Van Zee’s Vault: Proposed Changes in D3 tennis

It’s been two weeks since I last posted a VZV, but I just started a new job so getting a chance to write something at work has been difficult. Anyways, this year is already off to quite a start with a few upsets and highly contested matches. Kalamazoo won me a $10 bet with ASouth so thanks to the Hornets, I will be having Chipotle on them! I just want to point out that I had Kzoo as a top 25 team in the pre season blog power rankings so I am not terribly surprised they made a buzz (see what I did there?!?). The other thing that is at the forefront of my mind was the NCAA championship committee’s choice to not approve an expansion of the tournament for D3 tennis. However, baseball, women’s golf, women’s ice hockey, and men’s/women’s lacrosse did get their tournament field expanded. I am not sure why tennis was rejected and am sure there is a logical reason (probably not), but the only good news I can say is that the discussion was tabled for future meetings. So it wasn’t all completely rejected, but pushed back for more discussion. Here’s hoping they get their act together and do the right thing.

As for this VZV article, I wanted to discuss the other proposed changes that might occur sometime in the next year. I believe we wrote about some of this last year, but with the ITA testing the waters with some matches this year, it seems that four “time-saving” and scoring rules are eminent in the near future. It is my understand that these things will not be in place for NCAA’s this season, but could be used for next year. I am not sure what will be used at the upcoming National Indoors tournament. Any comments on that would be appreciated. Here are the four potential rule changes and what I think the impact of each might be.

Doubles tiebreak at 7 all

As many of you know, Division 1 has gone to having the doubles set being played like a regular set with tiebreaks occurring at 6-6. I am fairly against this idea because it devalues doubles quite a bit. I like the pro-set and wish it would stay the same. Moving the doubles tiebreaker to 7 all seems to be a compromise that doesn’t really make sense in my book. If this change is meant to save time, I don’t really think it is effective. It only would come into play if teams are tied at 7-7. While I don’t have any stats to back up this claim, I would go to guess that less than 10% of doubles matches actually reach this level and a one break lead would end the match at 8-6. In the end, I don’t think this rule change has much of an effect either way. It would rarely save any time and shortening the set by a game or two would allow an underdog a slightly better chance to pull an upset. A shorter set allows the less talented team a better chance to “surprise” a favorite.

No warm up with your opponent (singles or doubles)

This is probably the one rule that I am fully in favor of. Under the current system, a team warms up together before doubles for 45 minutes to an hour and then turns around and warms up with their opponent for another 5. What’s the point of that? Yes I understand it allows you to get a feel for your opponents weaknesses, but as I stated in a previous VZV, it is the job of the coach to observe the opposing players during their warm up and find out areas to attack. The same goes for singles. If you just came off the doubles court and played 45 minutes or more of tennis, why do you need to hit with your opponent? The only part of this rule that I am not sure of deals with a player that did not play in the doubles lineup, but is slated to play singles. I would assume that they have to warm up on their own with teammates as the other doubles matches are finished. If they are allowed to warm up with their opponent for 10 minutes as under the current rule, then this change would be pointless as it would eliminate the 10-15 minutes of time that this new rule would save. In the end, this one really doesn’t affect play all that much. (Edit: You will be allowed a 5 minutes warmup with your opponent if you did not play doubles).

Eliminating third sets and using super tiebreakers

I don’t hate this rule change, but also would include one caveat. My main support for this rule stems from teams that play two matches in one day with a third team involved. If you play these matches early in the season indoors (like most Central and NE teams have to) on 3 or 4 courts, it makes for LONG days. If the point is to compress the time it takes for matches to be completed, this rule would absolutely do that. On the other side of the argument, eliminating a third set punishes the better player or team. Guys can go into a match and think that all they need is a set and a prayer (super tiebreaker) to pull off an upset. As I mentioned before, shortening the length of a match only gives the underdog a better chance to win. The talent won’t always be able to rise to the top. For comparison sake, let me use an extreme example. Let’s say I was to play Lebron James in a one on one basketball game with the first person to score wins the game. I would actually have a chance to throw up a shot and have it go in. Whereas if we played to 10, I would have no chance in hell to win. The longer the match/game goes on, the better player on that day, will rise to the top. The caveat for this rule that I would like to see involves individual nationals as well as #1 players who are ranked throughout the season. I would like this rule to not be in place for the individual tournament for the exact reason I just stated. I also would like the rule to be ignored during the season when both #1 players are currently ranked in their region because a win could affect the national qualification rankings drastically. I believe the NCAC still has this rule in place at their conference tourney in that they don’t pull top players off the court if both are ranked even if the team score is already decided. A super breaker deciding a potential national qualifier would be a travesty.

No Ad Scoring

Out of all the potential rule changes, I can’t express how much I would hate this one to go into play. Again, if the whole point of these changes is to save time, yes this one would have the most impact, but this simply is not how tennis is traditionally played. It would change the way the game is played and could favor a certain style to having more success. Strategy would be altered to keep up with the changes. Along with eliminating the third set, being a baseline grinder might not be as valuable. A huge serve would be such a weapon as many games might come down to one point. I am not trying to say these things aren’t already valuable in today’s game, but again, it would deemphasize the importance of talent and hard work in an effort to produce the best player from match to match. As I sit here and write this, I feel like I have not come up with a good enough reason to show my distain for this potential rule change. I know the “that’s how we have always done it” argument is a terrible point to make, but there is something to be said for keeping the sport played the way it was originally designed. Why do we use the current score method of 15, 30, 40, game? I don’t know how many countless times I have tried to figure out the real reason why it’s not 45 instead of 40, but that’s just the way it is. In basketball, the original rules were altered when they added the three point line back in the day. That move was made to make the game more exciting. This rule is not on the same type of level. If professional tennis was considering such a change, then maybe I could get behind it, but that just isn’t the case.

In the end, it is clear that the ITA and NCAA are trying to cut down match time. I think instead of exploring the options outlined above, they should consider different methods with how the team score is determined. I would be in favor of something like 6 singles and 1 doubles where a player cannot play both or similarly 5 singles and 2 doubles. All would play best two out of three sets including doubles. Having a match format of 7 would bring about a few other challenges (mainly teams who only have 6 outdoor courts to play on or 3 indoor), but it would shorten indoor matches at the very least. You could even do 3 singles and 2 doubles. There are multiple other ways to consider changing the way a team match is scored without sacrificing changing the individual match at all. I think that is where the conversation should be made, but sadly I am unsure if that has ever been on the table. I would love to hear about any comments the readers have on this so please feel free. Good luck to teams this weekend!



  5 comments for “Van Zee’s Vault: Proposed Changes in D3 tennis

  1. Parentcoach
    February 19, 2017 at 12:51 am

    I have a son playing high level d3 and one playing mid level d1. I’ve coached high school Tennis and d3 tennis and played d1 30 years ago. I like the one point for doubles in d1 so both teams are still alive for singles but the 6 game pro set is a joke. I also don’t like the no-ad scoring. And the policy where players quit after the team match is decided just has to be stopped. There have been matches that have been stopped in d1 contests that had national singles ranking repercussions because the team contest was decided.

    The d1 athletes practice much harder than the d3 players do yet the d1 contests are physically much less demanding. If I had my way, I would keep deuce, keep 8 game pro sets for doubles with a breaker at 77, let all kids complete their matches, and have one point for doubles rather than 3. Singles should have a super for preseason and full third sets for conference matches unless team contest is decided and then it should be a super.

  2. formerplayercurrentcoach
    February 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Let me start by saying that I support D3 West rule change suggestions 100000%.

    I was a player the last time there was a rule change made (2006ish…switching from the 7 to the 9 point system). Obviously, that change wasn’t as drastic as the changes (likely) in store for the current players. That being said, if you were to ask me (and I would imagine, most players who went through that change) to name the 50 best and worst things about their student-athlete experience…the format change probably doesn’t crack that list. What would’ve made a huge impact, however, would be shrinking match times down to 2.5-3hrs total. While I don’t think D1 made the rule change with any consideration for the impact on student-athletes, I do think that they stumbled into a model that is especially great for the D3 student-athlete. The important thing is cutting match times from 5-6hrs+ down to 2.5hrs. What happens during those 2.5hrs isn’t going to impact the student-athlete…they’ll adapt, and within a few years, won’t know any differently. Arguments can be made about the merits of the changes as fans of the traditions of the sport, then it gets to nitpicking. Should we go back to playing 2 out 3 sets for doubles also, and get rid of tiebreakers?

    Most D1 players and coaches hated the idea of the change until they started using it. Now, 2-3 years later, the feedback from them has been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t know of any other NCAA sport that has different rules across different divisions (aside from say, media/tv timeouts in college football and basketball). A fan watching Harvard play Brown shouldn’t be confused when they go watch Tufts vs MIT a week later. Lastly, as a current coach…the idea of knowing that matches will only be 2.5-3hrs is a game changer. Being able to tell your family that you’ll actually be home at a specific time is a huge positive. It’ll result in longer careers and less wear and tear, particularly for the 80+% of coaches who coach both men’s and women’s teams.

    The format will change tradition, recruiting, development, style, tactics, etc…but I think it’s a stretch to say those outweigh the positives of a drastically shortened match time for both players and coaches. And who doesn’t love upsets??? While I see the appeal of the 6+1 or 5+2 (and in a world where D1/D2 tennis didn’t exist, I would prefer either those), it seems as if we have a model that’s already been working really well at the D1 level, and an opportunity to make a positive change for D3 in a variety of different ways.

    tl;dr version: Current D3 matches take too long. The current D1 model has gotten great feedback from players/coaches/administrators. We should try that and if it’s bad, then we try and make changes to it.

    • D3CentralTennis
      February 16, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      I absolutely understand this side of the argument as well. I also played during the time when the scoring point system changed from 7 to 9 and still think it’s the better option as it values doubles which I think is necessary. I am biased in that I was a much better doubles player than I was in singles. As for the time, as a former coach, I agree that the shorter match time would have been a better situation for my personal life (as a player too). I forfeited basically every Saturday in the spring for 9 years (4 as a player and 5 as a coach) because we would be playing two dual matches in the day. The argument on the other side of this would be the consideration of the away team. An away team may travel up to 4 hours to play a match that might not last even 2 hours and then have to turn around and go back. I personally would want to get as much tennis as I could in. There are definitely two sides to every argument and I completely agree that D1 and D3 scoring should be the same. I just don’t agree with the way that D1 currently does things in particular with the no ad scoring as professional tennis does not do that either. It should be the same across all levels.

      As always, thanks for the comment!

      • formerplayercurrentcoach
        February 16, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        I appreciate the point of view on participation, but that’s the same issue that most other college sports deal with…and most of those have even shorter contest duration times than tennis does. With most conferences being geographic (and the non-geographic ones largely not mandating regular season contests), that issue may only arise 1-2x/season for conference mandated matches. And my gut tells me that when we take our team far and win…it’s usually a good ride home. If a team is traveling far to play against a team that they’re probably going to lose to quickly…well the coach doesn’t have to schedule that team if they are concerned with travel time.

        While I don’t love the specifics of the D1 format, it’s had too much success for them to change it. For us to have the same rules, realistically, we’re going to have to adopt their format, and I personally (others may disagree) see a value in having the same rules.

        Appreciate your work on the blog. You provide a much needed insight into many aspects of college tennis from a coaching perspective!

  3. D3West
    February 16, 2017 at 11:54 am

    From the coaches I’ve spoken to, my understanding is that these rules are basically going to be forced through no matter what. I would love it if someone had some contact information for someone we can voice our displeasure to.

    Here are some of my recommendations from a couple years ago when they changed things in DI:

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