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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Widespread Objections to ITA Experimental Format in Charlottesville

As I mentioned last week, I spoke to most of the women's coaches about the ITA's experimental format when I was in Charlottesville, Va. for the Team Indoor Championships. Part one of the article presenting those views is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, with part two scheduled to appear on Friday.  Frankly, I was surprised at how unpopular the format was with everyone I spoke to. I'm not sure with this kind of opposition how it even made it to the experimental stage, but it did, although I would be even more surprised if it was adopted permanently.

A typical scoring summary from the ITA Women's Team Indoor
 Speaking of that, in my research for the article, I came across this NCAA article from 2000, when similar experiments were being undertaken for similar reasons. I wasn't covering college tennis back then, but I was shocked at how familiar this all sounds. It appears that format change is a battle never won, only postponed.  Cal's Jan Brogan is now retired and a volunteer assistant in Berkeley, Brian Boland is no longer at Indiana State, of course, and in fact, only Georgia's Manny Diaz of the coaches quoted hasn't changed jobs in those 14 years. The "return to doubles for overtime" from back then appears to be dead, but as we've seen with the College Match Day format, there's no statute of limitations on resurrecting rejected ideas from past experiments.

Also, don't miss the comments on the Men's Team Indoor, and the no-ad scoring format from Russ, who was in Houston for the tournament. His comments can be found, in their entirety, here.

Tennis Now asked former Stanford coach Dick Gould for his comments on the format changes. Here is an excerpt from a wide-ranging interview with one of college tennis' legends:

What do you think about the new rules being tested in college tennis? Doubles matches go to six instead of eight. In women’s singles, the third set is a super tiebreak. The men are playing two out of three with no-ad scoring.

We have a great sport. You don’t go to Wimbledon and stay for a match. You stay for the day. It’s an event. There was a time where we had no-ad scoring, which I actually loved. But I don’t think changing the scoring is going to bring more people. I think you’re either a tennis fan or you’re not or you’ve got a buddy or a girlfriend on the team and that’s why you’re going to go out. I just don’t think someone who doesn’t understand tennis is going to be coming in off the street to watch it.

When [the women] play regular scoring with a tiebreak in the third set and the men are playing no-ad scoring and playing out two out of three sets – that’s not fan friendly. Our fans our going, “What is this?” We have it printed all out in their programs, but they still get confused. Is that fan friendly? I’d rather it be all the same. Secondly, if they are [shortening matches] for TV, it takes $40,000 to bring a truck and a generator, probably seven cameras on six courts. And it might rain! It’s tremendously expensive. I think the future of tennis as far as viewing goes is streaming. When I asked the USTA about the new rules, they explained TV producers said they had to do the match in 2.5 hours. So I think that’s one reason this is coming out.

I’m old school. I like regular scoring. As a coach, I loved the long matches. One time we were playing indoors with 7,000 people against UCLA and we had already played four hours. We came indoors at 6:30 p.m. and the match ended at 12:45 a.m. and no one left. The place was going wild!


Hope it's over said...

I'm sure football would be more intense and exciting if they only played one half. But doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. It is not good for the players that have trained and worked for years to get where they are. It weakens college players overall. Agree with Dick Gould, you are a fan or not a fan.

College Fan said...

Did you realize there is a good chance that Klahn will pass Querrey to become the #2 American?
Two 4 year College guys will then be the top 2 Americans.

Querrey has two rd of 16 performances to defend in IW and Miami. Based on his recent play, he seems unlikely to replicate those results. Even if Klahn doesn't win a match at either location, he has a good chance to pass Querrey in the rankings.

Go College Tennis!

DaveKB said...

In dual matches, I think the best compromise is three 6 (now 8) game sets in doubles with the winner of two out of three getting the doubles point. However, use a 10 (not 7) point TB at 6-6. Use the clinch rule in doubles, as there are no rankings issues.

Play so called 'one ad' (play two deuces instead of one) in both singles and doubles.

Play three sets in singles.

Allow the two coaches to agree to finish dual matches after the match is clinched using any format they want. I think most just want to go home, as it really does not matter. I would suggest playing two sets to conclusion and then a 10 point TB in the third if the match is clinched. If the third set has already started, as soon as it is tied play a 10 point TB.

Eliminate the pre match player vs player warmups and the 10 minute break between singles and doubles and allow sitting for one minute on court changes ONLY after every three games or at the end of two sets.

In the NCAA team event and the NTI where tournament schedules need to be kept to avoid midnight tennis, definitely use the clinch rule as they do now. The real problem is when a singles match goes really long and it is tied 3-3. I think a 10 point 3rd set TB should be used ONLY at these two events to keep the "trains running on time". In addition, unlike dual matches where you rarely play two days in row at these events you can play 3 or 4 days in row and at the NCAA's it is often very hot and humid.

Another solution to the NCAA "long day" issue is to split up the men and women and at the championship site only play the quarters, semis and finals on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, when people are less likely to be working. Also have at least 6 indoor courts available in case of rain (sorry UGA). Having the NCAA finals on a Tuesday afternoon has to be the dumbest idea ever, if you want people to watch it live, via TV, or via video streaming.

russ said...

Glad you brought up football Hope it's over. Football doesn't need to cut the game off at halftime because they have been very diligent in making sure the games end in three hours. Over the years they've shortened the time between plays, shortened the length of timeouts, and most significantly eliminated the clock stopped rule when a player goes out of bounds until the last few minutes of the half/game. There currently is discussion on how to further tweak the time component as the games are beginning to get longer again with all the commercials.

Additionally, I think one of the small reasons why football is so viewer friendly is that the game has its own version of no ad: third down. Can they keep the drive going or will they have to punt is the equivalent to a big point in tennis and in football there are at least twenty of those per game.

wondering said...

The main reason Football has changed rules to shorten the game derives from the increase in commercial breaks. It's a double edged sword. If a sport wants more money, it needs more commercials. More commercials lengthen the game, so football has been forced to change to fit TV's time frame. The good news for college football. It's essentially the same rules and actually a "longer" game with more plays than pro football.

Also, Russ, if No-ad is such a great "innovation" why did college coaches do away with it in the 1990s after using No-Ad scoring for years?

wi tennis said...

Football and tennis are two different animals. I think the men's tennis format is correct. Even Gould said he likes No-Ad. (Then he said regular scoring is his preference for full disclosure). All of the sets are the same. the one doubles set and all three doubles sets. they are all no-ad. there is no warm-up. (fans always ask, what are they doing when they just did an hour warm-up and are warming-up again). A tie-break at 5-all or 6-all is trivial to me. Easy to understand. Fast moving. I think many men's coaches like the new format. I don't think they liked it initially, but now after doing it. They like it. Of course, big programs don't want to change because they are on-top. They don't want to let others in. The opinions might be different when talking to the teams outside of the top 16 compared to the top 16.

Players will go to the "pros" (only Isner and a few others are making a living from tennis because being a top-100 player is such a crap-shoot) less beat-up than what they used to be because of 3 hour hard court matches instead of 5 hour. The big teams may play more double-headers, so that gives smaller teams a chance to get on a "big team's" schedule. Players learn how to play under pressure. They can always improve their fitness and match stamina once they "turn pro".

Fans enjoy the matches, don't have to be there all day and most importantly, understand. I think Coach Gould is wrong that the fans only are friends and family of the players. TCU Men's Tennis has built up a fan base of more than just that. Does it take lots of work to do this? Yes! A tremendous amount. But win or lose, pro potential or not, who wouldn't want to play in front of 500 people???!

russ said...

Wondering: Is it a bad thing to want commercials? Commercials make tennis a more lucrative sport and it's definitely a sport that can use an influx of cash. Purses at the Futures and Challengers pay a pittance and the great majority of players in the minor leagues are losing money. Is this a healthy set of affairs to grow and advance the sport?

In regards to the NFL needing to shorten the game because of commercials, that is undeniable. But also take into consideration how the game evolved from primarily a running game to a passing one. Incomplete passes stopped the clock. So for whatever reason, or combination of reasons, the NFL responded to the game's evolution and acted.

I think tennis should take a look at how its game has evolved, as well. It's no longer the genteel, aristocratic, leisurely sport it started out as. We don't all get to go to English garden and watch tennis for a day. Most of us see it on TV and for a specific match. It's also no longer the same quick bang, bang points of serve and volley that dominated tennis for fifty years or so and kept time limits down. The baseline game that dominates now stretches everything out, points, time between points (I'm looking at you Rafa and Nole), games, sets and matches. Sorry, just as I am happy enough with one Isner v Mahut, I'm also happy with one Rafa v Novak that lasted six hours.

As for college coaches dismissing the no ad rule in the Nineties, there was also a time in the Seventies when doubles was two out of three sets and each match was valued with a point. In those days it wasn't uncommon for dual matches to last five, six hours. I know a player from back then and he said he played in a 7 1/2 hour match. Do you want to go back to that era?

So change does happen and the only question is: does it improve the game. Maybe in the nineties there were fewer benefits that would accrue than today, so it was scrapped. There was no pot of TV gold, nor had the modern baseline game taken hold stretching time limits. So we experiment and evaluate, taking into account the different circumstances. The current circumstances in play now really demand, in my opinion, ways to shorten the game without damaging it. No ad not only doesn't harm the game, I really think it will improve the quality of tennis. (Quick side note: Another positive outcome might be the lessening of physical wear and tear and the lengthening of player careers.)