and Indian Wells are now doing with their collegiate events. And, if we get the right people talking college tennis on these conference television networks or even The Tennis Channel (I’m thinking Wayne Bryan would be a perfect choice!), have a featured Match of the Week, what could that do for the popularity of our sport? The possibilities are endless!

So, now, I’m asking for your input. Parents, coaches, college players – what do you think? How can we make college tennis fit into the tv time frame? Be specific. Don’t limit yourself to thinking about saving college tennis only by changing the way we score the game. Think about how we can sell it to the public at large, how we can sell it to advertisers.

For those who doubt college tennis can be successfully aired on tv because of its multi-court aspect, I say look at college gymnastics – it has multiple apparatuses going simultaneously, and someone figured out how to make that work for tv. It’s time to think outside the box . . . waaaaaaay outside the box . . . and come up with something viable to save college tennis.

Now it’s your turn to share your ideas. Please answer the poll question below then add your suggestions in the Comments area. Okay, GO!

17 thoughts on “Does the Answer Lie in the Big East?

  1. This entire discussion about fitting tennis into some TV window is ridiculous. Look at professional golf – very popular on television yet when you turn the TV on to watch what do you see? That’s right, only a partial round. Major network TV coverage starts not only after the leaders have teed off but not until the leaders have played about 6 holes.

    Why can’t tennis do the same thing? Play the doubles and then start the TV coverage. Or something like that.

  2. Maybe we might give some thought to delayed broadcast, rather than ruin the game for the players. They might contact the TV Channel and see how many viewers look at delayed broadcast. The important thing is to keep the conversation going.
    We might even find that a portion of the TV audience would enjoy seeing the highlights of the match, on their own time. Might turn out to be like blog radio, were more people tune in at a time suits them, rather then try to listen live.

  3. First, doubles seems to be the most exciting part, but if something had to be off air, then make it doubles. However….. I would do 2 out of 3 sets of doubles if it is not being televised. And the 6 game doubles is a joke.

    Second, why can’t the colleges make tennis exciting on their own with out all this hoopla.
    All these changes are getting rid of the actual tennis fans who like the deuce point.
    Kids day, $1 tickets.
    Saturday night matches… beer… music.

    Third, why isn’t there just live streaming with commercials ( tv ads), and that would pay for tennis. The serious fans will watch, and we can give up attracting the new fans with this ridiculous format.

  4. OK – you asked for out of the box thinking… Sorry, but I’m not buying the 3.5 hours for TV argument. The US Open is televised most of the day on weekends and then cuts away without much regard for who’s playing – TV can broadcast what they want for however long they decide – many times picking up matches already in progress. I’m guessing that there is an underlying issue that can’t be openly discussed. My guess is that college tennis coaches want a time limit – but can’t directly come out and say this without looking bad. If I was a coach, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in matches that drag on and on indefinitely sometimes back to back Saturday and Sunday. Then they look at other college coaches and sports – college football and college basketball coaches have a set times for games because they are on a clock – about 2 hours for basketball and 3 hours for football – My guess is that college tennis coaches want a similar work schedule. Ultimately, this issue has to be condsidered within a college/university context – I work in a D1 college/university and know this way of thinking too well. Also, I go to all the local division 1 tennis matches for my university – and my son and I are the only people watching the match – maybe the women’s team will be there to cheer, but usually, it’s just me and my son. If nobody is attending these matches, I’m sure nobody will watch on TV – except for me.

  5. Overtime option….singles first..if it is tied 3-3 after singles…doubles overtime with 1 doubles match first to 4 games win by 2….this will meet broadcasting time frames and provide the apprehension of an overtime period as in all major sports: hockey, baseball, football, basketball, soccer.

  6. In my opinion, TV was not the primary driver in the committee’s quest to overhaul the scoring system and the format of college tennis. So then what question are we trying to answer? How do we make college tennis more relevant? Go to a college tennis match and listen. Hear the echo? No band. No cheerleaders. Empty seats. This isn’t Field of Dreams. If you build it (TV), they won’t come.

    The answer may lie a lot closer to home than the Big East. College tennis is an exciting product that can be sold — and it’s free! Every college tennis program needs a year 5 plan and a commitment to FILL THE STANDS. The devil is in the details. Execution of any plan requires creativity, work, and commitment. If I was a college tennis coach, I would buy a coffee for the professor who heads up the PR department and share my story. Talk about a dream project for a group of young, bright minds that have an immediate connection to the school! Let them propose a plan to fill the stands. If the PR students attended one match as a kickoff to the project, you’ve probably already doubled your fan base.

    Regardless, there are ways to make college tennis more relevant that require less financial drain and risk for the school/team than jumping into the Field of Dreams.

  7. If we are stuck on tv,then the answer is simple.
    Televise the #1 singles match ONLY. It’s just impossible for non tennis fans to follow 6 matches.( and don’t let the coaches stack the seeds so their #2 is playing #1).

    Although, why we can’t just do live streaming/Chevy truck commercials is beyond me.

  8. I would go to more matches with my kids but 2pm on a weekday can’t work. Who can attend matches then? We need friday night or saturday night party atmosphere like events at a least a few times a year…. tailgating before too!

  9. give the option of another station to carry the end if not finished or let that station decide if they will just continue coverage because the audience demands it…the battle is that tight, tough and physical. The personalities and fight and athleticism that is on display demands it… that is what draws and keeps an audience… not only engaged but glued to the tube/seat. Coaches players parents spectators and yes a TV audience don’t want that kind of display to end. The mentality should not be let’s shorten it and just get it over with because it’s not important enough to take the TIME to battle for. our student athletes lay it on the court every day of the week and most LIVE for the battle, the thrill of bringing your best and telling, no “in your face” telling, your opponent to do the same.
    Who wants that to end?! Come on people the time flies by!
    shouts of let’s see more not less is our cry!
    D. Curry

  10. Food for thought!!! College Tennis needs to be more proactive not only in promoting the sport but helping the NCAA understand the nature of a fantastic sport. For example, when I played college tennis in the 80’s, we played a lot more dual matches. Around 1990, the NCAA cut the playing dates to 25 in a calendar year which includes fall tournaments and the reason was the student-athletes were missing to much school. However, baseball and softball play as many as 60-70 games a season, volleyball and basketball play as many as 30-35 a season and even football is expanding to where some schools play up to 15 football games but college tennis is basically confined to 20 dates. The NCAA also passed a rule that each institution MUST having a winning record to be considered for the NCAA tournament, therefore schools are playing double and tripleheaders to make sure they have a winning record. Is this in the best interest of the student-athlete? Also, more dual matches would help create more parity for smaller schools to get an opportunity to play against some of the more traditional schools and build their programs. As far as TV is concerned, gymnastics does just fine and has not changed their sport at all!! Thoughts???

  11. I love the simultaneous play option Lisa, with 5 singles and one doubles match played best 2 out of 3 sets with traditional scoring. Either 2 points for dubs (since 2 players competing) or just one point for dubs with a super-breaker tie break scenario at 3 all where 2 singles and one doubles tie breakers are contested (10 points, win by 2). This would add some excitement to the end of tight matches, with a payoff to fans who stayed all the way to the ultimate conclusion. Most dual matches, with simultaneous play, would be contested within a 2-3 hour window, leaving time for player introductions via public address announcer (similar to the start of basketball games), the playing of our national anthem, etc. – which add to the player and fan experience.

  12. I just heard a great suggestion from Coach Scarpa: once one team clinches the dual match, switch the scoring in the remaining matches in progress to no-ad scoring. That way everyone gets to finish. That’s what I’m talking about – thinking outside the box!

  13. Why are we trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? IF some are concerned with the logistics of televising live tennis, have a specific format for that and let the other 99.9% of the teams who are not on TV compete using the traditional format. After all, that’s what the results of the NCAA survey showed the student-athletes and coaches preferred!

  14. Here’s another thought…If the ITA/USTA/NCAA wants more exposure for Division 1 tennis, why not provide live streaming for all D1 programs who can not afford it in their budget. All D1 matches could then be streamed through the ITA website and the ITA could charge a very nominal fee for the match so they could garner some additional revenue and also donate a portion of the fee back to the university. Win for the people who want to watch! Win for the ITA because they make some additional money! Win for the team because they make some money for the program and get more exposure!

  15. Here’s another thought. Why not come up with our own NIT for tennis? Since the majority of the D1 programs and athletes never get a sniff at the “Big Dance” let’s provide an opportunity to highlight the 2nd tier the way basketball does with the NIT. More programs and more-student-athletes in the news that way, more excitement for the lower-ranked teams trying to qualify that event, and a lot more smiles from the players who would never get to the NCAA Championships.

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