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Player Advice
The Relevance of College Rankings

Last month I asked whether the coach matters when deciding where to take your tennis talents. This month I am turning my attention to college rankings - and asking if they should hold any relevance when making a final college decision.

Former Oklahoma University Coach Dave Mullins
Whenever I peek at Facebook, there are coaches posting their teams' current rankings - and milking them for every bit of publicity they can get. Settle down coaches, I did the same thing too! These posts get lots of wide-open mouthed emoji responses and will lead to nice write-ups in their college newspapers. But what value do these rankings hold when it comes to players deciding which college to choose?

I found that many college prospects pay too much attention not only to their iPhones - but also to the ITA college rankings! They often start and finish their college recruiting process based on these numbers, but what do these numbers mean?

I have no data to back this up, but my experience is that those players fortunate to visit several colleges and hold more than one offer at the same time will typically select the team that is ranked the highest when the signing period is bearing down upon them.

Rankings are extremely poor indicators as to how a prospect's experience is going to unfold over their four-year playing career. The rankings change constantly - especially over the course of a season. One team may possess a high ranking to start a season but has recently lost several key players to graduation. Their ranking is based heavily upon their previous year's performance. I have witnessed teams - including my own - drop from a top 20 ranking in January to outside the top 75 by the end of February.

It is very natural to want to back the winning horse. Children grow up supporting the team that is dominating a sport they like during their formative years. Kids in New York are walking around in Golden State Warrior shirts, and children down in Southampton are wearing Leicester City Jerseys! It is nice to have bragging rights when it comes to supporting a team, but is not particularly important when it comes to playing for one.

There is more depth in the college game now more than ever before. Small margins separate teams from around #15 - #75. The ITA are publicly publishing the top 50 rankings rather than the top 75, which they have done in the past. I believe long term they will move to publishing just the top 25 (which they are doing at the commencement of the college tennis season) to fall in line with the ranking models of most other college sports. Personally, I believe this is a great initiative as every program ranked outside the top 25 can claim to be number 26! Every coach from number 26 to 247 will be telling you that they are knocking on the door of the top 25!

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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