An NCAA release this weekend reported that the D1 Men's and Women's Tennis Committee recommended a set of controversial changes to the structure of the NCAA Tennis Championships designed to shorten the competition. Likely a reaction to this spring's 8-hour disaster of a final in Athens, GA, the Committee has now deemed it time to take action to speed up individual matches and lower the number of matches at the netural site. However, these proposals have been met with howls of dissent from college coaches and teams, particularly from the Virginia program.
While parts of the NCAA plan involve reducing warmup time, reducing time between matches, and reducing the amount of matches that take place at the neutral finals site (rather than at campus sites), the most controversial aspects have been proposed alterations to the actual structure of NCAA matches.
To review, college tennis matches consist of 7 possible points; first, there are three separate 8-game doubles "super-sets" to determine the winner of the doubles point. Next, there are six singles matches, each worth a point; these matches are best two-out-of-three sets. In the proposed NCAA change, doubles matches would be reduced to a normal six-game set each. The singles third set would be eliminated; instead, if players split the first two sets, they would play a 10-point tiebreaker to determine the winner.
The NCAA hopes to develop a more fan-friendly atmosphere, as they are concerned about the casual fan's ability to sit through another NCAA Championship marathon (not everyone could sit at their computers for 8 hours refreshing live stats...). Athletes and coaches, however, were outspoken against these changes.
The Daily Progress's Whitey Reid spoke to Brian Boland, who expressed the program's and the players' unanimous opposition. He elaborated, "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."
The team's Twitter account expressed solidarity:
And there's an entire Facebook group, started by college athletes, devoted to the cause.
The changes cause two major problems. First of all, they reflect a significant difference in how the sport is played from the rest of the season. The third set introduces a strong emphasis on conditioning and endurance. A team that is strong in this aspect of the sport would be at a sudden disadvantage if they lost this edge in the NCAA tournament, changing entire strategies. Why play a whole new sport in the championship tournament?
Secondly, a ten-point tiebreak is simply too random to be used in such an important venue. There's a reason that Wimbledon doesn't even employ a tiebreak when tied in the fifth set, playing on until a player wins by two games: to reduce "luck" as a factor as much as possible and ensure the better player wins. A championship decided when players split two sets, then play a mini-tie break, would be lame, to say the least. May as well go with Georgia coach Manny Diaz's suggestion:
Or we could just flip a coin for doubles point. That would shorten it. Don't see baseball playing 6 innings or BB 3 quarters.— Manny Diaz (@CoachMannyDiaz) August 14, 2012
Considering the outcry over the past few days, I would be surprised to see the changes employed any time soon, though it's easy to overestimate those in change of NCAA sports sometimes. To make the sport more fan-friendly, the first step would be to better plan their venues and schedules to prevent long rain delays from ruining a tournament, as one did in May. Next, they should work on better media access and television coverage (this year's NCAA championship was not televised, and the live-stream broke down when the event was forced indoors).
Going forward, we should find out more this week, as the committee decides whether to take their proposals to the next level.