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Why Does the USTA Need a National Campus?

Why does the USTA need a National Campus?

USTA National Campus road sign
Road sign at entrance to USTA National Campus

For years the USTA has partnered with tennis facilities to use their many resources to fund programming for both recreational and competitive tennis. But in January of this year, they USTA launched their very own, state-of-the-art National Campus to raise the the level of American tennis? The $60 million facility holds 100 courts of every type of playing surface as well as programming for touring pros, aspiring juniors, adult leagues, and beginner programs. It sounds like a good idea, on paper, but why would the USTA get into the coaching business by offering its own tennis programming? Why would the USTA build a facility they could rent for $15 per hour? Why would the USTA spend so much money on what they are calling a “public” facility? What’s really happening at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona? Why would the USTA feel the need to compete with the thousands of Coaches across the country currently running tennis programs? Is this something they plan to do in other parts of the country? If the idea is to make tennis more accessible to people living in Central Florida… what about Central Kansas? Or Central Ohio?

They’re Building a New Walmart!

The purpose of a governing body is to oversee operations, or to “draw up the rules that govern the actions and conduct of a body such as school, university, or sport”. The actual work of delivering the product is done by individuals in various parts of the country while the governing body makes sure administrators are compliant to the rules established by the governing body. You have to trust those who have committed to doing the job to actually DO THE JOB. But what happens when the bosses come down to the factory floor and start doing the job in place of the workers? Or rather when they go across the street and take business from the factory? What happens to smaller businesses when Walmart comes to town?

By the USTA building a facility to perform the duties already being carried out by others in the Central

USTA National Campus post card
No one does it like the USTA?

Florida community, have they undercut those businesses and doomed them to failure? What happens to the “National Training Center” in Boca Raton when resources are diverted away from their facility and absorbed by the National Campus outside Orlando? Unless the overall ”pie” gets bigger, the USTA would have to cherry-pick the best players from each facility and bring them in to fill their courts and make back the money they’ve spent on their own facility. Otherwise, the USTA would have to find NEW players to fill their courts, and believe me, starting from scratch is a steep hill to climb. Considering tennis’ core player demographic is aging and playing less often, is a new, 100-court, country club outside of Orlando a good investment? Only time will tell.

 

So What Happens To Us?

So let’s say that the USTA is successful in recruiting the best players from the Orlando area, maybe even the rest of the country, to train at their facility… what happens to the facilities the players have left behind? What happens to their programming? What happens to their membership? What happens to their revenue? How will people look at ‘Facility A’ after the best players have left for the USTA National Campus? How does it feel to be one of those left behind, knowing you’re not good enough to play at the National Campus? What does that do to morale?

Now let’s look at it another way: why would someone leave their Home courts to play in an unfamiliar setting? Why would someone leave their friends and family to play/train at the National Campus? Does the USTA have the “secret sauce” needed for you to reach the next level? What do they have that my club doesn’t? One of the things that bonds an individual to something is their level of enjoyment. It can be hard to quantify, but familiarity is a very real thing. Players often go to the same tennis program at the same place and time for years because humans are creatures of habit. When we find something we like, we hold onto it. We all have our favorite restaurants, hangouts, our favorite room in the house, or our favorite TV show. When we make friends we want to see them as often as we can because we like them and we know how hard it can be to make new ones. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is a hurdle every business has to overcome. Why would the USTA choose to put people in unfamiliar surroundings?

Palm Springs Feels Like Home

The USTA National Campus is a world-class, state-of-the-art, high tech facility with 100 courts consisting of every playing surface. It is a marvel of engineering and a monument to the game of tennis. No other facility can boast of having the amenities (restaurants, locker rooms, pro shop) of the National Campus. It is in a class by itself. But I would rather play on the public courts of Palm Springs, FL than on the Team USA courts of Lake Nona. Why? Because Palm Springs feels like Home.

Given everything the USTA has put into the construction of the National Campus, there’s one thing it

does not have: it doesn’t feel like Home. The USTA National Campus feels sterile and impersonal. And since none of my friends made the trip to Lake Nona, playing in Lake Nona means I am playing by myself. I wonder how many people would give up the comforts and familiarity of Home for the privilege of playing in, what amounts to be, unfamiliar surroundings.

FAU Owls Men's tennis team
The FAU Owls of Boca Raton

I hear this when I speak to College tennis teams because they feel the same way. Many of them would rather play at Home on their Home courts in front of their Home fans instead of a neutral site because they were told “it’s special to play here”. When the Ohio State Buckeyes play in Columbus, OH the majority of spectators are Ohio State fans. The same can be said of FAU in Boca Raton, or Texas Tech in Lubbock. There’s a reason why we refer to it as “Home Field Advantage”; playing in familiar surroundings keeps you relaxed and allows you to play your best. And as a fan, playing at Home means I don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on traveling to support the team. As much of an honor as it is to play at the National Campus, most players would rather play at Home in front of their fans. It’s a win-win situation.

Give Me $60 Million And See What I Do With It!

Which brings me to my last point: did the USTA build a facility of their own because they were dissatisfied with the efforts of every other coach in America? Did the absence of an American man in the #1 position for so many years discourage the USTA on the efforts of coaches across the country? Is the USTA bringing in, not only the best players, but the best coaches for greater control over American representation on the international tour? Did the USTA just deliver a virtual ‘backhand’ to every other tennis program in America for not producing better tennis talent? Why would the USTA put $60 million of membership money into their own campus when that money could have gone to the thousands of tennis programs across America that need new tennis balls, nets, and coaches? Was this move an indicator of something even more problematic within the sport of tennis? Would that money have been better spent here (USTA) than there (locally)?

The sport of tennis has been choked into submission by the USTA’s strict adherence to tennis tournaments. Tournaments are sterile and impersonal, much like the USTA National Campus. If players wish to compete at the next level they must leave home to train and travel with the 3 or 4 other players on their level. But what about the fans, friends, and families back home? Tennis has seen a steady decline in popularity for the past 30 years. But a shift from individual tournaments to the Home Town Team will inject life back into this dying sport. There are literally hundreds of NCAA Division 1 College

Virginia Cavaliers NCAA Champions 2017
The best thing to happen to Charlottesville? The National Champion UVA Men’s Tennis Team

tennis teams all across America with talented players playing for their respective communities. They play for the entire school body; students, faculty, and the surrounding community, not just themselves. They wear the uniform with pride, they play with pride, and they embrace the fact that they are not out there by themselves. To many College players, and even professional players, their College days are the best days of their lives. Why would the USTA endeavor to take that away from them by bringing them to the National Campus to play?

…Because Life Is A Team Sport

Social interaction is the bedrock of any society. Whenever an individual is taken away from familiar surroundings there is an adjustment period that many never recover from. Has the USTA overlooked the basic human needs of safety and social acceptance in some misguided attempt to produce world-class tennis talent? And what does it mean to be really good at tennis? Can it pay your bills? Put food on the table? For some, yes. Unfortunately, for the overwhelming majority, playing tennis may pay for college, and that’s it. But does it need to be more than that? And is the time-tested tactic of tennis tournaments the optimal vehicle for delivering players to empty tennis courts? Would America be better served by abandoning tournaments and adopting the Tennis Team, exclusively? I say ‘yes’. Is there anyone else who agrees with me?

Watching a College Tennis Match Part 1

Ohio State BuckeyesVirginia CavaliersVanderbilt Commodores, and the Florida Gators. What do these Universities all have in common? We are all familiar with the universities who have top-shelf programs in football, and basketball (Ohio State and Florida), but these schools also have world-class talent in tennis. Believe it or not, the World comes to America to find the best facilities,
the best training, and the best competition. It starts at the tennis academies like IMG and Saddlebrook and it continues on our College campuses. Players from countries like Brazil, Columbia, England, and Germany continue their education while continuing their playing careers right here in the United States. And seeing some of the world’s best tennis players in action, in person, is so much better than watching them on TV. Am I right!?!

Before we get into HOW to watch a College tennis match I though I would give a little background as to WHY watching College tennis is such a tremendous value, how is it different than what people may be watching on television, and why the Team is the premier vehicle for bringing tennis into the mainstream.

First, watching a Collegiate tennis match, while fundamentally similar to the professional game,

Playing on a Team means you’re never alone

is a very different experience because the rules are more relaxed allowing the fans to become more involved the matches. And I say “match-es” because there can be up to six being played at the same time and they all count towards the team’s final score. Unlike professional tennis where it’s every man for himself, College tennis is a Team Sport, a group effort, where every player contributes to the outcome. Some people (me) prefer it this way.

 

For example, a College tennis match consists of two rounds; Round 1: three doubles matches followed by (Round 2) six singles matches. In some cases, all three doubles are counted as one, best-of-three set match, giving the team one point, the Doubles point, while in other situations all three doubles matches count as a point apiece (three total points). The singles always count as one point each, so the winner of the match must win four out of seven (best two-of-three doubles) or best five out of nine (three doubles points).

The FAU Owls supporting their teammate during the deciding match against St. Johns

This best-of-seven format lends itself to all kinds of dramatic situations: after all of the doubles have been played, and 5 of the singles matches have wrapped up, if the match is tied at three points apiece, that means the last court to finish will be the deciding point, much like a Game 7 in the World Series or NBA Finals. And the last match to finish can be a different player each week: this week Court 2 went to three sets, but last week it was Court 6. So depending on how the coaches determined the lineup, and how evenly matched the players are, any player can be the hero (or the goat) for that day. It gives me goose bumps! I mean, is there anything more exciting than a Game 7?!?

But the #1 reason to watch a College tennis match (in my opinion) is because the players represent not only themselves, but the University. More significant than a bunch of random athletes, from a bunch of random countries, coming together to showcase their talents, competing for a trophy that represents nothing more than how good they are; College tennis teams play for their community. They play for their friends and classmates, the faculty, alumni, those who live in the surrounding area, and even those who have moved away but are still loyal to the university.

As a former Ohio State student living in Florida, I am a part of the larger Buckeye community… and we are everywhere! It’s always good to see someone wearing an Ohio State t-shirt or hat, or someone with an Ohio State license plate on their car, or flying an Ohio State flag outside their house. It reminds me of where I came from. It says to me that no matter how far I go I’m never far from home. So when I check the box scores and see an Ohio State football / tennis / basketball / baseball / gymnastics / wrestling victory, it lifts my spirits. Seeing Ohio State tennis at #3 on the Men’s side and #4 on the Women’s (as of 2/15/17) makes me proud to be a Buckeye, because whether they know it or not, they’re playing not only for themselves, but for me, too.

Now that we know WHY College tennis is so important, we can talk about HOW to watch a match. But we’ll save that for next time.

Who is your favorite University tennis team? I would love to hear from you. Send an email to aateamtennis@yahoo.com or visit our Facebook page to be a part of the conversation. Then go to your team’s website to find their schedule and see when they’re playing. Most tennis matches are admission-free so they’re easy to afford. Cheer for your favorite team and have a good time. Tennis is always better in person.

GO TEAM!

 

It’s Not About You or Me, It’s About US

On April 12, 2016, 100,00 fans packed the Horseshoe in Columbus, OH to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in their annual Spring Game. Yeah! The Buckeyes played each other! On the same day, the Georgia Bulldogs set an SEC record for Spring Game attendance with 93,000 spectators. On Sunday September 4, 2016 the US Open set a record for attendance with 25,000 pouring through the turnstiles for the evening session. Combined with the 40,000 who attended the morning session, Sunday would become the biggest attendance ever with a total attendance of 65,797. Keep in mind: this took place over the course of 48 matches on 15 courts and would include men’s, women’s, doubles, and juniors.

I may be the only one thinking it, but I’m not impressed. If attendance is important enough to keep track of, report on, and set records for, shouldn’t tennis’ numbers

Huh?

be on par with the biggest sports in America? Shouldn’t tennis attract spectators the way football does? Or the way basketball does? Or the way soccer does? Shouldn’t a city of 8.4 million people (New York City) draw more than 65,000 for the “Super Bowl” of tennis, the “Granddaddy of them all”? Shouldn’t tennis draw more than 65,000 over the course of 48 matches played on 15 courts? That’s only 4300 per court, or 1300 per match. What would the numbers look like if there were only 6 courts instead of 15? 24 matches instead of 48?

If one football scrimmage can draw 100,000, I believe an entire tennis tournament should be able to do the same.

Popularity is determined by a number of different things including (but not exclusive to) audience (see above), participation, television ratings, and word-of-mouth. I’ve already touched on audience, now onto participation: the USTA believes there are 30 million tennis players in the United States. How they came up with that number, I don’t know, but statista.com says that 24.7 million people played basketball, 18.05 million people played football, and 11.12 million people played soccer in 2016 and these are some of the most popular sports in America. Now ask yourself: Does it feel like tennis is bigger than either one of these three sports? And is a sport’s popularity determined by participation? Or something else?

A look at the television ratings for the US Open gives a very clear picture of the interest in our sport from the nation as a whole. An organization like Major League Soccer topped out at 1.4 million viewers for the MLS Cup, which is on par with the 1.7 million people who watched the US Open Men’s Final. But what about a ‘UFC on FOX’ card on a random Saturday is December that draws 4.8 million? Or the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors that drew 30.8 million viewers? Or the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers reaching 114.4 million viewers? What do these numbers say about tennis’ popularity?

Those are the television ratings, and those are important, but what does this mean to those of us on the local level? Are people talking to each other about tennis? Are they buying merchandise of their favorite player/team? Are they getting together with friends at the local sports bar to watch the big game? People talk to each other about the things they are passionate about, both good and bad. Are they talking about tennis? Ask around. The answer is ‘No’.

Chuck Sullivan, a member of the family who owned the New England Patriots before Robert Kraft bought them, says that “the professional sports team is a community asset.” 

But what does that mean? It means that the team belongs to ALL OF US, not just one person, and is the reason Robert Kraft did everything in his power to keep the New England Patriots in New England. But how many times have we heard a professional tennis player say they only play for themselves? In my humble opinion, that is self-centered, self-serving, and one of the many reasons the public, at large, is unable to identify with tennis players and the game they play. So while cities across the country are building new stadium homes for their sports franchises, tennis tournaments bounce around from city to city, never remaining in one place for more than a week or two. How are the citizens supposed to wrap their arms around the sport when the players are only here long enough to cash the check?

Check out that sweater!

When a professional sports league brings a franchise to a city, the players on the team become a part of the community. They represent the community on the field of competition. They live among the people of the community. Their kids go to the same schools and play for the same little league teams as your kids. They shop at the same grocery stores that you shop at. They eat at the same restaurants you eat at. They visit the same doctors you visit. They live in your neighborhood. They become one of US. And they’re here to help MY TEAM win.

 

The same can not be said for tennis tournaments. Professional tennis players are globetrotters, visitors, tourists, drifters, nomads; people who swoop into town once a year to receive our adoration, stay in our best hotels, eat at our finest restaurants, avoid the public as much as possible because they have to focus on their play, take their prize money, and move onto the next city. It’s no wonder tennis does so poorly in attendance and ratings when compared to other, mainstream sports. But there is a better way.

FAU Owls Mens Team supporting their teammates

The Home Town team belongs to the Home Town. And the players on the team belong to the home town, too. And we currently have, in very large numbers, teams and players representing the people of their Home Towns: College Tennis Teams. In South Florida, alone, there are the Hurricanes, Owls, Seahawks, Sailfish, Panthers,

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles fly together!

and Fighting Knights. Not to mention the teams in other major cities around the state and the country. All of them playing on behalf of the students, alumni, and citizens of their home town. They live in our neighborhood. They go to our school. They shop at our stores. They support our other sports teams. THEY are one of US.

So let’s support them in what they do for us. Attend their matches. Cheer them on. Buy their souvenirs. Because they’re not just playing for themselves… they’re playing for all of us!

GO TEAM!

World-Class Tennis On Your College Campus

“Ohio State is going to dominate the 2016 NFL draft. “

“His team could have as many as five players taken in the first round next year, with underclassmen such as Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott leading the way.”

“Here’s an early look at the NFL talent who will be lighting it up for Ohio State this fall.”

These are lines from an article posted on the Bleacher Report website from May 5, 2015. The article goes on to give a breakdown of each player and his contribution to the Buckeyes for the coming season. Every day journalists across the country reach out to their numerous sources to gather information for reporting on their chosen team and its players. Television, websites, newspapers, even smartphone apps are flooded with valuable information concerning the players from your favorite team/sport.

But not tennis. Why?

20160214_155806(1)
AATT is ‘Owl In!’

College tennis rosters are full of players that any coach would give their non-dominant arm to work with. Players that have spent most of their lives training, traveling, and testing themselves against the best competition in their given region, both here and around the world. These are players that, if we were to play them ourselves, would make any one of us look like a clumsy, 5-year-old, uncoordinated, special needs child. And they all come together, at the same time, to go to college. So what happens to them after what many believe were ‘the best years of their life’?

Illinois vs Ohio State
GO BUCKS!

When a top college prospect in football or basketball decides to go pro and declares for the draft, it sets a number of things in motion: agents, Pro Day, the Draft, visitations, contract negotiations, etc. Much of it taken care of by the player’s handlers so the player can focus on playing. In tennis, the player must be the CEO, CFO, HR, travel agent, administrative assistant, chief, cook, and bottle washer all at the same time. Once they leave college they are essentially on their own to navigate the treacherous waters of professional tournament tennis. And for what? A couple hundred dollars at the end of the week? It doesn’t seem worth it. In fact, a great many top college prospects burn out before ever realizing their dream of playing on the bigger stages. We can’t let this talent go to waste.

Virginia 2015 Champs
2015 NCAA Champs – Virginia

Tennis tournaments are a process of elimination designed to find out who’s #1. But how many #1’s can there be? You know the answer. But when the Denver Broncos, the Golden State Warriors, or the Kansas City Royals win a championship, how many #1’s are there? When the Vanderbilt women’s or the Virginia men’s tennis teams win the NCAA Championship all 11 players win the trophy. Unlike the Miami Open or US Open where only 1 player can take home the trophy, a greater number of people benefit from the success of the Team. And that number includes all of the fans, too.

A third of the top 25 college tennis rosters feature the names of players born outside the United States. And while some believe this to be problematic, the real story is the global nature of college tennis. When saddled with the responsibility of filling a roster of 10+ players, college coaches search far and wide for the best players available. Players who come up through the tournament ranks believing they might one day play professionally, are now filling college tennis rosters. In other sports they refer to college as a period of ‘maturity’. In tennis, college is the final destination. Washed up at 22?!? That is a very short-sighted view.

Follow me on this one: Imagine tennis as a Team Sport at the professional level, like it is in college.

IMAG0338
Top College Prospects

It changes the entire tennis conversation from “who will be the next #1” to “my team just signed a prospect out of the Ohio State University to a 3-year contract worth $1.2 million. He could be a starter right away. How do they fit into the system Coach Ken has in place? And can the veterans on the team bring along the rookies to put the team over the top?” I’ve just given you more content for TV and radio than most tennis tournaments (mind blown). Imagine the growth of the tennis industry when we have more than 2-3 people to talk about; the talk shows, segments on ESPN, news crews covering the High School State Championship. Things really begin to open up.

So the next time you’re looking for world-class tennis, skip the tournament (you’re not missing anything) and visit your local university. Players who understand the value of the team are definitely worth cheering for. GO TEAM!