Here we go again. In an effort to make college tennis more “fan-friendly”, the NCAA announced their recommendations to change the rules for college tennis again. This has been a stop-and-go effort for the last few years and despite resistance and complaints from players, coaches and fans, it seems that the NCAA, together with the ITA, is determined to change the basic rules of tennis in an effort to get more fans to watch the game. The NCAA made the following announcement on July 31st.
The changes in the rules are as follows:
1. No-ad scoring. In games tied at 40-all, the player who wins the next point will win the game. This will start from Spring 2015.
2. In the team championships, three doubles matches will be played with no-ad scoring, with each match consisting of one set to six games. A tie-break will be played at 6-all.
3. Following a 10-minute intermission, six singles matches will be played with no-ad scoring, with each match consisting of a best two-out-of-three with tiebreakers at 6-all.
4. There will be no warm-up with an opponent once the players have been called to the court for the start of the match.
5. As in the past, the matches will be played “clinch/clinch” – when the doubles point is clinched, the remaining doubles match is stopped. And in singles, once the team match has been clinched, any remaining singles matches will be stopped.
6. For the individual singles and doubles championships, all matches will be played utilizing no-ad scoring. In doubles, matches will consist of the best two-out-of-three sets, with a match tiebreak in lieu of the third set.
7. The winners of the singles and doubles championships will continue to earn opportunities for wild card entries into the U.S. Open.
The changes that are the biggest problems are the no-ad rule and the use of a match tiebreak instead of a third set. Even the pro tour uses the match tiebreak in doubles in smaller tournaments and I have to say I despise that format. It’s like playing a great game for a couple hours but then having to wrap things up real quick because your mom is yelling at you to come in for dinner.
I understand what the reasons are for making these changes; to cut down on match lengths and to make a more fan-friendly, or in other words a less time-consuming sport. But the problem isn’t how long the matches take or how the sport isn’t TV friendly. The problem is the coverage the sport currently provides for the fans. How can the casual fan become interested in a sport when the updates are slow are non-existent, when the scoreboards are wrong, or when the scoreboards and updates do not provide the basic information a tennis fan needs when following a match?When the sport of college tennis can’t even come up with a decent scoreboard or a way to avoid ridiculous scoreboard update mistakes, this whole thing is pointless. I wrote about the state of the the coverage of college tennis here and here to explain this. To put it plainly, it’s a joke.
With these changes, the NCAA and ITA are basically saying that the format of college tennis is not for those players who want to go on to the pro tours after college. None of these rule changes prepare the college players for what they will have to face on the tour. College tennis has proved to be a great training stage the professional tours. But with these changes, college tennis seems to be pulling away from developing professional tennis players. Virgil Christian Jr., the USTA senior director of marketing/facility development and collegiate tennis said the following;
“What an exciting time for college tennis. Increasing the relevance and profile of a varsity tennis match on campus is vital to the sustainability and growth of the sport. These changes will play an instrumental role in accomplishing this goal – and will draw more fans.”
While the matches may be shorter to watch, any player seriously considering the pro tennis tour after college will be wondering if college tennis will really prepare them for the pro tour. With these new rules, pathetic scoreboard systems and unsupported ideas, college tennis is going to continue to lose schools that have tennis as part of their athletic programs. This whole affair isn’t about the NCAA, the TV contracts or making the matches shorter for players. It’s about whether the integrity, tradition and basic structure of tennis, one of the most popular sports in the world, is worth saving. Most players, coaches and fans firmly agree that tennis is worth preserving. NCAA seems to think changing the rules will make tennis more popular and get the money rolling in. How can that happen if everyone who loves the sport is against it and the casual fan has no way to follow the matches?
Other articles against the rule changes: