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Coachspeak: Considering the Proposed NCAA Changes

The NCAA Division I Tennis Committee recently proposed two sets of changes to the postseason tournament. The first set of changes for 2013 has to do with shortening the match time - presumably for television - by eliminating or reducing breaks: (a) removing the warm-up period before singles and doubles, (b) reduce the time between singles and doubles from ten minutes to five minutes, and (c) shorten changeover times from 90 seconds to 60 seconds.

The second set of changes - to be implemented in 2014 - has to do with the tournament format. Currently, the 64-team tournament features first- and second-round matches on campus sites (usually on the home courts of the 16 highest seeds), and then the surviving 16 teams advance to a national site. With the proposed changes, a new regional round will be introduced on campus sites for the round of 16 and quarterfinals, with only four teams advancing to the national site.

To see the text of the proposal, click here.

These proposed changes - and others that have since been abandoned, have been the topic of much debate. Comments from Michigan's Bruce Berque and Stanford's Dick Gould have appeared this past week over at Zootennis, and there have been numerous articles in publications from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated. College players and supporters have weighed in as well on Twitter and Facebook.

We invited coaches from around the country to comment on these changes, including coaches on the NCAA committee. Here is what they had to say...

Q) What do you think of the two sets of changes to the NCAA tournament in the recent proposal, and how do you think they will impact college tennis?


Peter Smith, head coach, USC Men

I was very opposed to the third-set tiebreaker like everyone else, but I didn't really feel the other four changes were so wrong. I think pressure is pressure and it is going to come out at 7-7 or 5-2, so I didn't feel it was as big a deal as the other coaches. Removing the warm-up, shortening the break between doubles and singles and on changeovers I think are small changes - and nothing I am opposed to.

To me, something has to be done to the NCAA championships since it is too big, too long and too cumbersome to promote. Playing the semifinals and finals of the team championships on a Monday and Tuesday is not the right formula for attracting fans. Either you have to get rid of the individual tournament at the end or change the way the team tournament is played. I like the idea of playing all the rounds on a weekend - would be great to promote.

I think we can do a better job with the championships, and I would like to try some different things. Everyone was upset because the change was such a shock, but it was being talking about by all the coaches at the NCAAs so I didn't feel it was a shock to me.

If we want the matches shorter, then we should play the singles first - normal 2 out of 3 sets - and then doubles second. I would like to play the doubles with no-ad scoring just like they do on the ATP tour. Mirroring the ATP tour is great for the kids because they are all working towards playing the tour. This would give us more flexibility with our matches and allow us to play more kids - by giving us choices as to who plays doubles and scheduling double-headers. The argument would be that doubles would become less meaningful but I disagree - I think the better coaches would still play doubles even if the match was decided in singles. The 3-3 matches finishing with doubles would be so very memorable. Many of our fans are leaving after doubles, so this would also alleviate this issue. Such a format has the support of many of the top coaches, and I think it is something the ITA should try.


Robert Dallis, head coach, Dartmouth Women

I believe that it would make a great deal more sense to try some of these changes out rather than just implementing them at the biggest event of the year. We have been tinkering with the format for the past 30 years - some of the ideas have worked and some haven't.

At one tournament in the fall about 15-20 years ago, we tried a format where we couldn't sit on changeovers. It seemed like a good idea, but it just didn't work. But we tried it out and got valuable feedback rather than just implementing it broadly.

We have tried many different formats over the years. In past years we played no-ad 9-point matches with singles first. We also used to play the 9-point tiebreak.


Roland Thornqvist, head coach, Florida Women

I am thrilled to hear that the committee decided to keep the third set. As we continue to search for the optimal format, it is imperative that we maintain the integrity of the game. I am sure there are things we can do to enhance the Championships, but I would certainly recommend further dialogue and examination before we decide on any course.


Tony Bresky, head coach, Wake Forest Men

Beginning with the 2013 NCAA Championships, I believe that the proposed changes by the NCAA will harm the tennis student-athlete experience in many ways. First, it is evident to me from the reactions of the tennis student-athlete community that they are strongly opposed to these new proposals, and who better to listen to than those that will ultimately be impacted by the new rules. There has been an outpouring of negative feedback via Twitter and Facebook by tennis student-athletes expressing their disapproval of these new changes. Second, one of the most exciting aspects of college tennis that does not exist in junior or pro tennis is the opportunity for coaches to coach during the match and in between doubles and singles.

By limiting changeovers to 60 seconds instead of 90 seconds - and reducing the time between doubles and singles from 10 minutes to 5 minutes - the NCAA is actually taking away time from the coaches to do what they can to help their team perform at the highest level. The changeover and the time between doubles and singles during a dual match can make a significant difference in the outcome of a match and to modify this format would have a negative effect on the tennis student-athlete. In addition, by reducing time on changeovers and taking away the warm-up, I fear there is potential for more injuries and cramping, none of which in my opinion benefits the student-athlete or makes our sport a better product to watch.

In regards to the proposed changes to the 2014 NCAA Championships, I again believe that these changes will negatively impact the tennis student-athlete experience. By only having four teams attend the finals site, the NCAA is reducing the number of tennis student-athletes that get to participate at the final site. Being at the final site and competing for a national championship is what the players dream of when they come to play collegiate tennis, and it does not seem right to take that away from the players. This rule change could also decrease the amount of fans that come to watch since there will be less schools present - meaning less fans having connections with the teams on site.

I believe that the current NCAA Championship structure in place has been very successful at providing the tennis student-athlete a fun and memorable experience and will continue to do so if left as is.


David Roditi, head coach, TCU Men

I am glad they will play out the third set and they will play the doubles to eight games. The time between doubles and singles is the like "half time" at other sports - and it is the only time we can involve the fans and do promotional stuff. We have had huge success with our program during those ten minutes, so I hope they let us continue to have those ten minutes to promote our sport.


Sheila McInerney, head coach, Arizona State Women

I like the Final Four proposal as I believe it mimics the highly-successful super-regionals that have taken place in baseball and softball over recent years. This way we utilize the open weekend after the NCAA selections, and to me the crowds that you will now get for the Sweet 16 and Quarterfinals will be fantastic. Who knows down the road - the regional finals may well be televised if we have packed crowds. Certainly I could see them being televised locally or by conferences.

I also feel that the final site will now be very manageable with fewer teams and weekend play which will be ideal. Also those coming for the individuals will be much fresher and will not be at the final site for a possible 13-14 days. I think this goes a long way in preserving the individual championships - and at the same time there are three weeks to highlight the team aspect of college tennis.

I am very happy that the NCAA Committee has agreed to keep a full third set for singles and the pro set for doubles. I think the tweaks to shorten the time with no warm-up and 60 second changeover will take some getting used to. I feel that we as coaches we need to experiment with those ideas in the fall tournaments.


Brian Boland, head coach, Virginia Men

I do not believe changing the format of matches will solve any problems, and I think it will have numerous unanticipated consequences for the sport of tennis at the collegiate level. However, I do believe it would be helpful to look at some of the final sites and consider what each of them can accomodate if we're going to allow 16 men's teams and 16 women's teams at a single location.


John Whitlinger, head coach, Stanford Men

I'm pleased that we will be playing a third set out in singles and will keep the 8-game pro set. The other match changes seem okay to me.

The next issue is the Final Four. I just don't think this is the way to go. If there needs to be a change, a final eight would be better in my opinion. I think having a site for the first three rounds, then the final three rounds would create more excitement for the teams and fans. Also, it would cut down on travel. I do agree the championships are too long, but this would only add a day from the Final Four idea. Host schools would need twelve courts to do this.


Kenny Thorne, head coach, Georgia Tech Men

The third set in singles for college tennis is absolutely necessary. I believe the changes to the actual matchplay(60 seconds on changeover and time in between doubles and singles) is fine, basically ok and insignificant. It will speed things up a little but nothing major. I would like a little time to hit with our opponents before we have to hit the first serve to them.

About the team tournament format change: With the proposed changes, I believe we need to find a neutral final site to the NCAA tournament because it is too risky for a team to host when they have to make the final 4 in order to "host". Please send in recommendations on where that site could be??


Brett Masi, head coach, San Diego Men

I was glad to see that tennis stayed the same for the most part by keeping the best-of-three sets in singles and the 8-game pro-set for doubles.

The other items I feel are minor details and shouldn't affect us too much. I think the biggest area of concern is moving to a Final Four format. I do see their reasoning behind it since almost all other sports have a Final Four. But for tennis it would be like changing the Baseball World Series to a Final Four instead of Eight. Our championships are so special because we have so many teams and colleges represented at one site. That's why our crowds are so big. If we do go to a Final Four, that impact would be reduced. I think if they wanted to shrink it, a Final Eight would be a good compromise.

But honestly, for most schools in today's format, the goal is to make it to the Sweet 16. Moving away from that would take something special away from today's experience for a lot of college players.


D.J. Gurule, head coach, Gonzaga Women

The NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Tennis Committee has made modifications to its proposal to enhance dual match competitions at the tennis championships. The enhancements include removing the warm-ups with the opponent before singles and doubles matches and reducing the time between changeovers and between singles and doubles matches.

The recommendations are based on discussions with Division I coaches that a change was necessary to reduce the current length of dual matches and to bring greater exposure to college tennis through fan support and media opportunities, while also not lessening the participation and preserving doubles play - a priority for student-athletes and coaches alike.


Manuel Diaz, head coach, Georgia Men

I believe the Final 16 NCAA event has tremendous atmosphere, excitement and energy because we have 16 men and 16 women's teams. I do not believe we can maintain that with a Final Four. So the Student-Athlete experience will be greatly reduced - along with many, many fans and families that are there for support.

Fans will be much less likely to travel if they have less time to plan - and therefore more expensive travel. They will likely wait to see if their team makes the Final Four. Can you imagine the parents of an international kid? There is no way they can plan to come to a Final Four without taking a great big risk. It's not much different for American families.

There will be far more travel for athletes. Some top teams will host all the way until the Final Four, but some will have to go and travel to a Final 16 site, and turn around and travel again to the Final Four site. This is more travel and more expense since most schools are already out of session.

They say these changes will make it easier for many schools to host. I disagree. Revenue will be greatly diminished. It will be more difficult to gain the attention of the press, raise dollars for extra functions, etc. with a much smaller event.

I believe the NCAA and the NCAA Tennis Committee should table all of these decisions in lieu of the onslaught of disagreement and take the time to come up with some solutions after deliberate discussion by the membership. They say they have polled us... they have not. Where is their polling data? I know that I haven't been asked.

Personally, I think that the main issue here is the length of the NCAA Championship and the student-athlete welfare.

I would suggest that by doing away with the NCAA Singles and Doubles (Individual) portion of the tournament, we would solve these issues. I believe the great majority of coaches don't want that event after the team event. The ITA already holds an individual National Fall tournament (the All-American) and also a National Indoor Championship. The Fall should be the individual portion of our season and the Spring should just be the team portion of the season. Right now the individual event is always anticlimactic to the team tournament. Some players are exhausted because they were in the team portion of the tournament while others just practiced. Yes, they will be more rested if the team event begins with the Final Four, but this would come at great cost to the many student-athletes that lose the greatest experience of the year. We need them to experience that event so they can grow.

If the coaches wanted to add a Spring Individual Championship later they could do that through the ITA or the NCAA.

That's what I believe would make the biggest difference. From this point we can continue to fine tune how the NCAA Tournament schedule best run for the players, fans and coaches.


Gordie Ernst, head coach, Georgetown Men and Women

Very simply, we should return to singles first with no-ad scoring, followed by an eight-game pro set for doubles with no-ad scoring. This system would lessen match time, and you have the option of skipping doubles when the match has been decided by singles. This was the system back in the 80s and I don't remember ever playing a dual match that lasted six hours, which is very common today. Shortening changeovers to 60 seconds, I feel, is ridiculous.


David Mullins, head coach, Oklahoma Women

One of the unique and appealing aspects of college tennis is the coaching that occurs on the changeovers. By reducing the length of time allowed during the changeovers, the interactions between coaches and student-athletes will be significantly decreased throughout the course of the a match. The elimination of the warm-up time will be strange at first, but I think it will be something we will adapt to quickly and won't be such a big deal.

I am surprised that the NCAA has decided to split the NCAA event up into three different weekends. There seems to be a lack of information regarding the extra expenses that will be incurred - and also the logistics of last-second bookings and missed class time. The idea that was proposed several years ago to have eight regional sites of eight teams and then eight teams at the final site over two separate weekends seems to make a lot more sense to me.


Alex Dorato, head coach, Yale Men

I think the originally-proposed changes would have had a profoundly positive impact on raising the popularity of college tennis and would also have enhanced the experience for student-athletes in many ways.


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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 Monday, March 11, 2019
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