By Dr. Timothy Russell, Ph.D.

Prior to the onset of the coronavirus, college tennis was in a very strong position across NCAA Divisions I, II and III, as well as NAIA and Junior College, with incredible parity throughout the sport in both the women’s and men’s games.

As the national governing body for collegiate tennis, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) serves 1,200 schools, 1,700 varsity programs, 3,000 coaches, 1,400 college tennis officials and some 19,500 student-athletes. During the pandemic, the ITA has continued to work to shine a positive light on college tennis, as well as provide safe play opportunities for college players. But since March, about 60 college tennis programs have been cut, as finances in college sports continue to be as challenging as ever.

For many schools, athletic department financial models show a 20 percent decline on average to budgets. Without football, many large DI schools are projecting up to 50 percent declines in revenue. Donations will be down. If college sports—especially football and/or basketball—are not played, athletic budgets will be severely impacted, as athletic directors and college presidents may resort to cutting varsity programs, especially non-revenue sports, which includes tennis.

The opening of colleges for residence learning this fall became a very inexact proposition. Many schools chose to return to online learning. The role of college football, the 800-pound gorilla in college athletics, became a top priority, especially from a financial perspective.

While working to promote tennis as a safe social-distancing sport, the ITA continues to fight the good fight and live the life lessons that sports teach, including hard work and perseverance. 

College tennis is fundamentally about higher education, providing educational opportunities for personal and leadership development through the sport of a lifetime. It remains the connective tissue for American tennis, the aspirational goal for U.S. junior tennis players and a viable high-performance pathway to a career as a top pro player and/or a member of the tennis industry. As well, courts at colleges and universities often become hubs for tennis in the community.

As a unique combination of individual and team competition, college tennis develops successful individuals in life, as well as contributing members of teams. The ITA serves college tennis and returns the leaders of tomorrow, featuring high GPAs, high graduation rates, players who go on to obtain a high number of advanced degrees and who become CEOs, COOs, CFOs, teachers and artists.

Along the way, the ITA offers opportunities unmatched in this industry, such as the successfully completed 2020 Oracle ITA Summer Circuit powered by UTR, which saw over 3,000 unique players compete in 28 events. Building on that, the association launched the 10-week ITA Tour: Fall Circuit by UTR.

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Dr. Timothy Russell, Ph.D., of Chandler, Arizona, Chief Executive Officer of the ITA. Russell spent three decades as a distinguished educator at two major Division I schools (as Professor at Arizona State University and formerly at The Ohio State University), as well as at the University of Rochester, a leading Division III institution. In addition to his academic achievements, Russell has also been a highly successful entrepreneur, with a leadership role in the development of two renowned American non-profit institutions. Russell is also well known in the tennis world, including for his work as a long-time USTA volunteer. He has been inducted into the following tennis Halls of Fame: ITA Men’s Collegiate, USTA Southwest, and USTA Central Arizona.

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