Part Two of ITA Format Change Article; What College Tennis Can Learn from Bobsledding; Men's Team Indoor All-Tournament Team Announced
The second part of my interviews with college coaches and others about the ITA format experiment, which I conducted at the Women's Team Indoor last week in Charlottesville, is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. In addition to five more of the top Division I women's coaches, I also spoke to Mitchell Frank, the University of Virginia No. 1, who is against changing the format, and Dustin Taylor, the National Coach for Collegiate Tennis at the USTA. Taylor, who was at every women's match, watching all the American players he could over the four days, is concerned a format change may dissuade the top juniors from going to college, just when that pathway to pro tennis is gaining credibility.
Although it is just one small ATP tournament in Florida, the results at Delray Beach make the point. Steve Johnson, the two-time NCAA singles champion from USC, has reached his first ATP semifinal with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 6 seed Feliciano Lopez of Spain, after taking out top seed Tommy Haas in the second round. Kevin Anderson(Illinois) is also through to the semifinals, and there will be another collegiate semifinalist in the winner of tonight's quarterfinal match between John Isner(Georgia) and Rhyne Williams(Tennessee). Not to mention Stanford's Bradley Klahn, who is now the No. 3 American, behind Isner and Sam Querrey.
So as college tennis experiments with scoring changes (and I'm with Texas A&M's Howard Joffe, who hasn't heard a good reason for such a change, on this one), the old format has done an excellent job of preparing the best Division I (including doubles) players for a career on the next level.
I would like college tennis to be more popular. I would like to see the stands full, and the atmosphere at an important conference match like that of the North Carolina - Duke men's basketball game last night. But I don't want the sport to be diluted beyond recognition to try to do that, especially when there is no guarantee such drastic measures would actually produce a huge group of new fans.
A couple of days ago, I tweeted a link to this Sports On Earth article by Will Leitch about Lolo Jones and US bobsledding. Although I'm not aware that any celebrity athlete is being recruited to join a college tennis team for the publicity, the big picture question that Leitch raises certainly can be applied to college tennis.
"You want expand your reach without losing your base. You want to make everyone a fan, you don't want to betray the ones closest to you. You try to keep the delicate balance....
"Stop worrying about marketing and let the best athletes do their thing. The sizzle doesn't make a difference. The sport is the sport, so leave it alone...
"Team USA was looking for a boost, a way to break through to the mainstream, a way to grab eyeballs. This was an undeniable mistake. It offended the fans of the sport, it put Jones in the position of looking like both the bad guy and a bobsled failure (neither of which are true), it made those in charge of the sport look they like didn't trust their own product and it didn't even bring any tangible financial benefits. This is how you get that delicate balance incredibly wrong. Those in charge of U.S. bobsledding turned Lolo Jones into a glowing puck."
|Ohio State's Peter Kobelt named Most Outstanding Player|
at ITA Men's Team Indoor Championships