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Thursday, September 11, 2014

NCAA on Tabling Division I Format Changes; Bellis, Mmoh Top Entries at ITF B1 Pan American Closed

The NCAA posted a release today on the Division I Championships Cabinet's decision Tuesday to table the format changes proposed by it Tennis Committee. According the the release, the Cabinet
"asked them to gather feedback from the sport’s student-athletes. Committee members were also asked to try to reach more consensus and understanding in the coaching community, particularly among women’s coaches.
Cabinet members also suggested another survey be sent to the membership and that it originate from the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee.
“We put a lot of time and effort into this, so we’re disappointed,” said D.J. Gurule, former chair of the Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee and the head women’s coach at Gonzaga University. “But we know we’ve got to reengage with the entire tennis community of coaches and student-athletes to come up with a model that is in the best interests of the sport and is more broadly supported.”
It is unfortunate that the ITA, the USTA and the Division I Tennis Committee weren't able to recognize how polarizing and divisive this proposal was, even when Lin Loring, women's coach at the University of Indiana, provided a petition showing the women's coaching community overwhelmingly against, if not the format per se, the process by which it was put forth to the cabinet.  That petition had been out there for more than a month, and yet the ITA, USTA and NCAA committee elected to roll the dice, hoping they could get it past the Cabinet despite the undeniable resistance of so many.

This is not a good look for Division I college tennis, which faces serious issues, as all non-revenue sports do, about its ultimate survival. That has very little to do with its format and much to do with its perceived lack of value to the school's athletic department.  It was one thing to have the NCAA Division I committee go forward without the ITA's approval on the third-set tiebreaker format back in 2012, it is quite another when a) the USTA takes it upon itself to implement its own format (College Match Day) and b) the ITA Operating Committees misread their own membership so thoroughly.

I spoke to the ITA's David Benjamin on Tuesday night and he told me he would convene the Operating Committees next week (I have since learned that conference call is on Monday, Sept. 15) to decide where the format discussion goes from here.  It's my understanding that the tournaments being played this weekend will adhere to the no-ad format, but the format for the tournaments after this weekend, including the ITA majors,  will be a topic discussed on Monday's conference call.  With little likelihood that a different format change could be approved by the NCAA Division I Championships Cabinet before the upcoming NCAA championships in May of 2015, I would expect a decision to return to advantage scoring, but I am just speculating, and hoping, since I would like to cover the All-American Championships in Tulsa next month.

I will be posting thoughts on the no-ad format  from some of the top college players  in the next few days, and there were a variety of opinions, but I believe another nail in the coffin on this proposal was its lack of input from the student-athletes.  The NCAA has emphasized the student-athlete's role in its governance lately and any data that didn't include a professionally prepared and audited survey of Division I tennis players was not going to be sufficient to convince the Cabinet that change was in the best interest of "student-athlete well-being."

Regardless of whether I cover the men's All American Championships in Tulsa or not, I will be in Tulsa for the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed October 6-11. The acceptance lists were released today, with ITF World No. 1 CiCi Bellis heading the girls list, and Michael Mmoh and Taylor Fritz topping the boys list.  Sameer Kumar, Alejandro Tabilo of Canada and Reilly Opelka are the other Top 100 boys entered.  In addition to Bellis, the Top 100 girls in the field are Renata Zarazua of Mexico, Sofia Kenin, Raveena Kingsley, Katie Swan of Great Britain, Katherine Sebov and Gloria Liang of Canada, Olivia Hauger and Michaela Gordon.

The complete acceptance lists can be found at the ITF junior website.


Ben said...

Some truly radical ideas from the NCAA - "solicit feedback from the people affected - try and build consensus." Wow!! I'm not sure the USTA or the tennis world at large is ready for this sort of subversive thought!!

Negative tennis people said...

I would suggest that tennis people come up with a system we agree on. I think we should argue behind closed doors and represent strength to the governing bodies of tennis. So much crying and complaining. If we keep being negative about our own product then it will be finished.

Colette I do think you have a big impact on college tennis and tennis in general. I wish you would cover college tennis. I wish people would just support it and compromise a bit. Just seems to be a lot of negative articles. If there is no college tennis there will not be junior tennis to cover anymore either.

Paul said...

Does anyone know if the ITA has a procedure for removing their committee members and officers? In most organizations a supermajority vote will do so. Is this the case with the ITA?

Scanlon said...

2 Singles matches and 1 Doubles match played simultaneously. Conventional scoring. A rule to mitigate players from becoming singles and doubles “specialists”. Teams would carry 5-6 players. There would be much more parity due to less required depth (i.e. talent would be spread out much more). Fans could easily follow the competition. TV would love it. Ties would be over within 2 hours. Far less stalling in matches. More revenue generated. Less scholarship expense (women). Less capital outlay in building and maintaining facilities (or better facilities if you want to spend just as much). Increased level of competition would result in a shrinking gap between college and pro tennis. Smaller athlete/coach ratio would also aid player development.

I’d watch that ‘til the cows came home. Shorter, leaner, much more competitive, much higher quality. You’d see college tennis becoming a regular feeder to top 50 pro singles. Now? 3.5 to 5 hours of sub-250 tennis? I pick my spots. I’d like one day to see the women’s NCAA champion not struggle to reach/stay in the top 75. I’d like John Isner not to be an anomaly.

The 3 S and 2 D idea is moving in the right direction, but it still requires 7 players on court and 5 courts. If anything, teams would expand their rosters, parity would lessen, and the level of play might even deteriorate. Expenses would not drop appreciably. The interest level would rise, I’m sure, but that alone is not enough. The quality and parity have to rise before significantly more revenue is generated, and the expenses have to drop to stay viable in a future with tighter and tighter budgets.

I’d take 3 higher quality matches in 1.5 hours, over 9 (often drab, drawn-out matches) in 3+ hours. Is that not enough tennis for the vast majority of fans? Good grief. Sure, there will be hundreds of student-athletes forced to drop to D2, D3, club tennis, but cuts will have to be made, eventually. Pare it down, now, to a structure that can survive a far worse economic environment, which by the looks of things isn’t far off. 2S/1D is survivable fifty years into the future. Cut it down, leave it alone, and watch it grow.

LoveTheGame said...


Not a bad idea at all. The only point of yours that could be rebutted is that college tennis would not become a feeder for top 50 pros. It has not been since the sport has been globalized and most likely never will be. Your idea would make it easier and cheaper for schools to field a team and matches would be faster and more appealing to casual fans, which tennis lacks. It would be much harder for kids to go to their "dream" school, but there are plenty of bench riders at those schools anyways who have no scholarship who could still walk on if that want to be there.

Scanlon said...

@LoveTheGame. Thanks for the vote. I’d like to see what effect 2S/1D tennis would have on quality. It might not improve it as much as I think, as you suggest. After all, the current format has the top players already matched up with each other. However, I think the cumulative effect of a reduced roster/format is going to be pretty large over time. The talent would be spread out more, so players would be pressed in many more matches. The mental pressure placed on each player would increase, too, which is a huge benefit. The coaches would be able to dedicate more time per player. The coaches would likely be paid more over time, too, with more revenue coming in. The fan support would increase, further adding to the enthusiasm/energy of the players. The facilities would improve. Overall, the quality would rise a lot.

College tennis (especially for women) is becoming less and less of a viable proving ground. You have maybe 5 men inside the top 100 that went to college, and maybe 1 or 2 women. For a high revenue (pro) sport, those are poor numbers. You have roughly 300 “starters” on the top 50 teams, and the best they can do is produce 1-5 top 100 pros. Those are not enviable numbers compared to football, basketball, baseball, even hockey. Yes, it’s true that tennis is more of a global sport, but in my opinion those numbers are still poor; college tennis could do so much better than that.

The more college tennis deviates from conventional scoring, the more it runs the risk of becoming an illegitimate route into the pros. The gap is only going to widen, and that connection between the college sport and the pro sport is largely where the revenue comes from. Revenue will not increase a lot by monkeying with the scoring and shortening the matches that way. Fans and the media will balk at that. Revenue will only increase appreciably by improving the quality of the sport and getting more casual fans interested, and that’s where that pro/college connection is so important.

Also, when you think about how many excellent college tennis coaches there are, it’s frustrating to see their talents employed, largely, to produce the next crop of adult rec players and teaching pros. That’s a tremendous waste of coaching talent. Tennis is a high revenue pro sport. We’re not talking about softball or fencing here. Where’s the payoff if I watch the college version of this sport? That’s the question that casual tennis fans ask. I think folks in college tennis greatly underestimate the importance of bridging that gap with the pros, in order to remain viable.