Growing the college game:
USTA hosts NCAAs
Arthur Kapetanakis | May 24, 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. – The USTA is committed to putting college tennis on the biggest stage possible. For the 2019 NCAA Division I Championships, from May 16-25, that stage has been the USTA National Campus in Orlando.
In addition to hosting the event for the first time, the USTA also helped secure a TV deal with Tennis Channel that will see 50 hours or live match coverage by the conclusion of the 10-day event.
After successfully hosting the second season of College MatchDay (also broadcast by Tennis Channel) and over 350 matches through Spring Break Tennis in 2019 alone, the campus’ Collegiate Center was primed to elevate the year-end showpiece in what is a watershed moment for the college game.
“We hope it is a real inflection point to make tennis a game that you see a lot more of on television and you have a lot more fans for,” said USTA CEO and executive director Gordon Smith, who helped usher in the festivities with a ceremonial coin toss, alongside Jason Siegel, CEO of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission, and Danny White, vice president and director of athletics at the University of Central Florida.ADVERTISEMENT
When the USTA National Campus, which opened in January 2017, was being designed, a collegiate center was a priority, according to Smith.
“We wanted to use the campus to elevate collegiate tennis; make it more popular, make it visible, televise it,” he said. “In the back of our minds, we thought an NCAA Championship might be here. Then we hired Tim [Cass, general manager, USTA National Campus], and it clearly became more of a priority.”
Both Smith (Georgia) and Cass (New Mexico) were former collegiate tennis players, with Cass—who called tennis the “best kept secret in college sports”—going on to coach the Lobos and the Texas A&M Aggies. Both men agreed that college tennis served as a major impetus for their current careers in the game, and hope to encourage more young players to compete at the NCAA level.
“We talk a lot about that, that college tennis is this connective tissue of being in the sport for life,” Cass said. “It impacted us at an early age, and we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for our experiences in college.”
The National Campus will host the Division I Championships again in 2021, and the Division III event for the first time in 2022.
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In its first year as host, the site has earned rave reviews from the competing teams, including the women’s champions, Stanford.
“I’m one who would like to see a permanent home for this tournament,” Cardinal head coach Lele Forood said after her team won the school's 20th NCAA title. “I’m hoping it’s here someday, permanently.”
“It feels almost like a small WTA event here,” added South Carolina women’s head coach Kevin Epley. “It’s really put together very well and makes for a very exciting venue.
Georgia men’s head coach Jeff Wallace’s, in his first few steps towards the campus’ Welcome Center, was struck by the attention to detail at the event:
“My first impression was, we get out of the car and we start walking to the facility and they’re playing ‘Glory Glory to Georgia,’ our fight song. Are you kidding me? It was awesome!”
Other coaches referred the site as “first class” and “a tennis mecca,” with Virginia men's head coach Andres Pedroso joining Forood in campaigning for the Orlando campus as a long-term home for the competition.
“It’s the home of American tennis,” he reasoned, “so I can’t think of a better place to host the NCAA Championships. Hopefully it’s here for many years to come.”