Thursday, May 21, 2020

D-I East Carolina Drops Men's and Women's Tennis; Former Collegians Thacher, Zsilinszka Begin Medical Careers in Midst of Pandemic; Women's UTR Pro Match Series Begins Friday

East Carolina announced today that is dropping four sports--men's and women's swimming and diving and men's and women's tennis--due to financial deficits that have gotten worse due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Division I state university, which says it will honor the scholarships of those with eligibility remaining, is now down to the minimum of 16 teams that are required to maintain Division I status. East Carolina graduate Joran Vliegen of Belgium, currently No. 36 in the ATP men's doubles rankings, voiced his displeasure with the decision on Twitter today.

The list of Division I programs dropped in the past month now features Wisconsin-Green Bay (technically suspended), Akron and East Carolina. Chase Bartlett, a senior on the Division II St. Edwards tennis team that was cut last month, was a guest this week on SI's Jon Wertheim's Beyond the Baseline podcast. Although the St. Edwards decision seems uniquely indefensible (they added two other sports recently), the conversation about the challenges that all non-revenue sports face presumes that many more programs will follow, although Barlett himself is cautiously optimistic on that front.

For another perspective on the rush to cut sports, see this USA Today/New Jersey article, which focuses on what schools could do to avoid the cuts.

Two outstanding juniors that I covered many years ago on the USTA circuit are featured today in articles about their contributions to public health as medical residents. Ryan Thacher, the former Stanford All-American, and Reka Zsilinszka, the former Duke All-American, had expressed their ambitions to go into medicine while playing college tennis, so I'm not surprised to see that they've reached those goals.

I ran into Thacher a few years ago at the US Open, and we spoke briefly about the medical training he was doing in New York. As a resident in orthopedic surgery, Thacher wasn't expecting to be on the front lines of a global pandemic, but that's where the 30-year-old from Southern California has found himself. This article from the ATP website digs deep into Thacher's junior and college career, with comments from teammate Bradley Klahn and contemporary Steve Johnson.

Zsilinszka, also 30, was initially attracted to orthopedics as a specialty, but she changed from that to emergency care, and it's in that capacity that she's serving now in Philadelphia, as she completes her residency. This tennis.com article describes how Zsilinszka is using what she learned as a student-athlete to cope with the much greater stakes she encounters now in her new profession.  Back in 2008, I wrote an article for Tennis Recruiting Network about Zsilinszka's time in Vietnam with a program designed to connect tennis student-athletes with young people who could benefit from exposure to the sport (subscription required for full article). Given her willingness, even as a teenager, to put herself in challenging and uncomfortable positions, I have no trouble envisioning her in her current role.

Although he is not studying medicine, Noah Rubin (Wake Forest) has made his own contribution to mental health with his Behind The Racquet initiative, which has given him a platform and an ever-expanding audience. This ESPN article goes into detail about Rubin's first forays into exploring the human emotions that tennis players are expected to keep to themselves. By encouraging players to have more direct conversations about themselves and the challenges they face, Rubin has helped reduce the stigma of talking about mental health issues and the isolation that can often result.

Zoom Press Conference Wednesday with Anisimova, Riske, Collins and Tomljanovic

The women's UTR Pro Match Series begins Friday at noon on Tennis Channel, with Amanda Anisimova playing Danielle Collins, followed by Alison Riske against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, and then Riske and Anisimova. Collins and Tomljanovic will play two matches Saturday, which will complete the round robin portion of the event. The finals will be held on Sunday, as will the third place match.  For more on the four participants and where they stand in their careers right now, see this Steve Tignor article at tennis.com.


Nancy from Michigan said...

The dropping sports conversation will never be easy. The two sports that generate money for most colleges are football and basketball. The coaches make a ton of money but the overall programs generate a profit in most cases. These two sports also happen to feature mostly poorer, minority students. Big time football and basketball also have lots of fans so the other students of the school also get entertainment and school spirit from those sports.

Tennis and swimming do not generate money for colleges. Other students rarely watch in large numbers, so the programs pretty much just benefit the athletes themselves.

The next big factor is many of the college tennis players are not from the US. Most college coaches stack their teams with foreign players. That makes it a much harder sell to 'save' these programs in the minds of most administrators and even students.

Jon King said...

Go look at the roster of the East Carolina tennis team. Every player is from outside the US on the men's team and 6 out of 8 outside the US on the women's team. The coaches brought this on themselves. How can you lobby the USTA, the American public, and the student body to help save your sport when you make little attempt to haave US players? And almost no students attend the matches to watch?

Chuck Barnswell said...

Let me see if I understand this in regards to East Carolina men's tennis. The American taxpayer helps support the college. The American taxpayer supports the infrastructure that the college relies on such as roads, police, and fire departments. American students pay tuition. The tennis program loses money. And the tennis coach at East Carolina did not have any American players on the team. Why again am I supposed to care?

Boca Tennis Mom said...

Its even worse because the players get a scholarship then take their education back to their home country. I agree that these college coaches have made their own bed. It became a total win for the foreign tennis kids and their parents and a rip off for the US taxpayers and US student athletes. A college coach wants it both ways, the US pays for the infrastructure so these teams can travel and compete, yet they can construct a roster with zero US kids. Not many people will help you fight to save that system.