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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cox Named Davis Cup Practice Partner; BBC Examines Foreign Players in College Tennis; Bangoura Spotlight; Embree Still Recovering from Surgery

On Tuesday, the USTA had a conference call with Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, and my question, as with any Davis Cup or Fed Cup call, was about the practice partners. Because the US is taking five veteran players--Sam Querrey, John Isner, Andy Roddick and the Bryan twins--to the March 4 tie in Chile, I asked Courier if they were taking any other practice partners and he told me Jay Berger was handling that. I learned today that Jordan Cox will be the practice partner. Depending on their health, and the Bryans results in Acapulco, the team is expected to be in Chile this weekend to prepare. The complete transcript of the call can be found here.

BBC America examines the issue of international players in US college tennis in this article, posted today. A companion piece, which features opinions from coaches, former coaches and other experts, can be found here. Most of you know by now that I'm against any quotas, but I'm always willing to listen to ideas that can help more Americans earn places in Division I tennis lineups.

Two of the top American college players, both of them Floridians who are sophomores at the University of Florida, are the subject of these two features. Sekou Bangoura Jr. is in the USTA's College Spotlight, and this article from the Naples Daily News goes into detail about Lauren Embree's wrist surgery and her ongoing recovery. Head coach Roland Thornqvist says that Embree is about 85%, even though she is undefeated in singles in dual match play this season.


Randy said...

Oh my god the comment from Tim Cass on the issue of foreign players in college tennis is laughable. American players aren't going pro because foreigners are taking their scholarships? REALLY!!!! I'd expect a former college coach of all people to know that if you can't get a college scholarship, the pro tour probably isn't in your future. I still can't believe I read that.

5.0 Player said...

This problem of too many scholarships going to foreign players can be easily and legaly solved by simply limiting the number of foreign scholarships per team.

The only thing preventing this solution is gross incompetence that is proven by this BBC article. David Benjamin, the President of the ITA who could solve this problem, is quoted in the article as saying that limiting the number of foreign scholarships "violates the constitution."

This is completely false.

David Benjamin is either a liar or he’s woefully misinformed. Limiting foreign scholarships would NOT “violate the constitution.” There is no prohibition against discrimination based upon citizenships or residency. State colleges do it all the time against non resident (in other states or countries) students for granting admissions and tuition price purposes, etc. This is not the same thing as race, ethnicity or ethnic origin discrimination which WOULD violate the constitution.

How can Benjamin get away with using this completely false excuse and no one is correcting him or calling him on it?! The USTA's Vegosen has also made similar excuses and he should know better as he's an attorney.

Randy said...

Don't limit foreign players, just set an age requirement. Eliminating them WOULD hurt the college game. No one wants to see a lower level of tennis. They make American players better.

fairplay said...

Always an interesting debate, isn’t it, about the ‘invasion of foreign players in US college tennis’. Most people agree that the presence of international players on the college scene raises the level of college tennis, but while proponents think this is a good thing, critics argue it is unfair.
American tennis players complain about being cheated out of scholarships to their schools of choice; college coaches complain about having to stay competitive while losing the top American players to a few traditional tennis powerhouses.
So how many ‘top players’ are we talking about each year? Fewer than 20, 30, or 50 and more? How many ‘traditional tennis powerhouses’ are there in the US? And how many scholarships do they have available each year?
Let’s just consider women’s tennis with its 8 full scholarships per team. Even though there is the odd year that a school has 4 scholarships available (GA last year, USC next fall), we are talking about an average of 2 scholarships per year. While schools like Stanford have first pick, they will typically only consider top 10 players, if not just top 5. Suppose there are 5 such ‘traditional women’s tennis powerhouses’, they could still only take away the top 10 players from other programs. Add to that a few players turning pro, that still leaves quite a few talented players to recruit and work with. And maybe that is part of the problem: while it is always easier to start with proven qualities (top 10 players) –and a few top schools can do exactly that– some coaches are very successful identifying outstanding players who have the potential to become even better in college and develop these players into top college players indeed.
Of course this does require putting in some effort and in this regard it does deserve pointing out that going with those proven qualities hasn’t always worked out the way it was supposed to. Indeed, we’ve seen some of those highly touted Blue Chip players wither away or disappear completely from the line-up once they’ve reached their goal of “getting into a top college”, while some 5 star players have really stepped up and are playing high in the line-up of their respective teams. This shows that coaches shouldn’t complain too easily about losing out on the top juniors and check out recruits and their potential. However, it is probably true that beyond the 5 Star player status it is more difficult to find talent that can be developed into top players, so it is completely understandable that coaches reach out to top foreign players in order to be competitive. And competitive they are! I think everyone can agree that the presence of international players on the college circuit offers a great challenge for our American players and raises the level of college tennis a notch. This is great for everyone, especially for those who want to prepare for the pro tour. However, without wanting to push for quotas on international players – which I find extremely hard to believe would be ‘unconstitutional’ since we have plenty of quotas on internationals in the American work force don’t we?— I do wonder how many foreign players are too many? And how many very good American players think they don’t even have a chance to make a team with an all-foreign line-up? Do the coaches of these teams really not get any interest from top 30 - 50 American players, or do they simply not want to put in the coaching effort and automatically opt for foreign players because they have those connections anyway?
So while it’s a little exaggerated for coaches from top schools to claim “that not being able to recruit the top athletes stateside should not be an excuse for tennis coaches”, it may also be too easy to claim that there is “little US talent (left) for schools like Baylor to recruit.” Given the right coaching, a lot of American players that are not top juniors can well turn out to become great college players.

fairplay said...

(Part 2 comment)
Restricting the number of international players for the benefit of American players may look like the solution to many, but it would most likely hurt the current level of competition. Requiring all college players to start their collegiate career within six months of their high school class graduation (in effect Aug. 2012) on the other hand, may at least put an end to some of the perceived unfairness in the whole recruiting process as seen in the recruiting of “European pros” (international players who have spent a few years on the pro tour, or what I would call ‘the 21 year-old Freshman syndrome’) and this may at least put American incoming freshmen at a lesser disadvantage. There will still be international players to compete with, but they will have to comply with the same rules as their American counterparts.

But whichever way a coach chooses to go – local or foreign – one could claim in either case that: “You are basically renting players […] that help you win championships” so I think it is a cheap argument to blame programs with an international line-up for having “mercenary athletes”. If you play for a team on a scholarship, you’d better perform as best you can.

All this being said, if it is true that about 40 percent of the scholarships in the top 25 women teams of Division 1 go to international players, then it is pretty refreshing and hopeful for American players to look at the current top 5 Women’s teams in Division 1 (Stanford, FL, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan). Notice that there are barely any foreigners in the line-ups of these teams. Sure, there are the ‘traditional powerhouses’, Stanford and FL, who can pick and choose the top Americans, but as far as I remember (and I probably have not been following college tennis long enough) North Carolina and Michigan were never fixtures in the Women’s top 5 or top 10 until maybe last year. And now the Virginia women have cracked the top 10 for the first time in school history. So it looks like it is possible to build a top program without necessarily having only (former) top 10 juniors in the line-up or going international for the majority of players; and maybe that is what really defines a successful coach: someone who is able to identify talented American players and puts in the work to develop them even further. A good academic program certainly doesn’t hurt either and the top recruits will follow.

As for Duke, just being a great private school (like Stanford) plays a major role in attracting top talent because people like to think they get a better ‘return’ for their investment in junior tennis but that is a topic for another debate.

Jon in PBG said...

I agree Randy, ridiculous comment by Cass. Anyone who is not good enough at 18-19 to get a college scholarship is not going to become a money making pro anyway. The talent of a future top 100 pro will be at least evident enough by that age to get a scholarship. Its not like mid level college tennis has magically transformed decent players into top 100 pros. American kids who eventually make it in the pros, if they played any college tennis, played at the top programs on scholarship.

getreal said...

One point that not been mentioned in the above thread (or if it has I missed it) is that it’s significantly more costly to develop a junior tennis player than team sports, and if the odds against getting a college scholarship are so great, especially on the men’s side, that becomes a real negative to choosing tennis to begin with.

What is also interesting is when looking at DI schools ranked in the top 20 academically – the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Rice, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame, you see very few foreigners on their roasters on the men’s side . But that’s tricky as well. While the Ivies don’t give athletic scholarships, you have to qualify for financial aide or be rich enough to afford to go, which limits who can go. While the others offer athletic scholarships, that’s more a benefit to women because of the 8 full scholarships, but not so great for the men because even with a 50% scholarship those schools are still $25,000 plus a year, so again that limits who can go. And then when you look at the top tennis schools, often their top US recruits don’t make the line-up, as was the case with Georgia’s two new US blue chip recruits this year.

Agree with fairplay- one easy fix would be to have the NCAA have an age cut off for freshman eligibility to 20, no exceptions, no sitting off a year. If anyone wants to develop their game playing college tennis they need to at least start at the normal age.

Jon in PBG said...

getreal, kids who become D-1 scxholarship caliber players choose tennis at age 5-8 and are not thinking about what sports they can get scholarships in. Boys don't play or quit tennis because the cool kids are playing and the cute girls are cheering for those involved in football and basketball.

Tyler said...

While watching the world cup (soccer) one of the foreign announcers asked an international coach about soccer in the United States. The international coach said it will always be hard for the United States to develop soccer at the international level because the United States has the process backwards. He then explained that in the United States, children play sports to go to college whereas internationally children play sports to go pro. Then he said, when international players don't make it as soccer pros, some of them try and get american college scholarships. Thus, the passing out of college tennis scholarships is nothing more than subsidizing the international player at the expense of the american player. It is clear that most american players are destined to be late bloomers since they chase scholarships for education first, and think about becoming a pro second (a majority). That garbage about the level of play is truly garbage. I've attended many duel matches and many NCAA tournament matches, the most disappointing thing is the attendance. Knowing how hard players train for twenty fans in the stands is sad. Aside from what number they play, a majority of the spectators don't know the difference levels. The top 75 ranked schools have quality tennis as do many DII schools. The relationship is simple with regard to attendance, there is less attendance when there are less hometown players, in state players on the team. Look at FSU's women's team, basically international. Compare FSU to UF's women's team which takes the top Florida players, which team is a tennis fan in the state of Florida more likely to follow? (Easy, UF) Even Miami carries Rizzulo and Dubins (Florida players), again which school would a fan from the state of Florida more likely follow, UM or FSU. It's nice to post in a forum like this all the time but I wish the powers that be would wake up and do something.

Tyler said...

Second small point, the real irony is that the USTA doesn't understand that long term this is bad for their business. When shopping around for academies in South Florida, the typical catch line by many of the academies is, 100 percent success rate, scholarship guarantee or some mumble along those lines. The academies and the independent pros in the united states are the engine and transmission that drives tennis in the united states, with the tennis parent of course. The more tennis parents begin to realize that this 20 to 30hours a week and travel amounts to not much come signing time during their junior and senior, the customer base declines.