The NCAA tennis tournaments weren’t televised last spring. So the association, instead of reworking its agreement with ESPN or changing its marketing strategy, decided the tennis championship itself needed a makeover.
On Aug. 13, the NCAA released a report containing a number of recommendations meant to shorten matches during the event.
NCAA TENNIS CHANGES
- The NCAA initially recommended the following measures be implemented in championship matches.
- Remove the warm-up with the opponent before matches
- Reduce time between singles and doubles from 10 to five minutes
- Shorten each changeover (break between odd-numbered games) from 90 to 60 seconds
- Replace the third set in singles with a 10-point tiebreaker
- Reduce the eight-game doubles set to six games
But the makeover they had in mind didn’t sit well with anyone.
“It’s been unanimous,” UNC men’s tennis coach Sam Paul said. “I haven’t really heard of anyone who supports the proposals, but then again, I don’t speak for everyone. We just don’t feel that it’s broke, and we don’t think it needs to be fixed.”
In response to criticism from coaches, players and fans around the nation, the NCAA rescinded late Wednesday afternoon the most controversial of the recommendations: a 10-point tiebreaker in place of the third set in the singles match and a truncated doubles set.
Doubles matches, which are contested in an eight-game set, would have been shortened to just six games per the discarded recommendation.
David Benjamin, executive director of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, credited the tennis community and media for helping alert the NCAA of the report’s potential impact.
“We got a tremendous amount of email in our office from a lot of coaches,” Benjamin said. “Sports Illustrated and The New York Times carried it online over the weekend, so it got an enormous visibility. It was very clear that what was being proposed was not only controversial but very upsetting to a lot of people.”
The ITA manages college tennis during the regular season, but Benjamin said conferences might have considered adopting the NCAA’s format to prepare for championship competition, which the NCAA oversees.
The association’s initial rationale focused on the impact a shorter game would have on the sport’s ability to be carried on television.
The report also mentions student athlete welfare, as it relates to dual matches spanning four or five hours, as a concern.
But many players felt these proposals undermined the basic integrity of the game. On Twitter, the hashtag #savecollegetennis prominence in the days following the release.
Caroline Price, a standout sophomore on the UNC women’s tennis team, was against the changes. She said her team’s strategy relies heavily on being better conditioned than its opponents — an edge that a shorter format would have dulled.
“What we thrive on is our conditioning,” Price said. “We know that as we get into the third set that we’re mentally tougher and fitter than our opponent. Changing that to a tiebreaker takes that away. You can get lucky.”
Though the NCAA decided the three-set and eight-game formats would not change, it said Wednesday that it would continue to pursue the report’s other less-contentious suggestions.
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