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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Open Letter to College Tennis Fans from Bobby Bayliss

To the College Tennis Fan:

I have spent my entire adult life involved in college tennis. It began when I flunked the draft physical in the spring of 1966 and realized I was not going to Viet Nam. I told my coach, Leonard McNeil, and the next day he told me that he wanted to take a sabbatical leave and turn the program over to me for a year at age 21. What a career defining opportunity! Quickly, in 1968 I was named men’s tennis coach at the US Naval Academy and served for 44 years as a head coach at Navy, MIT and from 1987-2013 here at Notre Dame. It is all I have ever done and all I ever wanted to do. The reason for recounting this is to establish that I have, as the saying goes, “some skin in the game”. I live, love, and eat college tennis. Because of my love affair with this great game of ours I hate to see college tennis damaged and that is what has been happening in the last year or so. As we know, some people have been openly and highly critical of the recent decision to adopt no-ad scoring and shorten doubles from 8 games to 6. Everyone has the right to express criticism, particularly if they too have “skin in the game”, but the time has come to jump back on the train before it leaves the station.

What critics of the newly adopted format (hereafter known as the ITA format) don’t realize is that they are doing damage, perhaps irrevocably, to our great game. Why did the ITA go down this path? Herein lies the key to understanding how and why we ar5rived at our current destination. Forces far beyond the scope of college tennis and financial in nature are rapidly descending upon the world of college sports. Litigation, an amped-up arms race, and an out-of-control economic climate are creating a landscape that, by all responsible accounts, will change the face of college athletics forever. There certainly is not room in this discussion for the litany of factors creating this financial crisis. They include costs under the names of unionization, cost of attendance, financial profit from players’ likenesses, concussion study, additional nutritional supplements, and many more. The result: revenue sports are going to get bigger and bigger pieces of the pie than heretofore allocated. College athletic programs are headed, Katy bar the door, for gigantic shortfalls of money. The likely answer to this increasing call for more financial support for the revenue sports: dropping non-revenue sports. These facts are beyond deniability and rapidly becoming reality. Legislation is being proposed to drop the required number of sports significantly. The battle for the survival of Olympic sports is at hand. Game on!

If the veracity of this scenario was in question, it has been confirmed and re-confirmed by a group of 12 college athletic directors and administrators from significant and diverse universities who met with the ITA Board and Operating Committee in December at the ITA Convention in Naples, FL. We were advised that if we did not shorten our format and make it more fan friendly that our sport would be one likely led to the chopping block. We heard similar advice from the USTA and the NCAA Tennis Committee. It was time to face the music, and the ITA worked through a very painstaking and transparent process to find ways to make our game fit into the changing prism of 21st century life. Actively seeking input from our membership, the process worked its way through “town hall” meetings in each ITA Regional event, questionnaires, and straw votes at our convention and the NCAA championships, among other ways of seeking workable solutions. Naturally some of our membership preferred the status quo and no change, but many of these coaches had not been the beneficiary of the advice and warnings passed our way. I, too would have voted for no change had I not been convinced of the catastrophic consequences facing college tennis. It is in this spirit that I try to understand the critics. As I have tried to explain to some of my good friends who are strongly opposed to change, “No-ad tennis is far better than NO tennis”. No one with current knowledge denies the coming train-wreck that will cause many sports to be dropped.

How do we save college tennis? We have been told, time and again, that college tennis must be relevant on our campuses, relevant in our community, and attractive to fans, both within the campus and outside its borders. Much needs to be said about these topics and how they can be achieved, but the significance of my words here applies only to how we make it more fan-friendly while still holding fast to our traditions. The ITA Format slightly reduces the length of a dual match and guarantees that there will be more big points played [“no pressure, no diamonds”]. It also holds onto doubles, something most coaches wanted. Certainly more drama will be enticing to fans. As for the added pressure, it would seem that this will enable players to handle pressure in a better way. So my thought is that we all need to be on the same bus. We all love and advocate for college tennis. Let’s work together to make this sport one of the most popular on the campus. There is no place for negativity if we want to survive the coming colossus. We need to send the message loud and clear to our administrators that we hear you and are on board. Traditionalists fought the 3 point shot, the 35 (men) and 25 (women) second shot clock, but basketball thrives today. Similarly they said the designated hitter would be the ruin of baseball. Defensive backs can no longer be physical with wide receivers, creating more offense for fans. All of these sports adapted and are more successful. We can take our product – the college dual match – into the 21st century and give it the place it deserves, or we can continue to air our dirty laundry and do it even more harm. I stand for the survival and future of college tennis. Join me!

Sincerely,
Bobby Bayliss

19 comments:

Brent said...

If you truly believe in the forces you reference, no format change is going to stop it. Fan support is great to get out at tennis matches but for the benefit of the players and school, not because it is a self-sustaining revenue model that will support the cost of a tennis program. Getting college tennis on TV is great but it is icing on the cake. It is never going to drive ratings to the point that it will produce the economics to fund the support. If colleges and universities take the position (which they might) that the only sports that will survive are self-sustaining revenue sports, then men's hoops and football will survive, that's it. They'll end up back in court over Title IX to potentially keep a couple women's sports (hoops plus a few others) and that will be it. I have no problem with the smart evolution of sports whether through rule changes or otherwise. Those changes referenced (shot clock, etc.) had a real chance to get their desired outcome, even if some people thought they went too far. These changes (no ad, etc.) could be the right changes but they are for absolutely ridiculous reasons. Nobody is a bigger fan of college tennis than me but I'm also a realist.

Steve Boussom said...

Coach Bayliss, I appreciate the foundation of your comments and the thought behind each point. I do not understand the recent NCAA ruling that outs the year end outdoor championships back to traditional scoring. Having the spring season played one way the NCAA finals another does not make sense to me. Please explain and to the powers running the show please just make a decision and stick with it.

SeminoleG said...

IF college tennis cannot survive then let it die a peaceful death. I as a former Scholarship athlete believe that it can maybe not in the numbers seen now but can survive. As many non-revenue sports have done. Just like cutting out PE in public schools, find a way or close the doors. Whats next 3 on a court for DBLS? How about a game of around the world.

Tennis should be one of the non-revune venues left after Baseball, swimming, track. Why isn't soccer or volleyball chaining format. I honestly feel TENNIS is the low hanging fruit and the ITA is showing why.

Wi tennis said...

Volleyball did change its scoring to rally scoring from side out. I'm pro fighting for college tennis to stay alive. Also pro no ad. But most important thing that coach said is that the ncaa is going to reduce the minimum number of sports required significantly. Currently it's 14.prob be 10. So athletic directors will cut 4 sports. Which ones? Also, the problem is that most football and basketball programs lose money. Especially if they're paying cost of attendance scholarships which is 5k more per player. Only 20 schools make money on football. They can easily support tennis. The rest are the issue. Ohio st supports 35 sports or something. Kent state is fighting to stay afloat with just 14 or so.

jjcbeme said...

Coach Bayliss sent to justify by ITA/USTA again. Nothing new here.

1) Per Brent, no format change is gonna stop the alleged axe. To which most AD's in country have not even heard suggested. This is the most ludicrous LIE being pushed out. (Remember last summer when it was about 'student welfare' only that got blown apart). The justifications are moving targets.

2) That AD/Adminstrator committee was hand picked by ITA to 'back justify' past proposals. Some AD's, a retired AD and a couple of CFO's... all hand picked and they SHOCKINGLY came back with the same recommendations put up 3 years ago. (If I picked 12 Fox News or MSNBC commentators, I'm pretty sure we know what we'd get)

3) 80% of athlete's and 70% of coaches are opposed but being bullied. Those numbers are about the only FACTS out there.

4) Look at the ITA/USTA committee and staff membership .. there is an awful lot of inbreeding and some double membership.

5) FINALLY... the ONLY directive the NCAA has made to anyone is that the National Championships with 32 teams in one place is to cumbersome and must be shortened.

Rather than create a super regional and then 16 teams as the finals, a group of USTA (McEnroe's trying to also change juniors) and ITA (TV driven for most part) people have hi-jacked that directive.

Sad that this group felt they needed to send in another old coach (figured it would be Gould) to try to defend a process so wrong that it makes current Russia look like a democracy.

Corey Burns said...

Some of you need to get out and actually go watch a major college tennis tournament that's using this format. I spent the weekend watching the men's indoors event in Chicago and it was fantastic.

Never mind whether or not tennis is on the chopping block. It's just a better product. The no-ad creates 3-6 major points per match and there was a genuine sense of tension on the court and in the crowd during those points.

The no warm-up with opponents is great as well. The teams did their cheers while the lineups were announced, they went to their courts and boom, 3 first serves and the match is underway. Same with the 5 minutes between singles and doubles.

Granted this was clinch/clinch, but I saw a couple of matches that were under 2 hours. Most were between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. Never once did I think that I needed another hour or two of tennis nor did I ever hear a player or coach walking off the court cursing no-ad scoring.

I have a feeling if you surveyed these kids on no-ad scoring every week for the next year, you'll see the number disapproving drop dramatically. Personally, I think the pro tour will be using no-ad scoring within ten years and I love the fact that college tennis, with things like no-ad and playing service lets, could be on the cutting edge of change.

I respect the opinion of the "purists,' but I have to admit I really hope you don't get your way here. In this instance, it feels like you're the anchor thats holding tennis down and preventing it from having the opportunity to change and maybe start flourishing.

Fwiw said...

Steve Boussom, The ATP uses one scoring for doubles during the "regular season" and changes back to traditional scoring for the majors. Even they don't stick to one scoring system.

Men's ATP doubles, which is the constant comparison for college now, plays no-ad & TBs for the 3rd until the majors. The majors are your classic best of three with deuce scoring.

Colette Lewis said...

@Corey Burns
Do you have a theory as to why college tennis stopped using no-ad in 1988? Why the cutting edge factor didn't catch on at other levels of the game?

JMWills said...

Coach Bayliss,

There are many aspects of your open letter that I agree with and understand fully. However, I have one simple comment/question:

You describe the ITA process as "transparent" and yet it seems as though the loudest complaints have come from within the coaching universe. Please explain this contradiction.

Oz said...

Bob,

Been a while coach! I hope all is well with you. I read through your blog and it seems that the issue is that college tennis needs more fans. The problem with the sports you mention at the end and the changes they made is that those sports already have fans. College tennis as a whole does not. Im sure you've thought it through but I implore you to get creative, use the resources at the schools and figure out ways to develop fans. Shortening matches? Forget the purity of the game for a second, how will that galvanize the student body to see what the fighting Irish tennis team has in store this week? If anything, the move just rewards weaker players. This "committee decision" looks like, well, a decision that was made by a committee. Why not consult a rock band or a rapper who made it in the music business? Have them on the committee. They will tell you how to get fans and go from nothing to something. That's the place to start looking. You don't really need to know every minute detail of college tennis. I really see this problem clearly. Wish I could get a word in to that committee. If the truth is that the future of the college game is at stake, it seems that shortening the matches gets to the same destination only in less time. The game has already been shortened with the advent of tiebreakers and pro sets. Bag that idea and sell the assets, virtues, personality and lifestyle of the sport and its players and its fans. Have the players sell it too. Don't make players shave and cut their hair and look like a bunch of androids. Encourage them to express themselves. It's college! You gotta get non student- athletes playing on campus and work with local junior programs. There's an art to the follow up in developing fans and a big fiesta is always a great start!! Coach Bayless, all due respect we can do better. Come on!!!!!!!!! I wish you all the luck and hope this finds you well. Josh Osswald.

Respect said...

Bobby: I respect you more than anyone else in the coaching profession. However, I disagree wholeheartedly with regard to these changes. Yes, we need to shorten dual matches as too many have gone on for four or five hours. Who can stay around that long in order to watch? In my opinion, the best way to shorten the matches is to have a format of three singles-two doubles, four singles-one doubles or four singles-two doubles (with a super tiebreaker to be played if the match score is 3-3). All the matches are played simultaneously; this would eliminate those ridiculously long dual matches. Then, there would be no need to play no-ad scoring. All matches would be two out of three sets, thus, eliminating one set doubles matches that sometimes don't even count. Lastly, every individual match would be played to its conclusion; no more of the ridiculous "DNF" scores. The kids are only going to become better players by playing real matches. All the best...

Taking scholarships said...

If you want to save College tennis and American tennis in general STOP ALLOWING 22+ YEAR OLD EUROPEAN PLAYERS FROM TAKING SCHOLARSHIPS FROM HOME-GROWN AMERICANS. It's as simple as that. If I am from Wisconsin, I don't want to watch a bunch of Europeans 22 year-old "freshmen" playing matches vs other 22 year-old "freshmen" from Illinois. I want to watch the best of Wisconsin players vs the best of Illinois players or at least Americans in general playing. If I want to watch Europeans go at it, I'll turn on my TV.

tj said...

I recently watched a new format college tennis match, and have to say i enjoyed it much more than the old format. The no ad point was exciting to watch with the added pressure on that single point, it made the players really leave it all out there for that one point. I like many dont have the time to watch a 4 hour match so the shorter time frame is a good idea to keep fans there. Your are never going to get big crowds at a college tennis match in the day and age. Way too many other sports or activities to draw from the possible crowds. I watch the wisconsin badgers play and the coach will have free pizza or subs for the fans, and while they get a decent amount of fans, most are family members of players or othe recreational tennis players watching.And all matched are free,unless a big conferance or national meet, wich it should be.I'm a believer in shorter tennis in general, even at the pro level.To me, the better player on that day deserves to win in a best of three match. I'm tired of some big name player at a major lose the first two sets and then out staminas some guy in five.I want too see the best player,hitter of the ball, not who's in the best shape.I believe the other blogger is right,that pro and college tennis needs too be shorter to accomidate the short attention span of the casual,and needed, fan ,too keep tennis strong from a tv standpoint.

Russ said...

Taking scholarships...
I haven't been able to find that 22 year foreign freshman. Can you help me out and give me a couple of names?

Colette Lewis said...

I have been getting a lot of anonymous comments on this post. Please read the instructions below "Leave your comment" before going through the robot phase.

Parker said...

The college tennis community/leadership is failing to work together to achieve the common goal of a secure future for the game within the changing landscape of college athletics. Many tennis players/coaches current and former are approaching this issue with a mentality that is associated with the individual sport that tennis is. It is time to put our own selfish reasons aside and think about what is best for the team, not ourselves. If college tennis was a player on a team made up of other programs within an athletic department what characteristics would it have? Would it be the player you would trust with the game on the line? Seems to me it would be every coaches worst nightmare: the player loaded with talent but not mentally strong enough to handle adversity. Certainly not a leader. Probably a player you would cut....

Colette Lewis said...

For the commenter that suggested I remove the anonymous option. I cannot, unless I go to the option that only allows comments if you have a Google account or Open ID. I prefer to allow comments as long as a name is attached.

jjcbeme said...

For Parker: If the ITA worked with everyone rather than decreeing mass change my guess is you'd see some change.

At Taking scholarships: The NCAA largely eliminated 22 year olds (Euro and US) several years ago when the rules changed requiring you must start within 1 semester of HS graduation or stop playing.

Scholarships are jobs. Very good jobs that most people would like. I hire the best available to work for me. If you want a job/scholarship, be good at what you do. After the first 100-150 per year, US juniors need to get better at what they do.

Dan - GA said...

Is college tennis now an entertainment sport or to develop players for the professional ranks. Seems to be the question on how to proceed. The clinch clinch rule and no ad and shortened doubles does zip to develop a player, but is good to shorten the matches to get back to the books.