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View from the Chair
College Format Changes - The Vote of 21-19

The scoring system of tennis is one of its most sacred heirlooms. The fluctuation of pressures from one lead to the next is why tennis dwarfs other racquet sports in comparison. The tennis player must not only become adept in skill-sets of physical performance, but the scoring forces him/her to develop good abilities in mental and emotional aspects as well. The intrigue and drama of the game happen largely because of the implications of rapidly changing momentum swings enhanced by a scoring system established over 100 years ago.

Chuck Kriese, Head Coach of The Citadel
The ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) had its annual convention and coaches meeting in December. The hottest and the most pressing topic of 2013-14 has become 'Collegiate Dual-match Formats and Scoring Systems.' The overused talking point being promoted this year is: "College tennis will not survive unless the dual match format starts and finishes under three hours." This same issue was also the hot topic in the spring of 2012 when a collegiate committee had randomly injected a radical system destined to drastically change college tennis' long-used traditional format. There had been obvious scheduling problems at the 2012 NCAA tournament as 32 teams (16 men and 16 women's) had to play late into the night making the event looked much less than professional.

The college committee reacted to long days of tennis at the NCAA event by trying to push forward a deviation from the normal format. The new dual match proposal in summer of 2012 was met with 10,000-plus signatures of protest from around the country. An internet site had been set up by tennis student-athletes in protest. Tennis coaches, players and college tennis supporters expressed serious disapproval. To slow down the fire-storm, the committee tabled their idea and waited. The movement continued this summer as a joint USTA/college group introduced a 'morphed' version of what they had tried to do a year earlier.

Prior to 2006, men and women's teams played at different sites. A 51-2 vote by men's coaches in 2005 wanted to keep it that way, but the board pushed forward an agenda to combine all men and women's teams to be the same site anyway. Scheduling before that move was always a challenge, but it was never a great issue as the unique needs of both groups were handled well.

Multiple collegiate coaches believe that the three-hour time limit for college match is a talking-point and a potential 'Ruse.' It is primarily based on entertainment objectives with little regard for player development issues. Brian Boland, coach of the National Championship Virginia Cavaliers stated at the ITA meeting, "The real problem is not the time, but more it is that there were too many moving parts at our NCAA championships with 32 teams to take care of. It has created a logistical nightmare." In agreement are traditional coaches who believe that the educational aspects of tennis are a more important part of the college game. Those coaches disdain the abbreviated and bastardized formats for scoring. To not use traditional scoring drastically deemphasizes important elements of work ethic, conditioning and important learning aspects that only come from tough matches.

The December meeting of the ITA brought the fight between 'Education vs. Entertainment' to the floor. After nearly five hours of debate and heated emotions of philosophical divisions, the board members eliminated all options but two from the black board and gave the men's coaches a choice and a vote. Both were designed to shorten the matches and no-other option would be acceptable for the first third of the season of 2014. There was never an agreement of the coaches in the room that 'time' was the true reason for the problems of college tennis. That early talking point and need to shorten the match seemed to have become as an assumption of truth.

The two formats were presented. The first format was that singles matches would be best of three sets with traditional scoring. However, a tie-breaker would be played at 5-5 instead of 6-6. The doubles would only be a 6 game set instead of a pro-set. The second proposed format was that the players would play full singles matches and a pro-set for doubles. However, the abbreviated system of no-ad would be used. The vote was made. Coaches voted to protect the integrity of traditional tennis scoring with a 21-19 vote in favor of using regular scoring with tiebreakers at 5-5 instead of 6-6. A vote had been made, and most left the room feeling that a small victory had been won in the preservation of a scoring system that would not diminish the game.

The board of directors met for a separate meeting later that day to finalize the matter. Interestingly, it was decided that the vote taken in the afternoon was too close to call, and there was definitely not a mandate for either system. In a turn of events, the decision made by the board was that it should therefore be allowable for another format to be promoted as the solution. It was as if an election between two political candidates was too close to call, and so an outside candidate was put into place. The board decided on a format for the first six weeks of the season where abbreviated sets with tiebreakers 5-all would be used in addition to no-ad scoring. Arguably, this new option actually took the worst aspect of the first two proposals and pushed them both into play. The mandate to be put into place had never been debated by the general coaching body - nor had it been brought up as an alternative in the coaches meeting.

The great game of tennis should be protected and not be compromised by political agenda. College tennis is one of the most important developmental tools that our country has for our youngsters to hone their skills and develop important leadership abilities. It is simplistic at best to conclude that the saving of a few minutes in a tennis match is worth all that is lost by the dismantling of its scoring system.


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Colette Lewis has covered topflight junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Read her weekly column, follow her on Twitter, and and find more of her daily commentary at ZooTennis.

Page updated on Wednesday, August 10, 2016
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