No other American college sport has more international players than tennis. But with tens of millions of dollars in scholarships going to foreign-born players each year, critics argue that the use of non-American athletes has got to be reined in for the good of home-grown students. Because US tax dollars are involved, it can be aggravating for American parents. Interestingly, private schools do not get tax dollars up front; however, they do in grants written.
When Baylor hired Joey Scrivano in 2003, his mission was to develop the best tennis program in the country. “I believe I should be able to win and so I will find the best players who are going to be competitive,” he says. Names like Secerbegovic, Nakic, Stanivuk, Novakova and Filipiak fill the roster. His women’s team has won the Big 12 conference title for six straight years and was listed as the top team in the US last spring, yet did not have a single American player on the team.
Scrivano is not alone. Six of the 16 teams competing at the recent ITA Indoor Championship in Virginia have more international players than Americans. In fact, the top 25 teams in men’s and women’s tennis list 175 players from abroad – some 37% of all players.
For decades, Stanford University has had no problem attracting top American tennis talent, and has won the national title in women’s tennis six times in the last 10 years. Stanford won the ITA Indoor Championship this February with no international players on its 11-woman roster. Not being able to recruit the top athletes stateside should not be an excuse for tennis coaches, says Lele Forood, Stanford head coach. “It’s gone well beyond what it should be. You are basically renting players and have mercenary athletes that help you win championships.”
Among the top 25 women teams in Division I, approximately 40 percent of scholarships go to international players. The top 25 schools in Division II award roughly 70 percent of their scholarships to female players from abroad.
“It’s a fairness issue,” says Geoff Macdonald, who coaches one international player on his women’s team at Vanderbilt University. “I don’t think the intent of Title IX was for a European pro to come here and take a scholarship from an American kid who might not be as good.” Many argue that although there may be less opportunity for American players to receive a scholarship in the top tennis programs, they can still get a scholarship somewhere else.
Former coaches like Tim Cass, now associate athletic director at the University of New Mexico, say that awarding more scholarships for international players means fewer Americans will make their way up to the professional level. (Currently, there are only four Americans in the top 20 in men’s and women’s professional tennis, and the Williams sisters are two of them).
New NCAA Rule
The National Collegiate Athletic Association passed a bylaw that requires all players start their
collegiate careers within six months of their high school class graduation. That law will take effect in August 2012 and is meant to stop older international players from starting as freshmen after unsuccessful attempts in the professional tours overseas.
Among proponents and critics alike, there is widespread agreement that international players raise the level of college tennis, and the US Tennis Association (USTA) argues it helps in the development of future US professional players.
But for parents like Wayne Bryan, whose sons Bob and Mike played at Stanford and are currently the best men’s double team in the world, the sport in college was not intended to focus on developing professional players but to provide important life lessons for student athletes. “I don’t think college tennis should be a world-class sport. And you shouldn’t have to compete with the world to play at Baylor or any other place.”
To read more about this controversial topic please click on the following links.
- PDF download USTA Study on international players on college level
Betsy Smith, MS
Ms. Smith is the Associate Dean of Continuing Education and Distance Learning at the United States Sports Academy. She is a former professional tennis player and ranked among the top 200 teaching professionals by the Professional Tennis Registry. She holds a master’s degree in Exercise and Sport Science/Sport Psychology.