Thursday, April 9, 2020

Should Tennis Be Among First NCAA D-I Sports Cut Post-pandemic? Pepperdine's Lahey Decides to Return for Fifth Year; ITA Will Present Annual Awards

This article, written by University of Arkansas professor Steve Dittmore for Athletic Director U, explores the likelihood that the Olympic sports sponsored by schools will suffer most from the funding shortfall caused by the recent cancellation of the basketball tournament.

It's a lengthy piece that is centered on the need for the universities and United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to figure out how to support each other in these non-revenue sports.

What if, in a post-coronavirus world, Division I athletic administrators say, “finances are squeezed. What is it we really do? We really are in the entertainment business, and while we would like to support student-athletes in a variety of programs, it no longer makes fiscal sense to do that.”
Among these sports, is of course, tennis, and Dittmore pays special attention to Division I tennis, because it is not producing athletes who go on to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics. College tennis has produced Olympians, of course, but not in big numbers, so Dittmore proposes a radical solution.
Back to the hypothetical questions… What if athletic directors decide it is no longer their responsibility to aid the U.S. Olympic team by sponsoring “Olympic” sports such as field hockey, gymnastics, wrestling, and water polo? We could certainly see more sports suffer the same fate as Old Dominion’s wrestling program, which brings me back to tennis. If ever there was a college sport which could be eliminated it is tennis. 
Dittmore goes on to explain the high cost per student-athlete for tennis, and notes that a majority of the scholarships in the SEC are to awarded to international players (although with men's tennis having 4.5 scholarships, which can be sliced in any fashion, the actual dollar value of each scholarship can't be readily determined). Interesting that he didn't use his own employer as an example, where 9 of 11 roster spots in the men's program are taken with international players.  But Dittmore is mostly right when he says:
Consider this. The U.S. Tennis Association does not need universities to help train future Olympians, the rare Olympic sport that does not need college athletics. Further, the vast majority of collegiate tennis athletes in Power 5 schools come from outside the United States. Scholarships are not going to American high school seniors.
Vast majority is probably overstating it, and I think the USTA does appreciate having college tennis as a pathway, but no, the USTA does not need college tennis (the US Golf Association doesn't either, for that matter) to field an Olympic team in the sport.

With his framing that preparing athletes for the Olympic Games is, or should be, the goal of university athletic departments, Dittmore is following his own logic, but I don't think you would find a single athletic director agreeing with that framing. For all the well-earned cynicism around the NCAA, they do believe that playing college athletics has benefits for the student-athletes and the school that extend beyond serving as a minor league for Olympic sports. A chance to play on a team, to mature, to expand one's horizons, to balance competing obligations, all these are worthwhile parts of the educational experience and can't be based solely on revenue produced or spent.

Do I think more tennis programs will be cut after this latest crisis? I do, but for the same reasons they are always cut, because the financial obligations necessary to support them are too much. It will not be for failing to supply tennis players to the US Olympic team.
To get an idea of how much playing college tennis can mean to a student-athlete, you don't have to look much further than Ashley Lahey, a Pepperdine senior who has announced her intention to return to the Waves for the dual match season in 2021. Like reigning NCAA champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, Lahey has decided it makes sense to return, particularly when she can play Pro Circuit events in the fall (pandemic permitting). Lahey, who started college early and is graduating at age 20, was an NCAA singles finalist in 2018 and was No. 1 in the last published ITA national singles rankings.

The ITA announced today that despite an incomplete season, it will present its annual awards and name All-America teams, although no date is mentioned. There will be no final rankings for the year, but the ITA will do a double-run to produce private rankings that can be used for the upcoming fall season. For more on that see @College10sRanks on twitter.


facilities matter said...

It’s important to consider when discussing the USTA and College tennis, how important collegiate facilities are to the USTA tournament structure.

Boca Tennis Mom said...

Some sports programs will be cut post-pandemic. It will be a bigger issue for men's tennis. Title IX will protect some of the women's programs.

It’s About Time said...

Time to take Men’s Football out of the Title IX equation

Boca Tennis Mom said...

Its about time, please educate yourself about football and Title IX.


It's About Time to Get Educated said...

Intercollegiate Athletics and Title IX
Research paper by Michael Lancaster: "It is my belief that the regulations binding NCAA athletic programs in regards to Title IX restrictions should be modified. It is very clear that any program with a football team struggles to meet Title IX compliancy. An NCAA football program must have at minimum of 65 full athletic scholarships and no women’s sport comes close to that number. Because of this, no team, men’s or women’s, should not have to suffer. The highest number of athletic scholarships that can be offered for a women’s team is 18 for women’s crew. This is not comparable to a men’s football program that has to offer more than three times the amount of athletic scholarships.

It would be more reasonable if Universities with a football program did not have to comply with Title IX laws in the same manner that Universities without a football program do. The law should be changed to limit football programs overbearing influence within Title IX restrictions. Either take football programs out of the equation, or have every third athlete count as one athlete on a football team. In this situation everyone is happy. Women’s programs will continue to grow, and the lower revenue sports such as wrestling and swimming will not have to be cut as a result of the University having a football team.

Everyone has an opinion, but it is the educated person listening to both sides. You will find arguments on both sides of the field, just like in politics.


Tolerant in California said...

Totally agree on Title 9, just take football and women’s volleyball out of the equation, then it’s straightforward. Some of the scholarship limits on NCAA women’s sports are pretty absurd:
18 cross country (12.6 men)
14 Soccer (10 men)
8 Water polo (4.5 men)
Obviously for this site tennis, the only reason women get 8 scholarships is title 9. My collage coach went to coach changed to women's job and he had a difficult time finding enough players to give out 8 scholarships.

I think with the huge loss of revenue due to cancellation of NCAA tournament will force athletic departments to look at all non revenue sports and decide if they need to have all of these sports going forward. I will be very surprised if the college college football season will be normal this fall, which will be another revenue loss, plus much lower donations this year due to market and job losses.

Lukman Hakim said...

This is not comparable to a men’s football program that has to offer