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Thursday, December 09, 2021

UF senior leads fight against new rules in college tennis

As the Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee deliberated on changes to speed up the college game, Florida senior Bob van Overbeek reacted with three simple words:

“This is ridiculous.”

After his initial response, van Overbeek knew something had to be done promptly, so he and Michigan’s Evan King took the first step and created a Facebook group to spread awareness.

“Him and I were like, ‘We have to start the group to let people know, spread the word, and hopefully we can get this reversed,’” van Overbeek said.

The two decided on a group name that was simple and straightforward: “*OFFICIAL* Against the changes to NCAA tennis.”

Within a month, the group exploded, with nearly 8,800 people joining.

Van Overbeek realized a Facebook group was not going to stop an NCAA ruling, so he created a petition on to rally against the proposed rules changes.

Similar to his Facebook group, van Overbeek wanted to be straightforward in describing what he was petitioning against. The first sentence of the petition made his intentions clear:

“First and foremost, the NCAA recommendations will damage the integrity of the sport.”

The committee announced their proposed changes, which would have been instituted prior to the 2014 Championships, on Aug. 13.

On Aug. 23, the committee rescinded their plans to replace the third set with a 10-point tiebreaker and shorten doubles matches from eight-game pro sets to six game sets.

On Sept. 13, the DI Championships/Sports Management Cabinet shot down the portion of the committee's proposal that would remove warm-ups with the opponent, reduce the time between doubles play and singles play from 10 minutes to five and shorten each changeover from 90 seconds to 60.

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“A lot of people know that big matches are always won in a full third set,” van Overbeek said.

According to the initial NCAA report, the changes were designed to make the game more marketable and “viewer-friendly.” Some matches have lasted upwards of four-and-a-half hours, longer than almost any other sport.

The committee wanted to make the change to promote the growth of college tennis and the athletes’ health but forgot one important aspect in its deliberation — the athletes’ voices.

“That’s really significant, because [the student-athletes] are the ones out there on the court,” UF coach Bryan Shelton said. “They are the ones having the real experience.”

Van Overbeek knew he had to raise his voice.

He had no idea how many people would sign his petition, but he figured it would enhance the credibility of his argument.

Within three weeks, the petition had 4,200 signatures.

“Bob is a leader,” Shelton said. “It’s good to see him step up in that leadership role for something that’s really significant.”

Even though there was a strong following, van Overbeek showed skepticism that the Facebook group and petition would fuel the reversal of the tiebreaker changes.

“I don’t know if it helped,” van Overbeek said. “The petition, maybe, just to show the NCAA that we are serious about it.”

Shelton, though, believes van Overbeek’s and other players’ opinions helped fuel the rejection.

“When players are able to get together and do things, they got a strong platform,” Shelton said.

“The person who has played the game, who follows the game and who understands the game is in a better position to make proposals on how the game is going and where we want it to go.”

*Editor's Note: A previous version of this story omitted the Sept. 13 decision by the DI Championships/Sports Management Cabinet to reject remaining proposals brought forth by the Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee. Proposals included removing warm-ups before a match between opponents, reducing the time between doubles play and singles play from 10 minutes to five and shortening each changeover from 90 seconds to 60.

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