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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NCAA Division I Changes Report, Student-Athletes Object Strenuously

For those of you who haven't seen the link I've circulated on twitter, the July report from the NCAA Division I Tennis Committee is available here.

I was sent this report by a Division I college coach, who told me it is on the public record, although I have not been able to find any reference to it on ncaa.org or ncaa.com.

I voiced my objections to these changes in last night, before I knew exactly what was being proposed, but there is nothing in the report that is substantially different from the rumors.

My objections to the match tiebreaker are so deeply held, so fundamentally opposed to what I value in the sport that it is difficult to express them, but I categorically disagree with the committee when it states "it keeps the integrity of the game in place."

Even if I were to agree with their premise that matches are too long, which I don't believe to be true, this is curing the disease by killing the patient. College tennis as a development option will no longer exist, the best juniors will bypass college, the level will drop and the current outstanding product will be turned into a NCAA-sanctioned World Team Tennis-type exhibition.

The top Division I players have clearly expressed their objections to this change, and if I were making changes, I would certainly have second thoughts if Rob Farah, Steve Johnson, Bradley Klahn, Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs did not support them. There is now a Facebook group, started by Michigan's Evan King and Florida's Bob van Overbeek, called "Official-Against the changes to NCAA Tennis," which, after one day, has 1425 members, mostly current and former NCAA Division I tennis players.

Gibbs' tweet this morning was a perfect rebuttal, in less than 140 characters:

"I play tennis for tennis, not for tv coverage and frat boy attendance. Playing a tb for a third set compromises the integrity of the sport!"

Klahn needed two tweets, but here is his take:

"It is unfortunate that in this era media accessibility and popularity trumps the best interests of those student athletes who have Sacrificed much to achieve their dreams. You can't sell your program as a stepping stone to pro tennis with super breakers for a third set"

The "possibility" of televising tennis due to the shorter formats is thrown out there, but the NCAA has no credibility on this issue, as they were unable to secure any television coverage for the NCAAs this year, and have not convinced a network to air the individual tournament finals since 2008, even though those matches are NEVER three hours long.

College tennis has passionate fans, who love the game and the excitement that a dual match adds to a great individual sport. It may alienate these supporters in the name of time savings and jeopardize the legitimacy of the sport on the college level.

I am not saying this to be dramatic or to make any point, other than to express the depth of my dismay at these changes, specifically the tiebreaker in place of a third set. But I will no longer cover Division I college tennis if this is the format. It simply is not tennis I am interested in watching or reporting about. The third set is where the drama is. And even the Junior Orange Bowl 12s can deliver that.


Kevin said...

Do you know if this rule change is going to occur at all college levels of tennis?

tennisforlife said...

My God! How can they be so naive - one of the great things about tennis is the scoring. I often say after my kid wins the 1st set in the boys 12's , lets just go to the tiebreaker - if he loses we'll play another set...3 sets defines tennis. We have a rogue junior competition committee in the USTA and now a rogue NCAA committee... who will stop this madness!!

Sandra Ennis said...

World Team Tennis has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that tinkering with the game does NOT increase your audience. And 'rock n roll' tennis (remember the Jensen brothers) in the 90's did absolutely nothing to increase attendances. All they did was drive home the point that if you change the essence of the game you alienate your core audience and without them you've got nothing.

Seriously though, we've just had two of the most dynamic, eventful and exciting year-end championships of all time with the Div I women's title matches of 2011 and 2012. Both going down to the wire, both see-sawing matches where one person gained ascendency and then another. SURELY, they were the perfect illustration of why you DON'T want an abbreviated final set? SURELY, if you can't sell the game based on those two epic matches then you either aren't trying hard enough or you just aren't good enough at your job.

Colette, with these changes only being mandatory at the NCAA titles, do you think that there will be a push from the schools to initiate a new event to take their place? I mean, if everyone opposes the changes then why not make the NCAA's irrelevant by boycotting them and establishing a new event in their place?

skip1515 said...

There is an underlying belief to such tinkerings that tennis needs to be more like other sports in order to become more popular. Me, I take issue with whether tennis *needs* to be more popular; who would benefit except the commercial concerns involved in the sport? Not the club players, not the spectators at tournaments.

Even more fundamental is whether tennis *should* be like other sports. I, for one, vote NO. As others have noted, the scoring system is sublime, and unique. The open-endedness of a match means that while the competition may be physical, players have to include energy management in their strategies. Anyone care to come up with another major individual sport that requires that?

It's be interesting to know what the NCAA's stated motivation is for the changes.

Eric Amend said...

As per Sandra's comment - "I mean, if everyone opposes the changes then why not make the NCAA's irrelevant by boycotting them and establishing a new event in their place?" - I concur wholeheartedly!!

wi tennis said...

It's only been one year since no coverage. espnu had tenn vs usc and fl vs stanford in 2011. I think there needs to be changes. I think there should be 3 singles & 2 doubles or 4 singles & 1 doubles. everything is 2 out of 3 sets. you play singles or doubles. It still keeps the integrity. Is easy to understand, etc. Easy to play double headers. It's still nearly impossible to "make it" from college tennis. 1 singles guy per year, from college tennis, stays in the top 100. less than 1 guy per year, from college tennis, stays in the top 30 of doubles.

Jerry said...

Any lawyers reading this? NCAA does not make rules of the game!! Is court action to stop this an option?

Somdev Devvarman said...

I recently heard the news about the potential changes proposed by the NCAA to the competitive format of college tennis.

I attended college like so many other young people with the hope that I could develop my skills and have a chance to play professional tennis.

Tennis is both a thinking game as well as an extremely physical sport, especially at the pro level. This proposed format takes away one's ability to further develop the skills of managing momentum and develop the physical skills necessary to maximize one's potential.

In my experience as a college tennis player, I did not see the current format as ever being a problem. The issues that I saw that needed to be addressed were primarily facilities that lacked the ability to host a final site in case of inclement weather and too many teams at the final site, thus making it difficult to run an efficient event.

I strongly believe the repercussions to the college game are extraordinary if these proposed format changes are implemented. The current format is not a detriment to the college game and it is my hope that this proposition is reconsidered.