College Tennis/Foreign Players Dilemma And My Steps To Change The Imbalance

Right now if you were to take a look at the college tennis rosters across the country you would see great portions of team rosters filled with players whose names are mostly hard to pronounce and even harder to understand. This strikes some people as totally wrong and if I were able to get back into college coaching I would try my level best to do it with the American sounding names and not the foreign names. Names like Tsukamoto, Melian, Skogeng, Lutjen and Bogaerts could belong to Americans but they do not. These players come from all over the world to play tennis here in the United States. And I think they should be free to do so. But the scholarships pool is constricting and there are less and less opportunities for young Americans–especially on the Men’s side of the equation. I would like to see more incentives in place to encourage more collegiate coaches to search the American landscape for their players.

Here are the steps I would take to change the way in which collegiate coaches choose to fill out their rosters and award their scholarships for tennis:

 

  1. First, I would not ask for a roster mandate or limit on visas to effect the ratios of foreign players to American Players run by the NCAA, USTA or the ITA. Mandates  are bad and especially mandates put forth by the NCAA or the USTA. When you get their mandates you get all sorts of baggage and unintended consequences. I know many of my colleagues would like to see a rule in place for only a certain number of foreign athletes on any given team at any given time but the enforcement of this would create increasingly more over site from the NCAA.
  2. The USTA needs to become involved very heavily on every level but one of the best ways they could promote tennis in the USA would be rewarding teams whose coaches and programs are primarily made up of Americans with cash $$. For example, to play a collegiate tennis match you need to have at least six players on the court for doubles and six players on the court for singles. So teams generally carry between 8-10 players. We should give coaches incentives to do the right thing. Peter Smith at the University of Southern California is not going to be as motivated by $10,000 cash as is the Head Coach of the Men’s Tennis Team Eric Hayes at Troy University but that is ok! The creme will rise and as a result the status of American tennis will get better with the influx of the incentive monies. I used the figure of $10,000 cash and there is plenty where that came from in the USTA’s coffers! The USTA can spend it and should do it every opportunity outside of the USTA bureaucracy. At the end of the season reward the coach or the school with cash where they were playing American kids with a minimum number of times in their dual and tournament matches. Where would the USTA get the cash you might ask? Well, one way they could find it would be to open up the non-sanctioned events on TennisLink for more people to use. Right now the USTA District Heads strongly control the usage of this functionality. They consider non-sanctioned events to be competing events and this is exactly the wrong way to approach those tournaments. Each event that registers through the USTA’s site pays $100.00 per tournament for the privilege. This would alone raise megabucks!!
  3. I would like to see a return to defining the difference in this country between amateurs and professionals. Because that is the real issue and you can hear that comments on that aspect on the Bruce Lipka Show. This would need several steps to be done but I would want to see the NCAA make sure to define this better. Today administrators and coaches are continually working to erode the distinction between the amateur and professional athlete. A second step would be to bring back the “Amateur Circuit”. In 1995 the Amateur circuit’s name changed and it is now called the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Summer Championships and the word “amateur” has been dropped from the title. Have the “Amateur” circuit travel around to different colleges and universities and held on a variety of surfaces. Bring back the US Amateur Claycourts, the US Amateur Hardcourts, The US Amateur Grasscourts and a variety of other events could be connected to these to form a circuit. Have the circuit consist of 10-15 tournaments throughout the summer and the USTA would create a situation at each tournament stop where the housing and food for the players would be paid for by the USTA. The USTA would rent out the dormitories from the schools for the players and allow them a chance to compete and play in an inexpensive way. For the main events they could go back to awarding the USTA’s coveted “gold and silver balls”.
  4. I would like to see the writers of blogs, websites, radio hosts and all the other people who are inclined to speak up to really do it when it comes to college tennis. I would like to see them mention names and highlight the teams that do it with American kids and spotlight those teams that do it with the foreign athletes. Do it whether they win or not. The ITA and the USTA should take it upon themselves to do it as well. This is in no way a step adverse to the mission of the USTA. In football or basketball if a coach loses on the high school level that coach is going to get his fair share of criticism. So the big boys and girls coaching in the collegiate tennis coaching ranks should be able to handle the criticisms of whether they choose to do the job with American kids or foreign kids. It is tougher to do it with the American kids because the coach is going to have to take kids from their backyards and work to develop them. If a foreign athlete shows up from across the Atlantic there is not as much pressure to be exerted on the coach’s reputation.
  5. I want to see an effort made to turn back many of the inane mandates the NCAA has put forth for all sports over the past 20 years and do not really apply in the same manner for the sport of tennis. One example I heard from Chuck Kriese was a very good one which allows teams that have high GPA’s to practice more hours in a week. You reward teams for doing well and they can practice more. This is important. Back in the early 1990′s the NCAA began to apply rules to take back over the athletic departments. Most of it is smoke and mirrors. For different sports they set limits on the hours a team can practice throughout the year. I believe it remains that during the meat of the year a team can practice for 26 weeks and for a maximum of 20 hours a week. This is one of many rules that can be modified to fit each sport better. If a team is able to keep its team GPA above a certain level then they should be able to get work around the maximum allowable practice hours. This would now give a team–the coaches and the players a chance to make the kinds of improvement strides they are really looking for when competing against other schools. Coaches could then outwork other teams as it should be. Next, common sense needs to be applied to the Title 9 and gender equity applications for certain sports. For instance, incentives need to be for the schools to keep their men’s programs instead of the inclination to get rid of them. End the difference in numbers of scholarships awarded between men and women. This is especially true in tennis in the USA when you look at the fact there are more than twice as many junior boys actively playing and competing when they reach college age than girls. Right now, the men’s teams can offer a maximum of 4.5 scholarships. The women’s teams can offer eight and there are less than half as many young women desiring to play the sport on campus. Finally, it is further complicated when you add to it the NCAA’s proportionality rules which can hurt men’s teams roster numbers. Coaches were at one time able to keep large rosters of competing male players and these teams loved to fight it out amongst one another to get better. The scholarships were not important to the players–it was the chance to compete that drove them.
  6. Our junior tennis tournaments and circuits in the USA need to become the most competitive and rigorous in the world. This is not going to happen with tiebreakers for the third, one match a day tournaments, flipping coins for the championships and all the other softening measures the USTA has taken to make the game appeal to a broader audience. If tournaments in the USA are robust and rigorous then our players will be more independent and robust and they will be better prepared to compete with the best players from these countries.
  7. The USTA can help much more in creating specific events for prospective collegiate athletes (have them approved by the NCAA) and then assist the coaches from across the country to get to the events. If the coaches and schools lack the funds then subsidize their efforts to make it out to the tournaments and get these coaches interested in American players.
  8. Finally, Bruce Lipka from the Woodmont Country Club in Maryland has a great idea. He points out other sports have determined that players who play at a certain level or enter this or that sort of league are not eligible to enter into playing collegiate sports. In this case we could look at simply having a an ATP Tour ranking threshold. If the players get to a certain point with their ranking (Say Top 700 in the world) they have to decide if they want to go on and pursue professional tennis or they would rather go to college.
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6 Comments

  1. Good article J..P.

    A tight rope is being able to get players like Andreea Fusea and Zuzia Borucka to come to America to play college tennis and then become American citizens as they have done.

    • I agree with you. I think there are plenty of people who come from other countries to be here and play here on our teams. I would like to see it where it was done as an incentive to get the players in the US playing. Foreign players have taken up some of the spots but the main thing is there are simply many less spots out there for the men’s teams. On the women’s side the coaches are looking to get serious girls who want to play and can make an impact and you will not find them as readily from just within our borders.

  2. Thabani Sithole

    JP,

    Being a former foreign college player, now coaching here and also assisting foreign kids to get onto U.S. soil, I can truly say I agree with every bit of this post. It is up to NCAA and the USTA to take the necessary steps to make some changes in College Tennis if any significant strides to bringing pride and glory to the U.S. tennis system, especially at that the college level. On the men’s side, it makes it particularly difficult and discouraging to majority of the American kids headed to college wishing for some form of scholarship, when a big chunk of the scholarships are spent on foreigners.
    Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate and hope that foreigners can continue to earn scholarships to play college tennis, as I’m a product of the system and understand how many lives it changes. I just believe that what you get is a mass influx of players from overseas that are not always better than the options here on the ground. A high national ranking in a foreign country or many titles will not always mean you have a quality recruit, as you already know, but the “hype” surrounding these recruits is almost hypnotizing for the coaches wanting to strengthen their rosters and “compete” withe big boys and girls at almost any cost.
    Foreign athletes come to the U.S. because it’s the U.S. and they are attracted to the “hype” around college tennis but it’s almost an anti-climax for most now, as they arrive knowing they will have 2 or 3 teammates from their neighboring countries. This takes away from the experience and in a sense has diluted the very essence of what made college tennis and U.S. tennis so dominant in the past. Taking a chance, making a stance, returning to the idea of developing players and promoting the game from within (use of incentives) is where a major turn-around may take place. Until then the college tennis rosters will continue to fill up with more and more foreigners with illusive ties to great clubs and tennis centers affiliated with many European or South American stars that have filled up the top 200 in the men’s and women’s professional game.

  3. Hi Miren,

    It is great to hear from you. I regard you and your family as one of the best examples (ever) who have used the opporunity of an American paid tennis scholarship to a foreign tennis player to win/win result. You and family have stayed here in the US after college and have contributed to the USA tremendously. I appreciate so much how you have helped make the USA a better place through you and your wife’s work to help young people through your teaching. Many who come to the US do not give back so much. As a coach and a teacher, you are among the best; foreign or domestic.

    In regard to your comments about my stand for American players, please remember that no-one is for completely elimianting this type of opportunity for foreign players. The inordinate loss of American opportunities is what I and others oppose. Massive amounts of hard-earned American Tax-dollars now go to pay for a lopsided amount of foreign tennis players schooling and training. American opportunity in tennis is dying without opposition. It hs been a problem for over 25 years and has not been addressed effectively. The intention of ‘Bring Back American College Tennis’ is to find a fair balance once more. I will discuss it regularly on UR10s networks’s “American Tennis with Chuck Kriese” program. Please call in as you have ideas of how we can find solutions to this ongoing problem.

    A few other thoughts, Miren. No other country in the history of the world has spent 60+ million dollars each-and-every year to educate foreign tennis players. In all other countries, sports leagues have number limits on foregin participants and rightfully so. As many coaches who recruit foreign players may say that they are forced to because they have to win, the reality never spoken is that these resources are seldom worth the short range hype of being able to say that one’s team won conference with all foreign players. The real tragedy is that Americans have lost opportunities for such short-sited goals.

    The dollars used to fund college teams in not play-money or some kind of a waiver program. Hard working US tax players, like yourself, earn it through sweat. And now, US tennis suffers overall because of wrongful allotment of funding to non-citizens (many of who are not amateur and have already played on professional circuits). You know, I know and everyone knows that the situation is not what college sports is supposed to be about. College sport is set up primarily for US citizens and their educational and leadership opportunities.

    Gender equity and the misinterpretation of the Porportionaility aspect of Title IX have had an additional devastating effect on the tennis in this country. The non-intended, or perhaps the intended, consequence that reduced squad sizes and all walk-on opportunities for men who want to play were never to be a part of the idea of equity for American women. Title IX was never set up to be a benefit for international women. The way that it stands, American men and women both have lost opportunity because of influx of foreign players at all levels. I have a goal to investigate ways to get opportunity back for American young men and young women. It is time to ‘Bring Back American College Tennis’.

    Thanks always for your thoughts and insights. I surely respect and appreciate your passion and help.

    Chuck Kriese

  4. Craig Bell

    JP – well thought out. What’s the next step in getting some real action in place. I think most of us agree something needs to be corrected in the system. To get real movement maybe we get 4-5 pros, parents, players to travel to NCAA headquarters and ask for a meeting with the person intrusted to watch over college tennis. I’m sure Chuck knows who this person might be. Until then we are all preaching to the choir. I’m happy to lend my support in any way, shape, form or fashion.

    Maybe we can check with the NJCAA to see how they got the foreign player reduced to 2 foreign players per team.

    Let’s get organized and get the ball rollong.

    • Craig,

      It will take a much more organized effort than just a few people traveling to Kansas to sit down with the NCAA. What needs to happen is a grassroots effort to turn back the misguided enforcement of Title IX. Parents of young boys need to point out there is a gross inequity when it comes to the arbitrary enforcement of Title IX when it come to the sport of tennis and how it effect the overwhelming number of young male American tennis players.

      I personally believe that is where the biggest and best change can come from in order to beat back the loss of scholarship dollars and teams. We need to look at how a sport such as tennis has been wide open to women for a very long time. There is nothing holding back the women from playing and being on teams except the women themselves. They are not there and do not really seriously desire to play after a certain age in the same numbers as do the men. I do not have the most recent numbers and would not trust the USTA to give the most correct number but I believe from running my own tournaments and having an eye on the sport at the local level there are as many as 4 to 1 boys playing tennis at the age of 18 as there are girls. There is no constraint on the girls; in fact, there should be enormous incentive to continue to play but they make personal decisions to stop playing and focus on other things around the age of 16. So what you have cutting into men’s tennis more than anything else is the gender equity equation as enforced and interpreted by a lot of the administrators in charge of athletics on campus.

      Let’s say we are able to put a limit of 3 foreigners on a team. So you save 3 spots for Americans. Well, with the stroke of a pen an administrator at a school can wipe out the whole team–10 positions–poof gone. So saving a few spots with a foreign player mandate is not the biggest threat. When you played tennis there were probably 300 plus Division I NCAA schools in the country. Now there are under 150. That is over 1500 spots gone cause they wanted to equalize things for women. The biggest threat going forward in my opinion is going to be Title IX enforcement. We have less than 150 NCAA Division I schools playing the sport of men’s tennis and I would bet you in the next 10-20 years you will see that number drop again by half. That will wipe out the teams. Then put into place a limit on foreign players and really forget playing the NCAA tournament. Just go give the trophy each year to one of about 4 schools. Stanford, UCLA, USC or one other wildcard would win it every year.

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