In the fast-paced world of collegiate athletics in which important decisions are made quickly and entire landscapes of sports are rapidly changing, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) finds the December 13th USA TODAY article written about cheating in college tennis to be outdated and overly simplified. In fact, the main example that serves as the lynchpin for the entire piece is a nearly five-year-old video that paints a very incomplete and misleading picture of our sport today.
As the governing body and coaches organization of college tennis, the ITA is committed to, and regularly promotes, the highest standards of sportsmanship. College tennis is comprised of 2,000 varsity programs (across seven divisions – NCAA Divisions I, II, and III, NAIA, Community College, Junior College, and Wheelchair), 3,000 coaches, and 20,000 student-athletes, the greatest number of whom compete regularly with dignity. Over 1,350 certified college tennis officials work to support fair and healthy competition. We were saddened that only a miniscule sector of our ever-growing college tennis community was represented in this article. The USA TODAY did not cite any coaches of women’s programs, or coaches from outside of Division I men’s tennis in the article. The ITA acknowledges the occurrences of blatantly bad calls, which are, without question, a blackeye to our sport when they occur. To be clear, the ITA detests such bad on-court behavior and deals directly with ITA coaches and programs when such incidents arise. Following the worst of past incidents, ITA leadership has spoken with the respective athletic directors and, even a university chancellor, of the offending programs. Unfortunately, the USA TODAY article jumped to a singular conclusion that does not represent all of college tennis and certainly greatly blew out of proportion the totality of the hundreds of thousands of college matches and, literally, millions of points that are played annually.
The ITA still firmly believes in our present “honor” system which allows players to make their own calls and affords both officials and coaches the opportunity to overrule incorrect calls. Isolated, “viral” incidents involving intentional or unintentional incorrect line calls should not be used to malign the vast majority of our student-athletes and coaches who conduct themselves with honor and integrity each time they step on the court.
The ITA was very disappointed that our Association was never contacted for the article to speak regarding this issue as the governing body and authority for college tennis. The ITA has subsequently shared directly and personally with the USA TODAY our frustration that we could not provide more accurate and up-to-date information. The ITA staff would have outlined the massive steps taken within our sport by the ITA over the past five years to promote the highest levels of sportsmanship on court and to combat bad calls within college tennis. The ITA does applaud the Executive Editor and Vice President at USA TODAY Sports for graciously listening to the ITA’s concerns regarding this article post publication. We will wait and see if the USA TODAY chooses to update the recent article, assigns another writer to take a new look at our sport and/or chooses to cover some of our major ITA national championships in person to see fierce competition and great sportsmanship first-hand.
Had the ITA been consulted, readers would have learned, for example, about the important ITA Competitive Department’s electronic line calling (ELC) study and evaluation project, now in its sixth month. We are very encouraged by the number of companies currently working on accurate and affordable solutions in this space and are optimistic that we may see live competition pilots as soon as the 2024-25 season and, depending upon the success of those pilots, full implementation of these systems shortly thereafter.
Also, fans of college tennis should know that with the appointment of our new Director of ITA Officiating, the number of certified officials is, once again, on the rise in our sport, and the number of educational opportunities we offer both officials and coaches are growing. We hold all of our officials to a high standard and thank them for their countless hours ensuring that the highest levels of sportsmanship are upheld within our sport.
College tennis is not perfect, but one five-year-old video of one point cannot be used to write such an overly broad headline. We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders on a daily basis to ensure college tennis is positioned not only as one of the top Olympic sports in college athletics but also as one of the most impactful sports on each college campus across the country. As it has for decades, college tennis develops championship human beings on and off the court.
The ITA believes in the concept of competition between “worthy rivals,” who are “striving together” to bring honor to our sport every time they play. It is disappointing that a publication as noteworthy as the USA TODAY chose not to demonstrate more serious intellectual curiosity by delving deeper into the full reality of college tennis competition.