I would like to start off this rant by thanking UC Riverside, Director of Athletics Brian Wickstrom. He should be my arch enemy as he is on the verge of getting rid of the men’s tennis team at UC Riverside. I thank him because as opposed to cutting the program, he put it out for broader comment first before he started cutting. Read his letter here. So Thank You Brian!
At my house…we are college tennis fans. We have a Mom who won an NCAA singles and team title and 4 boys who all excited to take their tennis skills to a great team in years to come. Speaking only on behalf of my personal opinion, I value the education gotten from a tennis team and the comradery with the teammates more than the education gotten in the classroom. Right now every computer in the house is on a live stat site that is giving the point-by-point UCLA versus USC scores from Georgia in the NCAA semi-finals. We have a bunch of kids at our house and the place is going NUTZ! One of the kids parents works at UCLA. My wife went to both schools. And anyone who knows about the last few matches these guys played…it was about as good of entertainment as you can find in sports!
Southern California has probably been the single biggest incubator of talent in the history of the game of tennis. Grand Slam winners like Pete Sampras, Lindsey Davenport, Jack Kramer, Venus and Serena, Tracy Austin, Bob & Mike Bryan, Rick Leach…the list goes on and on. I would venture to say there are probably not a lot of other better incubators for any sport! Has one small geographical region produced more basketball players? Football, Baseball, Golf? Doubt it.
UC Riverside is in the Big West Conference along with schools like UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, UC Davis to name a few. Of the 9 schools in the Conference, only 6 of them field teams on the men’s side whereas all 9 schools field teams on the women’s side. Thank you Title IX!!! If Riverside drops its team, that would be a conference of 5 men’s teams. That seems barely enough to make critical mass? More importantly, we’re not talking some snow-belt school. Riverside is dead center in So Cal.
Last year, Riverside was 0-5 in their conference…dead last place. They were 6 and 18 overall. Not exactly stellar results, but like in all sports…someone has to win and someone has to lose.
I fancy myself as somewhat of a savvy debater and this seems like the perfect situation to find some holes in Mr. Wickstrom’s thinking, tear him apart by the seams and watch him wade through the mire of his own freakish misery that I bestowed upon him. Problem is…there aren’t any holes in his story. Brian isn’t the problem. He seems to be reasonable. The school isn’t the problem. We as promoters of the sport have failed this school, failed our sport and failed these kids.
Mr. Wickstrom says that he is looking to get rid of men’s tennis because:
- BW: They don’t have the money to fund it at a level to be competitive
- SB: Budgets are tight everywhere, I can’t argue that. But I would add that being competitive is important. But it is not the only value that comes from the team. And value against long term competitiveness happens all the time in ways you don’t realize at the time.
- BW: Community interest in tennis and the team is low
- SB: I don’t know enough about the situation, but my guess is that not enough was done to promote. Note to others…PROMOTE or find yourself in the same position as Riverside
- BW: They want to add women’s sand volleyball
- SB: Great sport – can’t argue that
- BW: Women’s sand volleyball costs them $150K less than men’s tennis
- SB: Don’t know enough to argue, but I wouldn’t doubt that a new sport costs less than I legacy based one
- BW: That money can be used to make other sports programs more competitive
- SB: Of course every sport could use more money
- BW: They can put more money against men’s soccer and baseball
- SB: Of course
If you were not emotionally attached to tennis, would you think much differently? Probably not…But if you are reading this then you have likely drank the kool aid.
So I would add that allowing this program to be cut is NOT an option! From the research that I have gathered, the coach is now gone on to another job and the school has been looking for a new coach. They recruited 5 incoming freshman who are all from So Cal and who all trained for a decade to play college tennis. They all committed to play college tennis for Riverside and Riverside committed to them that they would have a place to play. To our knowledge no child was told that the program might be cut when they passed on their other opportunities and signed their letters of intent.
So here are my thoughts to Brian:
Open Letter to Brian Wickstrom:
Please don’t cut men’s tennis! Make that PLEASE DON”T CUT YOUR MEN’S TENNIS PROGRAM!!! On behalf of tennis, we commend you for putting the concept out there before implementing it, but make this one the shot across the bow and give this great sport a chance. This is basically the most gender equivalent, diverse sport that gives fitness for life. Brian, you have 5 incoming So Cal freshman who all committed to the school to play tennis. The school committed to these kids a college team to play for. Granted things change, but a public university needs to be held to a ridicules high standard. A commitment is a commitment. I know a couple of these kids personally and can attest that they are program makers. Julian Ruffin is one of those kids and he is an absolutely gold mine of a human being. I have been watching him at tournaments since he was 10 and there is hardly a more good-natured, popular, talented kid going. Again, he is a program maker! He is a kid that the next 4 years of talent in So Cal would like to follow.
So Cal is practically the tennis capital of the world. But still we as a sport have failed you. And failed you miserably. We should have had those matches packed. Quoting another So Cal tennisphile and the father of the #1 doubles team in the world, Wayne Bryan….”“Attending one exciting college tennis match is like 30 days of practice! Round up all the juniors and adults at your club and get in vans or a big bus and go as often as you can. Your players will return to your club more pumped than ever. They’ll be so much better the next day. They absorb so much by watching tennis played at the highest level!”
Brian, this is what you should be experiencing at Riverside. if you will stay this team and give them a few more years, then we as a So Cal tennis community will do our best to help you fill those stands, get better recruits and start a dynasty that will continue to get kids like Julian Ruffin to come to your school! I will personally rally So Cal troops like Wayne Bryan, Greg Hickey, Franklin Johnson et al to help give this program some traction.
Here is a closing thought by your new recruite Julian Ruffin.“I shifted through different scholarship opportunities, considered my future, and then decided to join the Highlanders, I said “no” to other programs because I wanted to become a part of your team, your school, and your community. I spent years and years developing my discipline, hoping to attend a university someday. I understand that money is obviously a concern, but it always is. We made a commitment to Riverside and we are all practicing daily to honor that commitment. Please honor the commitment that was made to us and keep the program going! This is not like cancelling a class. We are tennis players and tennis is our life. We chose Riverside to play tennis. Don’t bury my fellow recruits, teammates, and dreams of playing Division 1 Tennis at Riverside.”
I welcome thoughts from the tennis community and please be respectful of Brian. Lets rally together and get this team clicking.