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This past week I went down to Naples to attend the ITA Coaches Convention which was definitely a nice change of scenery for me since the colder winter temperatures have finally hit the St. Louis area. The ITA always has a knowledgeable group of speakers lined up with each having a different speciality so as a visitor it was nice to hear what everyone else had to say. Unlike the past few years there were no talk of scoring changes, since no-ad is here to stay, but there was discussion about the NCAA Championship format along with the some changes on player conduct. 

It seems to be all but a forgone conclusion that effective in 2019 the NCAA Championships will utilize a Super Regional format as I outlined in a post the week before last. As I mentioned earlier I think the added week of play is a good thing and reducing the number of teams at the final site will also mean that the championship would played on the weekend instead of a Tuesday.

Another topic discussed was the new sportsmanship rule that will be in place for the upcoming dual-match season. The new rule focuses on the non-playing bench players, including trainers/team managers/strength coaches, which are usually the most rowdy ones in the crowd. The rule states that none of those team members will be permitted to yell things like On-It, Whoops, Choke, or anything like that after a missed first serve. The rule also states that the non-playing team members must sit/stand in a defined area so the chair umpire can keep tabs on who is saying what. If the chair hears one of those phrases after a missed first serve then a let will be called and the server will be given another first serve and the bench will be given its one warning. Any subsequent issue will result in a point penalty. The defined sitting/standing area will be determined before each match by the coaches and officials but it’ll usually be the first row of seating (if there is seating behind the baseline) or behind the fence depending on the court layout. 

As far as the spectators, they are permitted to say things after the first serve as long it’s not vulgar or offensive. If someone in the crowd says something that is offensive or deemed harassment then the official will issue a crowd warning and if it happens again it would be a point penalty and the offending person would be ejected. The reason these rules were created was to make watching more enjoyable for the masses with some turned off by the constant chatter from the non-playing team members. There was an example given during the session about last year’s BNP Paribas Collegiate Challenge in Indian Wells. There was a VIP area reserved for people of influence ($$$) who were watching the college product in between ATP matches but the constant talking and harassment from the non-playing members cleared the area out. Many schools need to keep the donations/gifts flowing in to sustain the sport so the one thing they can’t afford is to drive those folks away.

Another rule that was adjusted for the coming season is the weather rule. The old rule stated that if the temperture was below 50 degrees or wind above 20 mph for two hours in a four hour period then play would be moved indoors (or not played if there were no indoor courts). Since the change to no-ad there are rarely matches that last four hours so they adjusted the rule to make it two hours in a three hour period. Not that big of a change but a change none the less. 

Other D1 round table talking points:

  • There was talk about the fall-ending National Indoor Intercollegiates and whether the field should expand from it’s current 32 to a larger number like 48 or even 64. The 32-draw format makes it feel more exclusive however several of the best players don’t participate because they are playing pro events during ITA Regional Qualiers. 
  • Professionalization of D1 tennis – is it a good thing that many schools send players to compete in Futures events during the dual-match season? Some said it’s good player development while others said the dual-match season should be reserved for dual-matches with the time to play Futures in the fall. 
  • NCAA rules pertaining to the six-month grace period and recruiting calendar. Student athletes must start college within six months after graduating from high school or they risk losing eligibility if they keep competing in pro events. I believe I heard the Mid-American Conference was floating the idea of a 12-month grace period. 

There was talk around the subject of how to keep tennis programs relevant on campus after 7 men’s programs and 4 women’s programs were cut following this past season. Whitman College (D3) in Walla Walla, Washington, has been running a tennis and wine camp for the last several years and it’s grown from one camp to eight. The unique camp format has brought in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue over the last several years and has increased the profile of the tennis program ten-fold. In addition to tennis camps, other programs are making sure their players are involved in the local community so people don’t view them as just a tennis player. Some programs are ramping up their efforts to incorporate tailgating to create more buzz before a match so each match feels like an event. 

Former ATP Top 5 Robin Soderling spoke to the group about his upbringing in Sweden to the ailment (mono) that ended his tennis career just before his 27th birthday. Soderling, who is most well known for his win over Rafael Nadal at the French Open and his two French Open runner-up finishes, won the last professional event he played but less than 24 hours later he’d be in bed and would stay there for the next six months. He said he had been sick off and on throughout his career but the doctors were never able to figure out what was wrong with him so he kept plugging along and it wasn’t until he was bedridden that they tested him for mono and determined that was what was wrong with him all along. Soderling said he’s tried to comeback a few times but his body just wouldn’t let him so he finally called it quits late last year. Soderling recently started his own company, RS Tennis, that has his own line of balls, string, and grips.