What's happening in college tennis

by Dominic Tinodi

Two interesting headlines have appeared in the college tennis world recently, which we'd love to share with our readership! Firstly, there are excellent opportunities to watch first-class NCAA D-1 tennis either on national TV or online right now, from April 16 - April 26, 2015. And secondly, the Big 12 conference, featuring some of the strongest of all college athletes, changed its rules about fan behavior quite a bit. You should read on, as they create an atmosphere on the court, which you simply do not know from pro tennis matches.

Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga

Some weeks ago, we wrote an article about the website "College Tennis Today", doing a wonderful job in covering college tennis extensively. This week, we have good reason to highlight another offer, which is of great value right now (April 2015).

1. Watch top-level college tennis online these days

Have you ever wondered what college tennis is like? The atmosphere, the level of play, the different rule format? But yet, you have never had the chance to really watch some live action, neither in person, nor on TV? Now is your big chance to do so, as television coverage of some conference finals is well underway.

Thanks to an agreement between the USTA and 4 NCAA D-1 conferences, college tennis enthusiasts all around the world will be able to watch some of the best athletes compete in the conference championship title matches, which take place these days:

  • American Athletic Conference Championships
    Click here for the event schedule (April 15 - April 19) as well as the live streams.
  • Southeastern Conference Championships
    The link to the event schedule (April 15 - April 19) as well as information about the broadcasted matches, covering only the finals, April 19 on SECN+:
    Men's event
    Women's event
  • Mountain West Championships
    The links to the event schedule (April 22 - April 26) as well as the live streams:
    Men's event
    Women's event
  • Big 12 Championships
    Click here for the event schedule (April 23 - April 26) as well as information about the broadcasted matches on FOX Sports 2 & FOX Sports GO.

We are excited to see college tennis matches receive the platform to become more visible and reach a new audience who are possibly not supporters yet. In addition, this is a wonderful chance for you prospective students out there to find out whether you would enjoy playing and competing at college. For many, it could be the only option to get a feel for collegiate action, such as international prospects.

The matches will offer some of the country's finest tennis with 6, respectively 5 of the ITA's Top 20 programs:

    Men's: Big 12 (#1 Oklahoma, #2 Baylor, #7 TCU, #10 Texas), SEC (#5 Georgia, #6 Texas A&M), AAC (#21 USF)

    Women's: Big 12 (#8 Baylor, #10 Oklahoma), SEC (#3 Florida, #6 Georgia, #7 Texas A&M)

With these top programs above, some of the best-ranked singles players will also appear in the lineups, such as ITA men's #1 Axel Alvarez Llamas, #2 Julian Lenz, #5 Søren Hess-Olesen, #6 Andrew Harris, and #8 Gonzales Austin. Or ITA women's #5 Brooke Austin, #7 Lauren Herring, #9 Sydney Campbell, and #10 Josie Kuhlman. A golden chance for you to spot one of the young guys, who could attempt to go pro in the future and end up being one of the future stars on the ATP or WTA tour!

2. New College Tennis Rule

A week ago, there was a remarkable battle going on in Texas between current #1 Oklahoma and #2 Baylor. The match ended 4/3, but what's more remarkable about the match is the fact that 1,500 spectators made it a loud night. But there was a new dimension added to the general level of loudness during tennis matches:

Before the season, coaches of the Big 12 conference voted for the removal of the usual rules which apply to the crowd of fans, including non-playing athletes watching on the sideline. As a result, the Big 12 gave leeway to a new sort of behavior during tennis matches, enabling the crowd to create an atmosphere which we only know from other sports, such as basketball or soccer. This is in stark contrast to the usual, well-behaved and polite atmosphere, which tennis fans all over the world see on TV week in, week out. Epic Davis Cup battles like the ones covered in an earlier article this year are a whole different story of course.

Interestingly, the new rules have already been applied during the entire 2014/2015 season, but it was only now after the match between Baylor and Oklahoma that a journalist from the Wall Street Journal raised this controversial issue and the general public picked up on it. And it was loud, as can be read in his article and seen in the video from the game. And it was a remarkable match, characterized by the delicate #1 vs. #2 competition and the fact that it was played on Baylor's home turf. One can only imagine what it means if more than 1,500 people suddenly have the opportunity to engage loudly and even do so DURING the points! Reactions are mixed with some enjoying the freedom to make some noise, while others prefer the traditional image of tennis:

"Honestly, we wouldn't be here otherwise."

"It makes the sport unenjoyable to watch."

(Interviewees in WSJ)

"It was a special atmosphere. I don't think we've ever had a better one. It was unbelievable. I want to thank everyone for coming out. The rule that allows for everyone to engage in the matches and have more fun is a really positive rule. I hope we continue to draw more people like this." (Baylor Head Coach Matt Knoll)

We believe that whatever makes tennis more accessible and attractive to a broader audience is worth discussing. More attraction means more visitors and larger fan crowds. This in turn means higher visibility and success of college tennis and that's what everybody wants after all, with too many tennis programs having closed down over the years. But one thing is for sure: It must not be at the expense of sportsmanship and fair play. It is indeed hard to imagine how these values can be combined with team mates and supporters trying to disturb the opponents during rallies or even worse, right in the middle of the serve motion.

In the summer of 2014, a director of a tennis program highlighted 3 rules he would like to see established before the change of rules was effectively decided:

  1. Fans can never be personally demeaning to a player.
  2. Fans can never use foul language or swear at a player.
  3. Fans can never interrupt play by cheering during the point. (Steve Moore, Texas A&M Corpus Christi on tennisofficials.blogspot)

We agree to the fullest and are looking forward to see where this is heading. Will increased fan engagement be supported and adopted by more conferences? Will there be clear rules to make sure engagement happens in a more "organized, controlled, sportsmanship-like way"?

"There's things we need to iron out", said John Roddick, head coach of the victorious team when asked about his view on the atmosphere.

Closing remarks

Broadcasting of college matches and an interesting new rule, which could have an impact on college tennis in the long-run. One thing's for sure: The players love playing in front of large crowds. We'll certainly keep you posted about what's happening regarding heckling and noise-making in the stands...

Make sure to check out some live action these days. This is a great opportunity, which doesn't come up every day!

Send us an e-mail in case you have any questions or comments! See you next week!

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