When the National Collegiate Athletic Association decided to enact a rule change for Division I college tennis last week, the members of said committee could not have possibly imagined the uproar it would create.
After hearing outrage from both players and coaches around the country, Michigan’s Evan King and Florida’s Bob Van Overbeek decided to do something about it. Their Facebook group “*OFFICIAL* Against the changes to NCAA tennis” currently has over 7,400 members, their petition on change.org has almost 2,000 signatures and their event to tweet “#SaveCollegeTennis” received thousands of tweets including from professional tennis player John Isner, United States Tennis Association's head Patrick McEnroe and Heisman Trophy Winner Desmond Howard. The goal: make it known to the NCAA that these changes are not supported by anyone and everyone involved in the sport.
The changes proposed by the NCAA are headlined by the elimination of a third set, where a first-to-10 tiebreak would be played in lieu of a third set. Other changes include shortening doubles from an 8 game pro set to a 6 game set, shortening the time inbetween singles and doubles to 5 minutes, shortening the changeovers from 90 seconds to 60 seconds and eliminating the warm-up with your opponent.
All may seem like minor changes but in no way would their impact on the game be subtle. Along with these format changes, the final site of the NCAA championships would be reduced to hosting four teams as opposed to the sixteen teams that get to travel to the final site now.
The rationale behind the decision is to make the sport more marketable. The NCAA wants more fans to attend college tennis matches and wants the possibility of televising feature matches. Other rationale include that no other sport requires four and a half hours of extreme physical exertion. All of these are fair points by the NCAA and they all point to the same problem in the NCAA’s mind: college tennis matches are too long.
But when you hear the responses from the tight-knit tennis community, all of this rationale goes out the window. Tennis Channel Founder and Tennis Father, Steve Bellamy, is quoted on the official Facebook group addressing the NCAA’s goal to televise college tennis matches: "As someone who has spent a fair amount of time negotiating television deals in tennis, it is my opinion that these changes will not have a remote impact on whether tennis is palatable or appealing to a broadcaster.”
Legendary Georgia coach Manny Diaz has been one of the most vocal opponents to the changes tweeting immediately after the decision, “Disturbing news re future NCAA tennis format. Will kill our college game as we know it today.” John Isner, who played under Diaz and is now a top 10 professional in the world, also voiced his concerns over twitter: “I got where I am bc of college tennis. The new proposed rule changes will b detrimental 2-player development. If it’s not broken don't fix it”
John Roddick, brother of former world No. 1 Andy Roddick and head coach at Oklahoma University, voiced the same concerns that many of the players have with the changes, “The NCAA committee is literally attempting to change how the sport of tennis is played. I do not think that is their job. We have a hard enough time convincing quality players that college tennis is worth their time, and a decision like this will successfully end the debate.”
The bottom line: those outside the NCAA committee involved with the sport of tennis are not okay with these changes. Will this outcry have any effect on overturning these changes? I believe so. On Friday, the United States Tennis Association and Intercollegiate Tennis Association released a joint letter opposing the NCAA recommended changes.
According to this statement, in a conference call between the ITA, USTA and NCAA, “Everyone agreed that a full third set needed to be played.” Certainly all the players think so. All we can do now is hope that the NCAA listens to our voices and ask that anyone who wants to help us tweet #SaveCollegeTennis, join the Facebook group and sign the petition. Help us save the sport we have worked so hard and trained our whole lives for. Help us save college tennis.