|Virginia's Mitchell Frank is leading student-athlete opposition to the format changes|
The NCAA Division I Tennis Committee first mandated a change in the dual match format, going to a third-set match tiebreaker in singles back in 2012, but abandoned it, along with other controversial suggestions, after the objections of coaches, current coaches and players and fans.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which governs college tennis, and conducts all its championships except for the NCAA team and individual championships in the spring, had meetings about format change after that, but a consensus on its necessity could not be reached.
Just over a year later, the USTA became involved, with their College Match Day promotion, and its solution was to play doubles only if the dual match was undecided after three singles.
Again, this idea proved unpopular, and the ITA Operating Committee came up with a compromise, with doubles first, but one-ad scoring, to be tried out in the first six weeks of 2014.
At this month's ITA Coaches Convention, that proposal was shot down, and the men will be playing no-ad in both singles and doubles, with tiebreakers at 5-all instead of 6-all. The women have come full circle, and will be playing a match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set in singles, with regular scoring in doubles and singles. For the explanation of these two experiments, see this post.
Michigan's Evan King and Florida's Bob Van Overbeek, who spearheaded the student-athlete protest against the NCAA committee's proposal, have graduated, with Virginia's Mitchell Frank now leading the campaign against the current changes. The official Facebook group is here. Frank will be a guest on Lisa Stone's podcast Monday at noon, at blogtalkradio's ur10s network.
I have spoken to many administrators, coaches, players and fans for the last 18 months about these changes, and there's no question a sizable number feel some format change is necessary to keep college tennis relevant. Most of you know I do not share that belief.
I believe the current format is superior to anything yet proposed, and I also think this campaign is driven primarily by the unwieldy Round of 16 days at the NCAA team tournament, which occasionally produce matches that end well after midnight. I believe it's dangerous to intertwine the two issues, and I also think the "college tennis is dying" theme that the proponents of change are using as a justification is based on dubious reasoning. The number of new facilities being built and the number of schools interested in hosting the NCAA championships does not support their contention that college tennis is disappearing with lacrosse and soccer and [insert non-revenue sport here] rapidly overtaking it.
I don't object to playing no-ad in doubles, with that format now entrenched on the ITF Pro Circuit, ATP and WTA tours, but I believe any other format changes endanger the viability of Division I tennis as a professional tennis pathway. I could be wrong about that, but for me, the risk is too great, because the goal of these format changes--shorter matches--seems so insignificant to me.
But if it turns out that a shorter dual match time somehow sparks on-campus interest in college tennis maybe these experiments will have provided some much-needed data to assist in determining how best to get to that goal. Unfortunately exactly what that goal is, other than "shorter", hasn't been revealed. And who needs to be satisfied--the USTA, their Advisory Group, the ITA, the NCAA committee, the student-athletes?
If we've learned anything in the past 18 months, it's that proposals spring from many different interest groups and none of them has the power to unilaterally implement them. Is the perfect format out there? Probably not. But it looks as if Division I college tennis is going to find it, or die trying.