New Collegiate Tennis Format Reflects Concern for Sport’s Survival

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association has proposed match format changes to enhance the fan experience.

College tennis needs more fans.

To attract more fans, Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Division I Operating Committee recently adopted new tennis match formats to “enhance the sport of tennis during this time of seismic change in collegiate athletics.”

In other words, matches are too long for the typical fan and scoring is to complicated – shorten and simplify.

The ITA Shortened Format:

No-ad scoring in singles and doubles.

All of that “advantage Billy Jean King” or advantage Jimmy Connors” found so fetching during Wimbledon Finals is gone. Points will no longer be won by a margin of 2, only a margin of 1.

No ad scoring is not a big deal; it was employed in the 1970s and 1980s, a time Georgia fans will recall that Bulldog Team tennis exploded in popularity.

Three doubles matches played, each match one set to 6 points, with a tiebreak at 6-all.

Most recently, an 8 point pro set was employed – shortened from the traditional three set format. Shortened still, doubles matches will be even more quickly dispensed with.

The nose of the shortened doubles competition camel has been in the collegiate tennis tent for some time. Traditionalists and lovers of doubles tennis will be offended, especially those that have plenty of time.

Doubles competition will be followed after a brief intermission by six singles matches, each match 2 out of 3 sets, with tiebreaks at 6-all.

Again, this is the same scoring many of us grew up with while stomping and screaming at Bulldog team tennis matches. Time to bring back the stomping and screaming also.

There will no longer be warm-up with opponents (in doubles and in singles).

Now, that’s going too far! The ITA is so compelled to take desperate measures it now forbids the most civilized of sports traditions, tennis warm up with the opponent. Really!

“After several meetings with spirited discussions, the ITA Operating Committee came up with a format that I feel most excited about and now the hope is that the shortened format will increase excitement and not compromise the integrity of the match,” Georgia coach Jeff Wallace reported to Georgiadogs.com.

According to the ITA press release reported in Tenniesrecruiting.net, the new format provides exciting changes to men’s and women’s college tennis: Faster and more fan-friendly matches, greater excitement and entertainment in the games, easy-to-understand scoring system, mental toughness with more pressure points

Still, taken together the changes seem drastic, like desperate measures.

The changes do, in fact, reflect desperation.

New Mexico Deputy Athletic Director Tim Cass strikes at the heart of the matter. “I am worried about Olympic Sports in general as universities will be further stretched as the cost of attendance issues, health care, meals, etc. will have to find new funding. I encourage coaches to speak up aggressively in support of these proposed changes.”

The notion of no collegiate tennis in Athens in unfathomable to those donning the red and black. But in the eyes of America’s tennis leadership, the survival of collegiate tennis is at risk.

Aug 28, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Detail view of Serena Williams (USA) serving to Vania King (USA) on day four of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the dust has settled in from the ITA decision, the ITA Division I Operating Committee will re-submit its dual match format proposal to the NCAA Division I Tennis Committee for the 2015 NCAA Championships.

The NCAA Division I Tennis Committee will teleconference on Tuesday, Jan. 6th to review the ITA shortened format proposal for possible implementation in the 2015 NCAA Team Championship. Dawn of the Dawg expects a spirited discussion. If endorsed by the Tennis Committee, it will be put forward to the NCAA Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet for its approval.

The Georgia women’s tennis team will utilize the new format in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend event at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex (Jan. 24-25) and for all of its non-conference matches. It remains to be seen what the format will be for its conference contests.

The Southeastern Conference women’s tennis coaches have agreed that in their league matches they will utilize whatever format will be approved for the NCAA Championships. Meanwhile, the SEC men’s coaches have already agreed to play the ITA shortened-format for its conference matches. NCAA conference rules supersede ITA rules, and therefore any conference can decide to not play the ITA format if it wishes.