| By Jonathan Klee
Credit: Polka Dot Images

As the 2011 League Season begins on Long Island with Mixed-Doubles, there are a few major National, Section and Local rule changes all captains and players should be aware of. These rule changes follow a hierarchy similar to our own government structure in that a rule change can be National, affecting all 18 sections if changed in the USTA League Tennis Regulations, Sectional if the change is part of the Eastern Adult League Regulations or Local if there is a change to the LIITL (Long Island Inter-Club Tennis League Regulations). Whereas it would be too long to discuss all of the rule changes made for 2011, I have highlighted three National and two Eastern regulation changes below. An initial review of these major rule changes reveals a common theme. All of these rules changes are aimed directly at enhancing the local league experience.

It's human nature when reviewing rule changes to look at the rule change in a "vacuum" and how it affects me as an individual. However, when a National rule is implemented, committee members must examine how the rule would affect a player in Hawaii compared with a player in New York. The same is true of a Section rule … committee members must see how the rule affects a player in Buffalo, N.Y. or Syracuse, N.Y. compared to a player in Manhattan or on Long Island. It reminds me of an exchange Spock had with Kirk in Star Trek II, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

If you look at these rule changes objectively, you will see this global versus individual approach. Emphasis on growing and nurturing local league play for the majority of players versus the few active captains or players whose only goal is to advance to championships by any means possible. Whereas, these rule changes are not a "fix it" and a work in progress, the goal and mission of National and Eastern is clear. They want members to play league tennis to socialize with friends, have fun and play against other players with comparable skill levels. With that said, here are the rule changes.

National Regulation 1.04F(1)(b)
Mixed doubles results will not be part of generating a player's year-end rating, except for those players who play in the USTA League Mixed Doubles Division exclusively. Players who play exclusively in the USTA League Mixed Doubles Division and choose to participate in the USTA League Adult, Senior, and/or Super Senior Divisions the next year must enter those divisions by self-rating with the minimum rating being the higher of the self-rating or mixed exclusive rating.

In the past, a player who played mixed-doubles and generated an "M" rating could enter Adult, Senior and/or a Super Senior Division at the "M" rating. This rule is recognition by the National Adult League Committee that the ratings obtained by players in mixed matches may not be as accurate as ratings obtained in other league divisions. Besides the obvious gender-related issue, the Mixed format is different from the Adult format in that players may have a partner with a 1.0 spread in their ratings. An 8.0 mixed doubles match may see a 4.5 rated player have a 3.5 rated player as a partner. The Adult leagues only allow players to have a partner with a maximum 0.5 spread in the ratings. This difference in the spread of the player’s ratings, coupled with how some players do not adjust well to the mixed format, has caused an inordinate amount of players to obtain ratings not consistent with their tennis background or subsequent results when entering other national league formats.

Some of you may be asking what is this rule specifically trying to prevent and how does this rule affect me? Here is an example. Player "A" who is 20-years-old plays Division III collegiate tennis, self-rates and receives a 4.5 self-rating. Player "A" then plays 8.0 mixed-doubles with a 3.5 partner, and at year-end is re-rated by the computer at 4.0 based on their mixed results. Whereas this player can enter the Mixed League next year as a 4.0 if they decide to play other National Divisions before that they would be required to self-rate again. Based on their player experience, they would once again be self-rated a 4.5. Therefore, no longer can a player use the Mixed League, either purposeful or non-purposeful as a way to obtain a "softer rating" when entering other national league formats.

Page 2, National League Regulations, Valid NTRP Computer Ratings Chart
Players with expired ratings will not be allowed to self-rate at a lower level than their last published NTRP rating. However, they will have the opportunity to file a self-rate appeal.

This self-rating change closes a "loophole" created when a player’s last published NTRP rating expired. The National Adult League Committee saw a number of players who left league play for various reasons re-enter league play years later at lower levels then their last published rating. In some cases, these players used the expiration of their ratings to manipulate the system by playing lower than their actual skill levels. The Computer Ratings Chart preserves the integrity of the rating process by acknowledging the prior computer rating and allowing the player an opportunity to file a self-rate appeal to lower their last published rating. No longer will the player or captain be able to re-rate a player on their own through the self-rating process. A lowering of a previous rating will now require Section Approval. See National League Regulation 1.04F(1)(D).

National Regulation 2.05C(2)
Any player who is 70 years of age or older prior to, or during, the calendar year in which such player plays his/her first local league match and has achieved the same rating level or lower for the three prior years, without benefit of appeal, will be granted an appeal if they are promoted at year end.

This is the first rule which acknowledges age as a factor when determining an NTRP computer rating. Whereas it affects very few players in that they would have to be over 70 and be computer-rated without appeal for three years, the acknowledgment that age is a factor when 18-year-olds can play in the same league as a 70-year-old is noteworthy. Before this year, when the computer calculated year-end ratings, the only factor considered was match results. However, the Adult League Committee has recognized that players who have reached the age of 70 are unlikely to continue to improve as fast and quickly as players who are much younger and carved out this important exception for Super Senior players.

A minimum of fifty percent (50%) of the players on a team roster must reside in (using the address registered in TennisLink) or work in (designated work location for tax purposes) the area being represented by the team. A waiver of these requirements may be granted subject to a vote of the Adult League Committee. All matches played by an ineligible player will be scored as a default. An ineligible player will be determined by his/her registration date and is the last out-of-area player to register on the roster.

The past few years has seen a number of players from outside of and within the Eastern Section play local league matches in regions having no relationship to where they live or work. The creation of these so called "super traveling teams" has taken away from the local aspect of league tennis. What good is a Section Championship if the team representing Long Island has a majority of its players made up of members who reside and work in Westchester, Metro or travel from out of state? Eastern looked at how other Sections around the country handled this issue and realized that many of them had in-place residency requirement rules … many of them more stringent than the rule now in place.

However, Eastern recognized the close proximity of Long Island, Metro, New Jersey and Westchester and the overlapping of players and settled on the 50 percent requirement for this year. This new rule is specifically aimed at enhancing the local league experience.

Players who play on two or more teams at the same NTRP level in different areas (districts and/or regions) in the Eastern Section must declare which team they will represent prior to the start of any local league playoff or any area, district, regional or section championship playoff should more than one team qualify to advance. The declaration should be made by (1) filing a Player Intent Form with the Eastern Section Office prior to the playing of the teams last local league match or (2) will be made once the player plays a local league playoff or area, district, regional or section championship playoff match and will remain in effect for as long as that team advances. If a player declares for a team and that team is eliminated, the player is then eligible to re-select and play for a different team as long as they meet eligibility requirements for that team. They will continue with that team as long as that team advances. All matches played by an ineligible player will be scored as a default. An ineligible player is a player who has declared for a team and then plays a match for a different team prior to their original team being eliminated. However, a player who plays local league playoff matches in a region with multiple districts/areas at the same level with different league ending dates will declare the region they will represent at the time of local league playoffs. Once a player plays a local league playoff match in one region s/he may not play a playoff match in a different region until the team they played a local playoff match for has been eliminated.

Coupled with the residency requirement rule just discussed, Regulation III(G) is a direct attempt by Eastern to limit the use of the traveling "hired gun". The biggest complaint Eastern receives about local league play is the player who travels from region to region helping teams qualify for Section Championships. These players then must choose one team at Section Championships to play on causing other teams they helped to qualify for the same championship is severely weakened. Eastern has seen a number of teams who have qualified for Section Championships forfeit individual matches or be unable to attend the championship since their rosters have been decimated by players choosing other teams. Whereas the "hired gun" will still be allowed to play on as many teams as they want in local league play, they must now choose who they will represent in their local league playoff and stay on that team until they are eliminated. Therefore, teams who may benefit from the "hired gun" in the local league will not have the services of this "hired gun" as they progress through the local league playoff structure unless the initial team that the "hired gun" chooses is eliminated. The purpose of this rule is to strengthen local league participation and give local players every opportunity to advance.

Moreover, captains will now know earlier what players they will have available for playoffs and be able to plan their rosters accordingly. Eastern believes that by implementing this rule there will be less forfeits at Section Championships in that teams who advance in the local league playoffs will now be able to count on those players throughout their playoff run without them jumping back and forth between teams. Hence, the team now moving forward will be the best, strongest team from that Region in that they will not lose players as they advance.

Jonathan Klee

<p>Jonathan Klee is a partner at the Law Firm of Klee &amp; Woolf LLP. He is the Long Island representative on the Eastern Grievance Committee, and currently serves as chair. He has played in league tennis since 2000, and has captained and played on many teams on Long Island. He may be reached by e-mail at jkleelaw@aol.com.</p>