College tennis players across the country are mad as hell, and they have every right to be. Recently the NCAA handed down changes to college tennis that some players are saying would be the equivalent to “making the game of golf nine holes, or baseball six innings.”
Whether it upsets the fans, players, coaches, or myself, is beside the point. I believe what should be the number one concern of the NCAA is the athletes they represent, and in this case, they failed miserably.
College tennis should be, and has been, used as a springboard for players who want to get an education, but also have the desire to become a professional athlete. Top rising juniors have to make the difficult decision every year to turn pro or go to school, and with the NCAA essentially making the tournament a bastardized version of our beloved game, players will not be able to gain the experience of long, painful, and emotional victories or defeats.
Athletes will know going into the tournament there is only so long they will have to be on the court, so going through the physical and mental struggles of playing every day, even after a long three set match, isn’t possible. College players are looking to gain the experience of having a team around them, be coached through long matches, and the knowledge that the work you have put in, will pay off. That experience is one of the main reasons players opt out of the pro-game, to choose school instead. By shortening the game, you take away some of the major fundamental building blocks of what has been used as a successful stepping stone to the pro tour.
With the average age of top 100 ATP and WTA athletes going up, the NCAA should be proud that college tennis is used as a way to mature and gain experience while getting an education. Successful players on tour like Kevin Anderson and John Isner, boast about the experience they received during college, and the recently advertised “lost generation” regrets not having them. These changes will encourage players to skip college, which means we will be seeing more examples of the latter. Why would hardcore athletes want to take a step into easyville for four years, just to get crushed later on in the pros?
If growing the television audience is the issue, then the NCAA should fully embrace the tournament. HD cameras, back-stories on players, get the audience to invest into a player or team. It is why we don’t mind flipping back-and-forth on TV to watch Slams, we are invested in the athletes. Tennis still doesn’t do itself justice with showcasing the athleticism and the work put into becoming a top player; a lot of these players have amazing stories, allow us to learn and support them.
Tennis will never be basketball, football, or any other sport with a clock, which is why we love it. When you build up the game and its athletes, people will invest their time. The new format doesn’t allow for that, as players won’t have the ability to go through the natural progression of a two out of three set match. A 10-point breaker leaves more to luck, chance, and fitness plays almost no role.
I will be going to my Alma Mater, University of Illinois, for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and hopefully a lucky bounce, net cord, or close call, will not decide an elite eight, final four, or an NCAA Title.
Vice President of Tennis