Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sean Hannity Asks USTA to be Responsive to Membership Regarding Junior Competition Changes, Believes 80 Percent Against New Competitive Structure

I'm starting this post with an apology. I teased this impromptu interview with Sean Hannity two weeks ago on twitter, and have not posted it until now, primarily due to the NCAA controversy that erupted shortly after Kalamazoo ended.

Hannity was in Kalamazoo briefly to watch the semifinal match between Noah Rubin, who is a family friend, and Dennis Novikov. Photographer Bill Kallenberg brought him up to the Tower for an introduction, and Pam Shebest of the Kalamazoo Gazette and I had an opportunity to ask him about the USTA Junior Competition changes slated to begin next year and in 2014. For all his posts on this topic, go to his website, hannity.com and type USTA in the search box in the top right corner.

Lisa Stone at the Parenting Aces blog recently spoke with USTA Director of Junior Competition Lew Brewer about the changes, and that interview can be found here.  There is an online petition available asking for repeal of the USTA changes and sectional meetings to discuss alternatives.

The New York Times published a story today on the debate surrounding current USTA Player Development, with John McEnroe, Tim Mayotte, Wayne Bryan, Patrick McEnroe and Jose Higueras all quoted. Hannity is mentioned briefly as well.

Hannity's answer to the question Shebest asked about his opinion of the junior competition changes is below, in its entirety.

Q: What is your feeling about the junior competition changes?

I’ve spoken out about them. I actually support the idea of finding the great American stars. I have a 10-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy, and it seems to me that while they’re finding them, the USTA should do everything to nurture that and support it and help it along the way. But 99.9 percent of the kids are not going to be pros. But there’s fifteen, twenty thousand kids in any given year, five thousand new ones every year, that play college tennis. That’s a lot of college opportunities.

For example, reducing this tournament draw I think is a big mistake.(It goes to 128 from 192 in 2013).

What are the parents, the ones I speak to when I’m out with my kids at these tournaments looking for? We want to keep our kids out of trouble, it’s a pretty tough world. They learn a lot of life lessons—they learn about winning and losing; that the harder you work the better you’re going to do; they learn that sometimes life isn’t fair. Those are really good life lessons.

There are a lot of college scholarships, and I’d like to see them go to American kids, more and more of which are not.

I just don’t understand it. Nobody gets hurt if you keep it the way it is, nobody. Not one kid gets hurt. But a lot of kids get hurt when they change it. It’s a 75 percent reduction if you look at it between 2010 and 2014 and I haven’t gotten an explanation except some people can’t afford to travel. And as I suggested in one of my letters, that is a real concern.

So let’s get JetBlue as the official sponsor of United States Tennis Association Junior Tennis, Marriott as the official hotel, Hertz as the official rental car and why don’t we add five dollars, ten dollars a tournament so everyone gets to help out and support all of our kids?

Because it’s not about one kid. It’s about a sport we all love combined. 

And I think they’re making a big mistake. I also think they are going against their very own mission statement to increase participation and the love of this sport. By excluding kids and taking away their opportunities, we’re making a big mistake.

When you look back at when they pulled the 12s Nationals, it took them ten years to correct that mistake.

There was a girl who spoke up at the Girls 14s in Georgia, there were a lot of the USTA officials and I think Patrick McEnroe was there, and she is heading into her pre-college years now and she said, wait a minute, I’ve worked hard and my parents have sacrificed a lot so I can play tennis at a high level and you’re taking these opportunities just before I’m getting ready to go to college.

I think it’s really unfortunate, and my hope is that they’ll open their minds. I have offered to help fund an objective poll of the people this will impact--Gallup,

Pew, any legitimate polling organization. Let’s poll the people who are going to be impacted by this. I predict a minimum of 80/20 against the changes. And so far I have not gotten an answer that they would support that.

One thing that I’m surprised at is that everybody’s a little intimidated by the USTA. They feel the wild cards are going to be taken away, their chance to go to one of the training centers is going to be taken away. Tournament directors fear their tournaments are going to be taken away.

Here’s the question they’ve got to decide. Are they here to serve the desires of their membership or are they here to dictate what their members are going to get whether they like it or not?

For me it’s pretty clear cut. The USTA is supposed to serve its members. The argument that Dr. (Timothy) Russell, (chair of the USTA’s Junior Competition committee) made to me was too bad, basically. Too bad for a 12-year-old who can’t get into a tournament? If you go through the waiting lists at tournaments, a lot of kids want to participate. They’re going to be away from home, they like to be in hotels, be around their friends. They’re developing healthy lifestyles, they’re learning all the good lessons tennis teaches them, so (the changes) make no sense to me whatsoever.

This is not something I actually wanted to get into, I just want you to know. I’ve got a pretty busy job trying to defeat Obama. But I’m hopeful; the response from college coaches and tournament directors and players, top players, has been overwhelmingly supportive. As a matter of fact, not one person has come up to me and said they disagree with me. So that’s a good sign. But I think it’s going to take a lot of people speaking out and saying, wait a minute, this is not what’s good, what’s in the best interest of our kids.

Nobody gets hurt if you don’t change it. A lot of kids get hurt, a lot of opportunities are gone (if it is changed). I’m only in Kalamazoo for a short time, but look at what this tournament means to these kids. And all these college coaches, I just talked to the Columbia coach and I know Dwayne Hultquist of Florida State is here, and all these really good coaches are here to see these kids. Maybe they see someone who is not quite the highest ranked, maybe had an injury a year ago, who performs well. You always have one or two kids, unseeded, who come out of nowhere and do pretty well.

I’m hopeful they’ll be responsive to their membership, because if they’re responsive to their membership, they won’t follow through with these changes.


Sandy Lomar said...

Wow, I can't believe you posted an interview with someone as right-wing and inarticulate as Hannity (seriously, he says his job is "trying to defeat Obama"). I consider this a new low for the blog and a statement of exactly what kind of politics you want to foist on people.

am said...

Hannity only cares about his own kids. He wants to keep a system where you can "buy" results, but that only works up to a certain point. To develop top players the US needs more athletes playing tennis and less rich kids. Jetblue and Marriott? Try a used Dodge minivan and a Red Roof Inn for once.

I agree with Sandy, Hannity deserves a forum on tennis as much as Pat McEnroe deserves a forum on politics.

Win said...

Dear ones, we have to be receptive and tolerant of all, otherwise we will never see things other than our own narrow view. This guy is concerned for his kids? Unlike say you and I and every other Tennis Parent I have ever met? I think the great majority of parents that have their kids playing tennis is out of concern for them. He sure brings a megaphone to the case.

Jon Atlanta said...

Hannity is a typical rich parent of kids who are not talented enough or do not work hard enough to be elite players. So like many, he wants to travel around and buy ranking points for them. Instead he should support local tournaments and foster a culture of lots of kids playing tennis locally.

KiKi said...

While I usually agree with next to nothing that Mr. Hannity has to say, I am 100% behind him on this. (Do not disregard the message because you do not like the messenger) I am wondering who these people are who are talking about buying your way into Nationals. In the 16 s and 18s age divisions, you have to win. Period. Like Mr. Hannity, I do not understand what benefit reducing the draw for Nationals will have. This is one of the few times a year when all the juniors are in one place to compete. There are thousands and thousands of children who play tennis in th US. 196 of them coming together from across the country to compete does not seem like too many. And as the mother of 2 junior players, I have NEVER heard any of us complain about travel to a Super National event. The Nationals are why our children work so hard and sacrifice so much. No one can convince me that the 150th child to make it into Nationals doesn't deserve to be there. Mr. Hannity, please continue to use your voice to fight these damaging changes to the USTA schedule.

Win said...

I personally have not seen his kids play, so will stand mute on that point. I will tell you the old STAR system was replaced with the PPR system to encourage more play. The avowed purpose was to get our kids playing 100 matches a year. The price of tournaments have gone up year after year. This is a situation where the consumer does not set the price. The Southern Section comprises nine (large) states and is the most expensive region to get points in. I guess we need to shut the ATP. WTA and ITF down as people surely travel to buy points there. Shawn's 5 or 10 dollar more comment could be modified to a voluntary surcharge to help defray tournament fees for those than cannot afford to pay.

Grant Atlanta said...

When Hannity's first statement appeared on his website, a critical article similar to those appeared on TennisInsiders.com. A parent (Tennis Mom 45), who doesn't share Hannity's political views, answered the criticism with the following (which I saved on my hard drive):
Mr. Buss:
"I would be curious to know if you have children. I have 3 daughters and 3 boys. Two of my daughters have been playing jr tournament tennis. They are ranked in the top 160 on tennis recruiting. Their friends in our community have drifted off and one is pregnant, another is addicted to substances, and another has run away from home. For a small clique of a few girls in our community tennis has really been the savior. The best part about it has been the fact that they have gotten to travel regularly for tennis. We have put a disproportionate amount of our income and worth into this because it has been such a great experience for my daughter and her friends.
In our community, of the 4 girls who train together and the 3 who are loosely involved, all have traveled together Nationally for a couple years. Although it has not been perfect, our friend who is going to rehab with her 15 year old doesn’t think we have it that bad because we got cheated out of a match or we got defaulted because we were late to a match that was posted in the wrong venue by the tournament. We got over it and it was a lesson learned.
When the news of these new rules came to light, it was like the sport and all they had invested in it was stolen from them. It was a very sad day and we have spent months now telling all the girls about how they just have to work harder.
But if they do work harder and succeed, it just means that someone else doesn’t get to go. I would like to know who are you or the USTA to be judge and jury to tell anyone who is good enough and who isn’t.
The USTA should have not handled this initiative that is impacting so many kids in secret. We should have had a say. Why don’t they do a better job of getting 1000′s of kids playing the sport so that a 150 ranking is relatively more valuable. Having the top 200 kids in America playing National tennis seems very reasonable to me.

Grant Atlanta said...

(Tennis Mom 45 comment, continued)
In terms of your taking a shot at Sean Hannity. I voted for Obama in the last election and I am on the fence for the next election. I have seen Sean’s show a couple of times and it is not my cup of tea. And, I have no allegiance to him at all.
I will say that I have seen him a few tournaments and he has been a very appropriate model parent and the fact that you are sort of attacking his child who you have probably never seen is inappropriate. I have seen his son play and was very impressed. By my view, he absolutely is at a level where he should be able to play National tournaments. He is extremely talented.
Most importantly Sean makes it very clear of his personal aspirations in his document and I believe whole heartedly that he been talking to the infuriated parents at every event just like the rest of us have. And he is reacting to them.
So I commend Sean Hannity for using his platform to do what I believe is absolutely the right thing for tennis. And I have a new found respect for the fact that Mr. Hannity is fighting for a lot of kids like my daughter who he has never met.
I suspect Mr. Buss that you do not have kids as there are certain things that you want your kids to have to deal with and there are certain things that you believe are unfair and they shouldn’t have to deal with. This is the most unfair, flat out wrong thing I have seen in all of my years of parenting. Arbitrarily taking National tennis away from so many kids in the middle of their junior tennis careers? We have all heard the stories about the bullying for votes and the deceptive way that this passed.
I have now read Mr. Hannity’s letter about 5 times and I find it to be one of the most informed, deadly accurate things I have ever read and your reaction to is flawed.
In reading the Wayne Bryan letter, I recall you being one of the few people who tried to discredit him. This seems like a deja vu to me. Wayne’s letter has been dissected by 1000′s of people and virtually no one that I have spoken thought it was anything completely accurate. Your response again seemed uniformed.

LAtennis said...

I understand Hannity's concerns because he is relatively new to the junior tennis world, but they are somewhat shortsighted. What the USTA has implemented for the future is actually similar to the old Southern California (and USTA) model that focused on regional competition, with the best of players competing for coveted national and Davis (or Wightman) Cup spots. In those days (60s-80s) there was no shortage of great American players, and colleges were considered training grounds for the pros. Competition was fierce and the kids did not feel left out or discouraged if they did not get a national invitation. Instead, it fueled their inner competitive drive and they just worked harder. Most of the top juniors played college tennis in order to hone their games for the pros. There was no rush to "make it" by the age of 18, and the kids were well educated and more focused by the time they did, if ever, enter the pro system. If a talented player qualified for, but could not afford the national travel, the section would assist the family. At the same time, rankings were based on a head-to-head (rather than a points) system, so if a player was improving, a top win would elevate that player quite substantially in the rankings, while not hurting the top player who may have not had the best day on the court. It was a much more equitable system, and successfully created great players. Congratulations to the USTA for recognizing the need for change and the benefits of a true merit-based system. I bet it works.

Robert said...

The old USTA system required sectional endorsement for all four (4) National championships, which is the failing of the current system. The solution to having more sectional play is not to reduce national opportunities but to eliminate alternative pathways to National Championships that allow better players to bypass sectional play.

This is a complex issue, but its complexity neither demands reducing draw sizes nor eliminating events. The most pernicious of those bypass mechanisms, wild cards, is still part of the 2014 plan and actually the number of wild cards for 18's has been increased.

Tennis Mom said...

First off, I am NOT a Hannity fan but I agree with him here.

My son plays #1 doubles and 2-3 singles for a lower level D1 team--he is on a scholarship. His highest national ranking as a junior was 89 but he was a great doubles player. He played in a very tough Section and his highest ranking 11..but the kids who were better than him...were at another level.

While a junior we traveled to tourneys all over the country..he made great friends, learned many life lessons and developed his tennis game. Was it cheap..no but in the long run it got him into a good college and and is paying for his education.

By our terms, the old system was a success. If he was playing under the new system...he never would have qualified for a higher level national tournament and thus, I don't believe he would not be where he is today. While the old system was not perfect, it gave my son opportunities and that we can be thankful for.

Good luck to all under the new system...

Bea Moore Books Inc. said...

I understand and appreciate everything Sean Hannity is doing to revoke the USTA changes. His arguments are sound and reasonable. His suggestions are win-win for all players... not just his own. I wish people would stop politicizing issues and deal with the facts at hand. In this case, more play and experience for our own kids. Frankly, I want as much for my own 9-year-old daughter. It's not brain surgery folks. Kudos and thanks Sean...as usual.

AnotherTennisMom said...

Coming from a parent whose family spends on junior tennis more than we should and our junior is an average 5 star. First of all the present system is bad and needs to be changed. I wish many of these changes would be implemented this year. Let's take for example Shawn Hannity's Eastern Section. In some age groups there is now literally one National L2/L3 tournament per year accessible by car. There are 3 L4 and one L3 local tournaments (L5 brings minuscule national points). The Sectional quota is 5 for 128 players Super and the section is relatively strong. There is no way to age up unless you can fly around to these small Nationals and point chase. With the new system the Eastern Section players are at least guaranteed 3 L3s and 2 L4s within reasonable driving distance plus 9 or more players quota for Supernationals ( and additional 2xL3+4xL4 as local tournaments). I am afraid that these pesky Brooklyn kids who never stay in Mariott and practice on the snow covered public courts under the city bridges may really like these changes.
So what is bad about new system? Clearly participation in National circuit is cheaper. If you cannot afford to fly around - you do not but you are not doomed. You did not qualify for a Supernational - you will still play a regional L3 or L4 tournament (and stay in a hotel if it is so important for some). You will still play some new kids but less often. Do you need to play National tournaments for your development? Not absolutely necessary for future college players unless you are in a really weak section. What I would change:
- BG18 can use some National play in April even if they cannot qualify for 64 slot EB ITF.
- Keep National Hard Court at 192 draw in BG18 for college recruiting (maybe even 256 for boys)
- Not limit regional tournaments to players from this region
- Schedule L3 or L4 tournaments over Christmas/New Year so everyone can play during Winter break
- Relevance of USTA National ranking is not clear any more
I am sure the new system can be (and will be) tweaked but overall it is a move in the right direction in many aspects. Better than what we will have in 2013.

Warrior said...

LAtennis wrote "I bet it works".

Works at what ? What's the objective ? Is there only one ? Is it soley to produce the next us champion ? Or produce enough highy quality players capable of filling our available college spots ? Or to provide a great experience for a broad range of juniors so that they will have a life long appreciation of tennis ? If it's just to produce the net American champion, why don't they take the top 50 kids at 13-14 and screw all the others completely, becuase brewer and macenroe have gone on record is saying that by 13 or 14 you need to be top 50, so why I they even bothering with 128 ? Becuase when the first draft came out, they tied to cut the clays to 64 and everybody screamed bloody murder, that's why.

Look this simple player development has taken over junior tennis for the sole purpose of creating new us champions. They are deathly afraid of what happens to the usopen revenue stream when Serena and roddick retire and federer retires and ratings plummet bemuse we have Serbians fighting ukranians for titles.

There position and attitude is very clear : national completion is for them to identify and grow pros, you are just hoping to get a couple rounds into the tournament and get a college scholarship, you are not welcome.

warrior said...

Robert Wrote "This is a complex issue, but its complexity neither demands reducing draw sizes nor eliminating events. The most pernicious of those bypass mechanisms, wild cards, is still part of the 2014 plan and actually the number of wild cards for 18's has been increased"

Very true. They seem to be selling this new program almost using almost a class warfare type approach. Supporters of the changes say they are trying eliminate "rich people" from flying around and buying points, but how in the world does that justify reducing sectional tournaments with national ranking points by 50% ???. Especially with all the new kids coming in from 10 and under. The draws in our 12's are exploding, 60-70% increases, and pnly the top handful, one or two in many sections, are being told there is a next level for them. Doesn't add up.

Whereas before you could qualify there were enough point in your section to qualify for nationals, and regional and opens were optional, now it seems if you have a sub par performance at a sectional because illness, injury, etc, your pretty much have to play a regional, but the idiotic way they set up four regions instead of 8, you may have to travel a lot further to get to that regional than you would have in the past. SMH.

Just one of the many flaws in the system. Introduces birth day bias, aging up is going to be hard and random, etc. Just not well thought out.

Shit's going to hit the fan if they don't back down.

joan said...

'backing down" is the issue. cause you are dealing with insecure egos and not genuinely concerned professionals

The Dude said...

I love the changes and wished they had them when my son was in juniors. I could have saved $25K and the system would have aborted the fly and buy pointers from extending every super and national open another day or two. Look, you must exhaust the sectional competition and earn the privilege the play nationals. I agree with LAtennis and Robert, playing national is a privilege and NOT a right. In the old system, if would be easy for Hannity's kids to play nationals. Now it can't be assured that money can buy that privilege.

serf said...

Warrior right on!

Dude, what did you take yacht to these tournaments?

So let it be written, so let it be said said...

FYI...you don't buy results...the results speak for themselves. Player wins...Points...Player Loses..No Points. Let the Players play what ever tournament they can get into. Why should you care? It's the development of your player you should be concerned. Not that you are worried that "Billy Smith is playing Nationals and you don't think he can play that level".Get a private coach, have a great support group, and LET the KIDS PLAY TENNIS!! KEEP IT FUN!JUST PLAY THE DAMN GAME! Quit complaining! IF your player develops their FH's,BH's, Volley's, Serve, Mental and Physical side of the Game, then they will get to the level they will accomplish their goals and develop the Passion . Let the Kids Play...So sick of hearing" our player did it the "Normal" way, they played 4 years of high school, played the districts and sectionals each year...what the hell is "Normal". Each individual takes his chances where ever they play. The player I know played the non sanctioned tournaments, districts, sectionals,high school, nationals, took their chance at ITF's, developed, Won matches at the Iternational level, and received direct access to the 4 Grand Slam Main Draws and traveled the globe, and now he's playing in college. That was their "Normal" progression. They took the chances, they played the matches, and they enjoyed the travel, experience,and what ever came with their efforts. They became part of History of the SPORT. We would not have done it any other way. That's what the player, their support group, and coach wanted to accomplish. It's Based on the INDIVIDUAL. What ever level the player plays, support their efforts and let them develop their Passion (in any area).ps...you must be realistic about the players abilities...not all of the player's are a "Pete Sampras", but they are themselves. Let them create their own history and passion, at what ever level they can reach their goals....

serf said...

So let it be written, let it be said.....well written and well said!

Wish it could be forwarded to thos making the decisions for all us little people.