So much happens during the 12 days of the NCAA Division I tournament it’s impossible to work it all into any daily update, and most of the notes and observations below wouldn’t fit properly into the match reports anyway. But before the college season ends, with next week’s final individual rankings and the announcement of the ITA Players of the Year, it’s a good time to address some of the highlights, and a few lowlights, of this year's tournament.
“I’m not so sure he’s the greatest college player of all time, but he’s almost for sure the most productive player in college tennis ever, when you look at the four team championships, the two singles championships,” Emery said. “The greatest, that’s kind of a gray area, but it’s going to be awfully hard to go against him being the most productive player of all time, and to me, that’s a much bigger accolade. It’s the biggest compliment you can give somebody is to talk about their character and their productivity.”
Just as last year at Stanford, there were problems reported from those who were watching the live video from home. Unlike last year, when the scoreboard was not functioning in the Stanford stadium, I did not have any difficulties keeping track of what was going on at the McWhorter courts, because the live scoring worked perfectly on my iPhone4S. I was even able to inform Stella Sampras Webster that Florida would be UCLA’s opponent in the final while monitoring my phone during the news conference, held in a building some distance away from the courts. My understanding is that the company supplying the collegiate live scoring system has an NCAA-granted monopoly (if I’m wrong, please correct me) so some improvements may need to be made on their end, but Georgia needs to consider new cameras on the main courts should they host again. As of now, the only future site known is for 2013, which will be at the University of Illinois.
The heat and humidity, which really didn’t ramp up until the end of the team tournament, wasn’t any surprise, and all credit to champions Steve Johnson and Nicole Gibbs, Californians who don’t train in anything like those kind of conditions, for surviving and thriving. The rain was, of course, more disruptive, and having four courts on site, just steps from the outdoor courts, proved to be a mixed blessing. Their proximity led to quick decisions to move indoors, when on several occasions, just waiting another half hour would have allowed outdoor tennis, which is what the NCAA championships are supposed to be. Where there are no convenient indoor courts, such as Texas A&M, necessity is the mother of alternate scheduling, but the committee seemed to value finishing the team event on time as more important than what was actually best for the sport. And, as long as I’m spending the University of Georgia’s money for new cameras, I’ll also spring for two more indoor courts that eliminate the awkward situation of the team semifinals and finals. A facility as excellent as the Dan Magill Tennis Complex shouldn’t be two courts shy of a match indoors.
Never underestimate the value of feeding the media, and well. I find it difficult to criticize anything about Georgia when they provide the press corps lunch and dinner, with variety and quality, every day. Would that every tournament I attend were half as generous.
The battle of the bands at the Sweet 16 has begun, with the University of Virginia picking up the gauntlet thrown down by the University of Southern California last year in Stanford by bringing their pep band to the finals days of the NCAA team tournament. It certainly added to the sense of excitement to have live music, even if the restrictions on when they could play made for a lot of downtime for the musicians.
It’s time for my annual bow to the tennis SIDs, the ones who are there at the beginning and stay until the end, answering one dumb question after another from those of us less familiar with their teams than they are. They do video interviews, write releases, keep score, update stats and somehow manage to stay cheerful and accommodating through it all, win or lose.
It’s important to get ESPNU back into the mix, and I urge the NCAA to do whatever it takes to make that happen. The NCAA.com streaming was better than nothing, and really done in by the rain this year, but there is no reason that a major sport like tennis can’t find 10 hours of air time on a network dedicated to college sports. The NCAA should not allow ESPN and its affiliates to pick and choose what non-revenue sports it airs; if women’s softball is really so attractive to the network, the NCAA should use that leverage to provide exposure for every sport that is sponsored by at least 100 schools.
I’ve heard that format changes are being considered in order to make the sport more television-friendly. I love the current format, and I don’t want to see it changed, especially without any thought to what it might do to college tennis as a developing stage for professional tennis, but it does demonstrate how important many coaches feel national television exposure is to their programs.
Even with the rain and the heat and the indoor court situation, I love it when the NCAAs are at Georgia. The sense of history runs deep, the fans are passionate and numerous, and the sports information department is well-staffed, helpful and supremely organized. Emery called it the greatest amateur tennis site in the country, and while I would claim that Kalamazoo holds that distinction, even I can understand why Athens would be someone else's top choice.
It’s difficult to overstate how emotional players get when they’ve played their last college dual match. Tears were frequently shed—by coaches and players, men and women—when they were asked about their thoughts on their final match. Being part of a team is so rare in tennis, and the experiences shared so intense, that going back to individual tennis, or on to another unrelated career, is plainly accompanied by a sense of loss.