Ask The Experts
Roundtable: Is College Tennis Thriving or Struggling?
by TennisRecruiting.net, 7 March 2014
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It is interesting to look at the state of college tennis. Rising costs in education and the overall arms race in athletics facilities are presenting financial challenges to athletic departments - some of which are cutting sports like tennis. On the other hand, tennis remains one of the most popular sports on the college landscape - with over 2,000 varsity programs nationwide and some colleges adding tennis programs over the past few years.
When we sent this topic to our panel of coaches, the ITA had not yet announced the new experimental rules to shorten dual tennis matches - a development that is reflected in some of the coaches' answers below.
That brings us to the question we put in front of our panel of coaches...
Q) Is college tennis thriving or struggling? What changes or improvements are you monitoring?
Andy Christodoulou, head coach, Siena Women
Tennis at the college level is a non-revenue generating sport that also lacks behind in popularity to other individual intercollegiate sports such as golf, swimming and track. Currently we have 335 NCAA DI Women's tennis programs and only 161 DI Men's programs. A report in July of 2012 by the NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Tennis Committee reported that 138 college tennis programs have been dropped since 2003. More and more institutions and conferences are labeling tennis as a "tier three sport". For example tier one sports are football and basketball, tier two are softball and baseball. Furthermore athletic conferences are "tagging" tennis as a non-sponsored sport which means it can be dropped by the member institutions of that conference. Based on these facts is my personal belief that the game of intercollegiate tennis is struggling.
Today the DNA of the collegiate tennis game has changed with more international student athletes playing DI tennis than ever before. The level and quality of play has increased, and a dual match now takes three to three-and-a-half hours to complete. The average community tennis fan and alumni cannot make the time commitment to attend such a long match, and so many fans have become disengaged.
The ITA is experimenting with shortening the dual match format that can be used to improve the collegiate dual match experience for student-athletes, fans, and television viewers. If this experiment is successful, it will generate more exposure, more interest, more resources and bring larger budgets. If these changes don't work, they will further damage the integrity of the fragile collegiate tennis game. Let's hope they work for the love we all have for this wonderful game.