On August 13, the NCAA announced that the Division 1 Competition Oversight Committee had approved changes to the format for the 2016 NCAA Tennis Tournament. The change is the adoption of "no-ad" scoring for the event. No-ad scoring eliminates the requirement that a player must win a game by two points when the game score reaches 40-40, or deuce. Under no-ad scoring, when a game reaches 40-40, the players play a final point for the game.
The movement towards no-ad scoring in college tennis has been underway for several years as a means of shortening tennis matches. For a time, it appeared as if the 2014-15 season would be the first to feature the new scoring system, but the NCAA balked at changing to no-ad scoring for the 2015 NCAA Tournament. The fall tournaments run by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) were played with no-ad scoring, and several conferences elected to use it this past season as well. This upcoming season will almost certainly feature no-ad scoring in all college tennis matches as a result of the change announced Thursday.
Virginia men's tennis coach Brian Boland has been a fierce opponent of the changes in the past. Last August, Colette Lewis reached him for comment about the proposed change to no-ad. In a post on Lewis' excellent Zootennis blog, Boland stated:
"I have voted against these absurd changes every single time. It hurts our game, I am fine with the no-ad in doubles, but this hurts us. The college coaches want to skip the hard work to get people engaged. This is not the answer at all. I am beyond disappointed."
If you read the full text of Boland's comments, you will see him reference a "clinch-clinch" rule, which currently used in the NCAA Team Tournament, and the ITA Team Indoor Championships. This rule stops doubles matches when one team has clinched the doubles point, and stops the entire match when one team had clinched the victory. Last year there was a proposal to use "clinch-clinch" for all regular season matches as well. Longtime followers of Virginia tennis will understand why Boland despised this rule change, as he has done everything within the rules to get his players as many matches as possible, and to see those matches through to completion. The "clinch-clinch" rule was deleted from the proposed changes for regular season matches, and Boland has been quiet on the topic of the rule changes since. We'll cover a theory about why in Part 2.
The impact of the proposed changes remains to be seen, but one of the major concerns is that playing with a scoring format that the top-level professionals do not use may give the top American juniors a big reason to turn professional rather than spend time playing NCAA tennis. In fact, over the last several months, several high profile American boys that are performing well at the junior level have elected to skip college tennis and turn professional.
This month, the USTA Boys Championships were played in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The event is one of the most prestigious junior tennis tournaments for American juniors, and the field for this year's 18 and under bracket may have been the best ever. The #1 ranked junior in the world, Taylor Fritz, was seeded #2. Tommy Paul, who won the boys' singles title at Roland Garros this year was seeded #4. Reilly Opelka, the 2015 Wimbledon boys champion, was seeded #6. Paul (who was committed to Georgia) and Opelka have already turned pro, along with the tournament champion and top seed, Francis Tiafoe. Tiafoe previously referred to the move to no-ad scoring as "a joke" when interviewed on the subject by Colette Lewis. Virginia rising sophomore Collin Altamirano is quoted in that article as well, and his comments were not very supportive.
What is strange is that this comes on the heels of a report from October 2010 released by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) that was quite clear in encouraging the vast majority of junior tennis players to go to college instead of going pro. Fast forward four years, and the USTA was one of the most ardent supporters of modifying the scoring of college tennis away from the system used in professional tennis.
In Part 2 of this article, we'll tackle the main reason why these changes are coming, and how it may be the new normal in college athletics.