As reported in Long Island Tennis Magazine (from an ITA press release), the ITA Intercollegiate Tennis Association Operating Committee is re-submitting its dual match format proposal to shorten college tennis matches after a decisive vote, a move explained as "a powerful indication of the group's commitment to adopt creative and innovative measures to enhance the sport of tennis during this time of seismic change in collegiate athletics."
It sounds more like the ITA is adopting creative and innovative explanations to justify a change in the sport that just about every current player dislikes. The changes are not huge, but they are a step in the wrong direction.
The shortened format includes:
►No ad scoring in singles and doubles
►Three doubles matches, one set with a tie breaker at 6-6
►No warm ups with opponents
Local star and recent ITA National Indoor Champion Julia Elbaba, a junior at the University of Virginia, explained in a ZOO TENNIS interview last September, "I'm not a fan. I'm strongly not a fan. It's not the true game."
Julia is not alone in her dislike of the shorted format proposal. Go look at "The Official Against the Changes to NCAA Tennis Group" on Facebook. This social media outlet and others like it seem to echo the same message which is "Let's listen to what the players say about the changes and we don't want them."
ITA Operating Committee Co-Chair Sheila McInerney explained, "College tennis is on a long-term plan to become more fan-friendly and exciting."
Boise State Head Men's Tennis Coach Greg Patton thinks, "Tennis could be in the top five of college sports if we do it right."
While I have great respect for coaches McInerney and Patton, they are flat out wrong if they think the focal point of the college tennis experience is the fans. At best, it's wishful thinking to believe that college tennis will fill the stands as a result of rule changes. College tennis is and should be about the players, playing. Common sense tells me that decreasing playing opportunities for college tennis players will only harm the game and not generate the interest or revenue necessary to save the sport if cuts are inevitable.
The buzz is that college coaches are scared that major cuts to tennis programs are imminent. The hope is that these rule changes will be seen by athletic directors as progress toward making the sport more relevant. They could be right, but coaches are only potentially buying a little time by ultimately undermining the format of the sport.
College football and college basketball are big business, and have been funding approximately 21 other Olympic sports, including tennis, in Division I forever. The party could be over in the next 10 years, as some believe Division I athletics as we know it is a dying animal since they are a multi-billion dollar business built around unpaid labor.
The Northwestern University court decision now recognizes student-athletes as having the right to collectively bargain as employees, and schools will have to decide if their athletic programs are not-for-profit organizations or money-making enterprises.
This is the key decision that will hold the fate of other Division I sports.
The future of non-revenue sports like tennis might very well be in Dll, Dlll and NAIA, as most small colleges need sports to attract the tuition dollars of student-athletes.
DI tennis is still alive, however. Let's not panic and prematurely euthanize college tennis with changes that corrupt the integrity of the game.
Que Sera, Sera.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.