I just read my post from last August on why I'll no longer be traveling to cover Division I college tennis, and I suggest you read it if you are not familiar with my objections to no-ad scoring in tennis. Since I wrote that post, I have had dozens of in person discussions with Division I college tennis coaches when they are recruiting at junior tournaments, and nothing any of them has said has changed my mind about no-ad, although I have been swayed on the question as to whether a format change could help the sport on the Division I level.
I know I can't be convinced that this scoring change, which is essentially robbing the great sport of tennis of one of its most significant and potent features without any publicly available data to support its proponents claims, is the best solution to the issues facing Division I tennis. And that is what the ITA, in the form of its Operating Committee, has insisted on. I do not wish to in any way diminish the great career that Bayliss has had and what his lifelong support of the game has contributed to Division I college tennis. But his letter disappoints me for several reasons:
- It is full of assumptions about the elimination of tennis and other non-revenue sports based on his reading of the tea leaves of the new governing structure of the NCAA. He may be right, but very few people in Division I sports can say with any confidence now how this is going to play out.
- Relying on the input of 12 college athletic directors and administrators, input that has never been released in any formal document, in a sport that has 325 schools sponsoring Division I tennis is one obvious problem. The lack of reference to any input from prospective, current or former student athletes is another.
- Suggesting that people who don't agree with no-ad or the shortening of the doubles point just don't have the necessary information (he closed his email to me saying I need to be "better informed"), implying he has that requisite information, but then failing to share any specifics.
- Casting any disagreement with the changes as divisive, and opponents as villains attempting to thwart the ITA's heroic efforts. Trying to save a sport by changing it so drastically is guaranteed to alienate many. But the ITA has gone down that path, and despite disagreement with or skepticism of its premises by many coaches and student athletes and fans, the ITA continues to push a solution a majority do not want. See the results of the survey of coaches and student athletes here.
- Calling open and passionate debate on an issue "dirty laundry" and attempting to suppress it in the name of a unanimity that doesn't exist. I agree Division I college tennis looks bad, but when the ITA takes such a radical and unyielding position, without building a consensus of student-athletes, coaches and fans, there is bound to be fallout. It is unavoidable if you live in a country or attend a school where freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas is sought and valued.
- His consistent failure to distinguish between college tennis and Division I college tennis. There are more than 800 college tennis programs in the United States who are not looking for format or scoring changes to keep them viable.
"Now, I don’t think college needs to be in the entertainment industry, unless they’re going to generate income and massive fan bases, or get a massive ESPN contract to help fund the programs. If that’s the case, then let’s make it more of an entertainment industry. But if it’s not entertainment, let’s focus on the competition and the development of these guys for the future."