As part of an examination of its athletic program’s sports, designed to address the increasingly tough task of assembling a competitive junior college schedule, Vincennes University will discontinue its tennis program.
Trailblazer Tennis has been highly successful but the program’s schedule has become heavily weighted with NCAA Div. I opponents over the past several seasons as VU is the lone NJCAA Region 12 tennis program. A number of NCAA and NJCAA-member institutions have discontinued tennis and sports such as wrestling and gymnastics due to tightening resources. Travel expenses and academic responsibilities prevent VU from making long road trips for matches, and only Kaskaskia and Lewis & Clark field NJCAA Div. I tennis teams in nearby NJCAA Region 24 (southeastern Illinois). No NJCAA tennis programs exist in Kentucky-based NJCAA Region 7.
The decision to discontinue Trailblazer Tennis also comes on the heels of 2015 Coach Tyler Johnston’s decision to take a tennis teaching position in his hometown of Columbus, OH.
Vincennes University Assistant Provost for Student Affairs Lynn White said no sports have been determined as possible replacements for VU Tennis.
“This is a decision that comes after a great deal of analyzing and making adjustments to our athletics program overall; decisions like this are always extremely difficult – especially when you take into consideration that VU Tennis won a national championship (in 2011) under Coach (Ron) Albers’ leadership and has remained successful right through the season that just concluded,” White said. “We realize that this impacts the history of the sport and our institution as a whole. Just as importantly, it impacts the student-athletes from our 2014-15 team and those who were recruited to play on next season’s team. We have reached out to all those student-athletes and attempted to lessen the impact as much as possible.”
Five of the six members of VU’s 2015 team were freshman. White said the team members who would have been returning players will have their scholarships honored if they choose to stay at VU. Releases will be given to the players who choose to transfer and play elsewhere.
VU isn’t alone in continually looking at how to refine and improve its athletics program – and concluding that tennis should be part of the refinements. According to Tennis Recruiting Network’s web site, www.tennisrecruiting.net, more than 135 college tennis programs have been discontinued since 2003. All the while, more athletic programs and entire conferences are labeling tennis as a “tier 3 sport” because it doesn’t generate a considerable income at the NCAA level or produce a large bump in enrollment at the NJCAA level.
The site also sheds light on the fact that tennis isn’t among more popular collegiate sports. The web site quotes a college tennis coach as saying that even a growing skill level among college players has its negative side, because an increase in the quality of play means a dual match takes, on average, three to three-and-a-half hours to complete. The average casual tennis fan can’t make the time commitment to attend a lengthy match so many of the college game’s observers have become disengaged. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association has experimented with shortening the dual match format, thinking that it might generate more exposure, interest and resources.
Although no sport has been pinpointed as a replacement – and VU may elect to adhere to the 10 remaining sports – removing tennis from the athletics budget better allows university officials to weigh options and conduct effective financial analysis on possible other sports in the future.
“Up to this point, we’ve focused on the validity of this decision and its effects on all those involved while we ensure that we’re properly allocating resources; possible sports to join our athletics department aren’t being addressed at this time,” White said. “That’s for future consideration and discussion. Right now, we need to have our full attention on our decision related to tennis.”