The Adult/Senior Competition Committee decided at its December 2010 meeting to reject the ITF efforts to control our Nationals and so to disentangle our Cat I's from ITF regulations.
The good news is that the Committee, despite considerable internal opposition, declined to adopt a measure that would have imposed financial and operating burdens on tournaments (and thus on players). It's to their credit that they reversed their year-old decision ─ especially in the face of consistent pressure from the President and other senior USTA officials.
The bad news is that the issue is still alive (despite the opposition of USTA staff and nearly 90% of players) and pressure for adoption is almost sure to continue through 2011 and perhaps beyond.
Further thought #1: Is it not the case that any gains from the proposed ITF affiliation would benefit women more than men as a significantly larger proportion of their smaller player pool has international ambitions?
Further thought #2: why not require defibrillators (rather than trainers) at our Nationals?
Presented here is some of what occurred during 2010.
This editorial will argue that affiliating with the ITF is a mistake that will benefit only those elite players who choose to compete overseas while harming our tournaments by imposing damaging requirements on them. Adoption of this policy by the Adult/Senior Competition Committee will harm the very players whose interests the Committee should be protecting.
The Committee decided at its November 2009 meeting to affiliate with the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Their decision was reached despite the opposition of more than 70% of players who responded to an online USTA survey conducted earlier in 2009.
The rationale for that decision is no longer available online but it centered (as I recall) on the seeding advantages that would be conferred on a rather small number of elite players who compete outside the US. The report of the March 2010 Committee meeting by the Chair, Kathy Langer, continues to emphasize seeding as the ITF segment of her report states (in full):
"Recommended to the ITF that the number of wildcards be increased for seeding and that only those players with a ranking in the top 100 shall be considered for seeding. This is part of the ongoing process to bring the ITF in line with the USTA’s preferred seeding methods."
So much for the benefits — affecting solely top players who choose to play overseas. What about the costs — that will (directly or indirectly) be imposed on the rest of us? First, top players who don't play outside the US will be at a disadvantage and there will be other burdens on tournaments and players.
Sections 44 and 45 of the ITF Regulations provide that for Grade 1 & 2 Tournaments (all of our Category I's and some Category II's) that "The Referee shall be a minimum White Badge Official Standard" and "...tournaments must arrange for a physiotherapist/athletic trainer...to be on-site for the duration." Estimates of the associated costs range from $3,000 to $4,500 for most tournaments.
How would all 37 of the men's adult/senior tournaments pay for referees and trainers? Unless Tournament Directors suddenly morph into marketing gurus (like Steve Solomon) who can attract paying sponsors, substantial increases in entry fees would be needed ($50 per player for a tournament with 60 entrants, for example) or goodies and banquets would have to be cut back. How would tournaments like Boise and Brunswick survive?
Further, the ITF has already introduced the "IPIN," an additional(!) ITF membership already required for junior ($30/year), wheelchair ($20/year) and pro players ($55/year). It is anticipated that the IPIN will be required of adult/senior players competing in USTA national championships beginning in 2012.
All this to benefit a few elite players? Several, informally polled recently, don't care! And here's how one elite player (Heidi Orth) responded, in part, to the online survey: "...in my view the method of seeding used by the USTA is definitely superior to the new ITF regulation."
In summary, the potential damage to tournaments is manifest and substantial. Somehow a Committee made up of eighteen experienced volunteers has overlooked serious flaws and in so doing (i.e. not doing) placed the wellbeing of a few above the interests of the many. This is a shortsighted and harmful decision.
P.S. The idea that an onsite trainer could repair this 75 year-old body is, frankly, absurd (but it does make for great theater on the pro tour).
The Adult/Senior Competition Committee continues to study this issue. As the Committee ignored the results of the 2009 player survey, it's hard to understand why additional surveys have been launched. The new player survey focuses on the least important of the issues (seeding) while the earlier Tournament Director survey asks for results about requirements not previously in effect while putting a thumb on the scale by introducing the survey with "...because the President of the USTA has asked us to do what we can to maintain our relationship with the ITF."
The significant issues have to do with requirements for "white badge officials" and onsite therapist/trainers ─ a burden unaccompanied by any provision for funding. Eric Spearman, a respected Tournament Director who runs both senior and professional events, wrote:
"I believe they have some merit at the pro level, but they do raise the cost of the event and create headaches for the director...these changes will not improve the events for the vast majority of players."
Larry Turville, a world-class player himself and director of the Florida Grand Prix, has (to his great credit) has changed his position (his 2010 tournaments all had ITF sanctions). Larry wrote:
"The way I see it there is a good chance of an extra $5,000 is cost that will be passed on to the players. Entry fees will now go to $200. At what point to players start saying it's too much? In addition the USTA ranking that they are working so hard to get will be worthless for seeding. Does it seem strange that we would use ITF rankings for seeding when there are no foreign players in the draw? We are doing all this for the benefit of who ─ a handful of players?"
Even more alarming is what Kathy Langer, Committee Chair, told me not long after I posted my original editorial. According to Kathy, the ITF is developing new tournament management software that will be operated solely by the assigned white badge official. It's as though decades of practices building tournaments (and overseen by Circuit Chairs) will be negated with decision-making put in the hands of an official with no local knowledge and no vested interest in its success. Apologies for crudeness, but WTF?
A physician's adage is "First, do no harm" and another saying goes "If it ain't broke..." but here common wisdom has been disregarded in favor of official perks and legacies rather than player welfare.
Overlooked Department: They're commonplace in airports, gyms and malls, why not defibrillators at tournaments?
It turns out that all four California Cat II's have, each in their own way, forsaken any ITF affiliation as the Pacific Coast Seniors (Berkeley) reports they gave up their ITF sanction three years ago over requirements that annoyed players without providing any benefits. Alice Hing, TD for the Fiesta Bowl (Scottsdale AZ), has expressed reservations about continuing their ITF sanction in 2011.
California Cat II TDs take a stand. Ed Trost, director of the humongous Palm Springs tournament formally notified the USTA on September 15 that "I have decided not to be ITF sanctioned for my upcoming tournament in January" He joins Ken Stuart (Pacific Southwest) and Susan McShannock who wrote on August 22 "Mill Valley Tennis will not have a senior tournament if required to be ITF." Stuart wrote in May "If any rule is implemented that causes a financial or operational burden on me, my club, my staff or the PSW then please do the following in this order: 1. Remove us as a 'Category II' if this is what triggers this action. If not, 2. 'Demote' us to whatever status exempts this 85 year old tournament from such burdens, and if not, 3. Find somewhere else to host this event."
Welcome News on the ITF front! Frank Kelly, Vice Chair of the Adult/Senior Competition Committee writes (on September 6):
"We have already submitted requests to the ITF asking for seven changes to their regulations which leave our USTA events virtually as they were. Rest assured, the committee is looking out for the best interests of our players."
While encouraging, it's still worrisome that adoption of ITF software for Cat I & II tournaments might eliminate our national rankings and, consequently, sectional rankings would not reflect Cat I & II results. This despite Kelly's further clarification:
"Your concerns are those that our committee members also have. We are still in the process of advising the ITF that their new rules are in conflict with the USTA's and we are not happy. Since we are still at the table with them, we have submitted several either/or scenarios which they will either accept, which would make our involvement in the worldwide senior circuit advantageous to all of our players, or they will reject them and we will make the decision to drop our association with them. We won't make that decision until after the ITF Sr. Committee meets in late Nov. We'll decide sometime in Dec."
Danger Still! The potential affiliation with the ITF (with burdens on tournaments) will be a live issue until the Adult/Senior Competition Committee decides the issue in December. They've initiated two new surveys (for players and for tournament directors).
The sole issue is whether the ITF will take over administration of adult/senior tournaments. Objections (ITF seeding, IPIN cost to players, white badge referee & trainer expense, referee exclusive control of tournament software) have been extensively discussed and, in my opinion (and many others), form sound reasons to oppose the measure.
ITF Update! The Adult/Senior Competition Committee voted 9-6 to not adopt the proposed USTA-ITF affiliation. The actual form of the decision makes Category I Nationals "closed" tournaments whose governing regulations will revert to 2009 rules — including "all-factors" seeding. [In fact, USTA tournaments are "closed" only according to the ITF's formal definition as any foreigner can compete merely by purchasing a USTA membership.] Closing our nationals will relegate them to ITF Grade 3 -- with a corresponding reduction in ITF ranking points.
Click here to read the minutes of the 12-7-10 meeting of the Adult/Senior Competition Committee.