Last night I received an email from Jenny Hilt-Costello, the women's coach at Long Beach State, containing this response to Bobby Bayliss' Open Letter to College Tennis Fans published on Zootennis last week. It provides a perspective I believe the ITA has been too quick to dismiss.
To the College Tennis Community:
The recent letter from Coach Bayliss, which was published on ZooTennis, put a new voice to the same arguments the ITA has put forward throughout the three attempts to radically change the college tennis playing format. While Coach Bayliss is a respected head coach, his letter is filled with subjective reasoning as to why the proposed changes are needed.
His letter also included the same ITA rhetoric: (1) that opposition to their proposed changes is harmful to the sport and (2) that it should be the role of every head coach to simply accept the proposals made by a small committee lacking proper process and willfully ignoring what legitimate input it did receive.
Factually, this is what we know:
1) The NCAA Tennis Committee has requested that the length of the tennis championship at the final sight be addressed. The 32 team tournament (16 men/16 women) is extremely cumbersome to operate and often first round matches have ‘started’ as late as 11pm when delayed by weather or high competitive preceding matches. (Having served on the NCAA Committee, I can attest to this issue). The ITA was asked to investigate modifying the Championships at the final sight to avoid the excessively long days early in the tournament.
2) The ITA has proposed and forwarded to the NCAA on three occasions (2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2015) dramatic format changes that have been repeatedly tabled by the NCAA for failing to properly include the stakeholders (coaches, student-athletes) and for lack of support amongst those stakeholders.
3) The NCAA conducted an online survey of coaches and student-athletes the summer of 2014. The results, only recently published by ZooTennis, were overwhelmingly against the dramatic format changes (No-Ad, shortened doubles, no warm ups). Over 80% of male and female student-athletes are opposed. Over 70% of D1 women’s coaches are opposed. The ITA has never shared this survey publicly.
4) Following the fall 2014 NCAA tabling of their proposal, the ITA created the ‘Women’s Scoring Format Committee’ with a representative from each conference. Three conference calls were held. During those calls, no consensus was reached in support of any specific proposed change. However, there was overwhelming consensus in opposition to any change to the doubles format. The ITA never shared those results.
5) At the lightly attended ITA Convention this past December, the ITA announced that a 12-person ‘Athletic Director’s Committee’ had been created by the ITA during fall 2014. This committee of handpicked AD’s, retired AD’s and some other athletic administrators presented a report mirroring all previous ITA recommendations and justifications put forth in support of their dramatic format proposals. (It should be noted that this was an USTA/ITA created committee rather than a NCAA committee. When D1 coaches surveyed their own AD’s, the existence of this ITA AD’s committee was largely unknown to them).
6) During the ITA Convention D1 Coaches Roundtable this past December 2014, the ITA did not surface any information from the Women’s Scoring Format Committee nor the NCAA athlete/coaches survey. The ITA did, however, talk at length about the recommendations of the previously unknown ITA AD’s committee.
7) During the same meeting, the ITA opted to conduct an unannounced ‘vote’ of those present regarding their proposed format changes. With a total of 34 D1 coaches present, the vote was 25-0-9 in support. A total of 34 present out 500 Division 1 men’s and women’s coaches were included. Of those few in attendance and voting, many are the ITA committee members. This vote has since been used by the ITA as justification that support exists for their proposals.
8) Following the NCAA again tabling the ITA format changes on February 11th, the ITA has now instructed D1 programs that 2015 college tennis is to be played using different formats depending on conference rules. The NCAA tournament will be played using 2014 ‘traditional’ format yet the ITA has mandated the new format for non-conference matches unless both coaches agree otherwise. Thus athletes are now playing one set of rules in some non-conference matches than they will in others. Imagine college baseball being told to play 3 balls on Tuesday but 4 balls on Thursday?
Throughout this process, the ITA has presented a dart board of justifications as to why dramatic change is needed immediately. Since 2012, justifications have ranged from: (1) student-athlete welfare due to length of matches, (2) building fan interest in lieu of real marketing, (3) saving college tennis programs facing cuts due to the shift of money toward basketball/football, (4) a shortened format will result is TV coverage that will massively grow college tennis interest, (5) possibly saving college tennis as a whole because the format changes will make tennis more ‘relevant’ on campus. Not one of these justifications has been presented with any research or objective statistical support.
The most recent push, as also forwarded by Coach Bayliss, is that failure to support the ITA proposal is treason and is “doing damage, perhaps irrevocably, to our great game.” After three failed attempts, the ITA is now resorting to intimidation and name calling.
Rather than getting into subjective name calling or accusations, I present these closing points:
• The NCAA request for a change to the 32 team finals has not been addressed by the ITA. Mirroring the baseball format of 4-team regional, a 2-team super regional match and then 16 teams (8/8) at the finals would satisfactorily address the NCAA’s issue without ‘any’ need to change the traditional scoring format.
• The ITA has continually ignored/buried all opposing information to their proposal. To date, the NCAA has made no statement that college tennis is in danger. The ITA needs to stick to facts, present factually supported arguments and stop with the scare tactics and bullying of coaches in opposition.
• The ITA needs to conduct proper process where significant format changes are proposed. Sell your case, properly poll athletes/coaches/conferences and propose one change at a time. Perhaps there might be support of some change that could improve college tennis. A step by step process needs to be conducted and the stakeholders need to decide; not the ITA Committee unilaterally.
• Men’s Tennis and Women’s Tennis do not have to play the same format. There is already precedent for different variations as men’s tennis plays ‘lets’ while women don’t. At the professional level, men play 3 of 5 sets at the majors while the women play 2 of 3. The ITA has received no NCAA mandate requiring both genders to play the same formats.
We all want a strong future for the great sport of college tennis. College tennis needs leadership that will represent the sport, the coaches, and the athletes in a transparent and inclusive manner. The stakeholders are college tennis. The ITA committee is not.
Long Beach State