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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Michigan's Bruce Berque Makes Case Against NCAA D-I Changes Eliminating Warmups and Shortening Changeovers

I received this email from University of Michigan men's head coach Bruce Berque last night.

Hi Colette,
I am writing to you with my thoughts on the ongoing issue of the NCAA proposals for dual match format change at the NCAA Championships.  Please feel free to share this with your readers.  While the recent news that two significant proposals are now off the board is very welcome, I have to say that our players and I are still far from satisfied. It appears to me that it may have been assumed that the other three dual match format proposals were acceptable to players and coaches, since there was not a dramatic outcry about them. While it would not surprise me if some players and coaches are ok with the remaining three proposals, I am confident that many simply are not.  While the proposals may seem relatively harmless at first, it is very important that we analyze the potential unintended consequences before we go forward with the changes.

For me, the most troubling of the three remaining proposals is the removal of a warm-up before singles. This could be a competitive disadvantage to the player who is first off the doubles court and faces an opponent who is last off the doubles court. The player who is first off could potentially "sit" for 30 minutes, and then have to face a fresh opponent. Clearly this would create a situation that is both unfair and unsafe to the player who is expected to serve at full speed with a cold arm. In my opinion this would be the equivalent of asking a baseball pitcher to throw at full speed with no warm up pitches after a long inning sitting in the dugout!  For the record, I would also like to see the 3 minute warm up with the opponent be maintained for doubles.  I don't see this to be an inconvenience for fans, as it is quite common for them to come a bit late anyway.

Taken together the remaining two proposals (shortened intermission and changeovers) create a situation in which players will be extremely challenged to hydrate, eat, receive coaching, and use the bathroom in the allotted time.  A five minute intermission makes it almost impossible for players to leave the court, use the bathroom, eat and drink something, visit with a trainer (sometimes to decide if they are fit to stay in the lineup), and return to court without being penalized. Of course, any type of team meeting would be impossible unless all of the above activities are removed as options.   I also think it is a mistake to assume that a 60 second changeover provides players with 60 seconds of rest.  By the time a player gets to the bench there could easily be just 50 seconds left on the clock.  "Time" is then called by the official (indicating that it is time to leave the bench and prepare for play) with 30 seconds remaining. That gives the player about 20 seconds to catch his breath, receive coaching, eat, drink, and towel off.  Good luck players!  And remember to grip all your rackets before you get to the court!

In a sport with no substitutions, no bathroom breaks, just one injury timeout, and a high incidence of match outcome impacting cramping, I just don't see the risk/reward balance tipping towards the reward.
 Asking our players to rush around, and compromise their health and enjoyment of the game to shave minutes off a dual match seems absurd!  What are we doing this for? And where is the data to support the premise that shortening matches will increase TV exposure and attendance? Wouldn't it make sense to have a statistic indicating the average length of a dual match before we make radical changes based on the premise that the matches are too long.  I also agree with you that the match times the NCAA referred to in their release are way off from the norm.

Are we really expected to believe that these changes will improve the student athlete experience?  What do the student athletes think?  I also believe that the change to a final four final site, as opposed to a sweet 16 final site, will make the perceived need to shorten dual matches at the championship site irrelevant. In closing, I want to express my concern that these proposals were made with a questionable premise, questionable assumptions, and a complete lack of systematic input from players and coaches.

I do plan on sharing this e-mail with each member of the NCAA Championships/Sports Management Cabinet.  I am happy to share the complete list of Cabinet member names and e-mail addresses to any Division I coach who wishes to join me in expressing his/her thoughts before a decision is made as to whether to institute the remaining NCAA Tennis Committee proposals.  Division I players who would like to reach out to the cabinet can send a direct facebook message to either Evan King or Bob van Overbeek to request the full cabinet list.

Thanks for your time Colette!

Bruce Berque
University of Michigan


college player said...

good letter

people who make decisions such as that show that they know nothing about athletics, hydration, physiology, sports performance, mental preparation or the sport of tennis altogether and they are dangerous to athletes

Austin said...

What about only having changeover breaks every other switch of sides and make it 2min? That is a decent compromise. Gives the NCAA their average of 60secs without actually doing it, but also gives player extra time when it does occur.

Santiago said...

Great letter by the coach. It is unbelievable to me that the basic points made in the letter need to be made at all. Are the bureaucrats so out of touch with sports that they lack the understanding of the importance of a warm up? The baseball pitcher analogy is excellent. I cringe at the thought of a young athlete serving over 100mph without a warm up. Pure madness!

Andy M. said...

bad analogy because a baseball pitcher is the ONLY incidence I can think of where they delay the game for a warm up. Most other sports you get there early and warm up as a team before facing your opponent.

Rigo said...

The analogy is good because serving in tennis and pitching in baseball require proper warm up, especially at the higher levels where velocity is at a premium. Pitchers warm up in the bullpen and come out early between innings. Only delay comes when there is a pitching change, which is part of the game. Another example is in futbol (soccer in the USA). A player from the bench is not just substituted in without warming up first. The fact that warming up is even a topic of debate is beyond me....

Joe said...

Can't wait for the first lawsuit against the NCAA after a player's career is cut short because they suffer a preventable injury caused by the lack of a warm-up.

warmup said...

I think the points made by the Michigan coach are from a paranoid, narrow minded perspective. But it's good to have those kinds of people's opinion on occasion. The 'cold' player from a dead doubles is more than welcome to warm up as the remaining doubles is wrapping up. How does a player that is not in the doubles line-up at all get ready for singles? Both teams arrive at the courts to warm up and are completely ready, why warm up again? Have you seen a college match warm up. I wouldn't say that players are using that time for anything beneficial. To say most fans arrive late anyway is a horrible argument. They arrive late because they know the match will start late due to these warm ups. Do people arrive late to a basketball game? No, because they know tip off is tip off. What if you play a 5 deuce return game, then have a change over, should you warm up before your next service game? This is college team tennis, not pro tennis. The players have ample time to warm up, know they're opponents and can get ready. The fans don't need any more reason to be bored and watch a another warm up that the players don't even care about. It's completely emotionless, totally customary, and a terrible way to kick off a dual match.