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Controversy Over International Student Tennis Players on American College Campuses
Tuesday, 01/30/2018
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There's a battle brewing in the college tennis circuit about the presence of a large population of non-citizen players. Sports observers note that there are more international tennis players in college games than in any other college sport.

Critics don't object to the foreigners' competing in the games. They note, however, that tens of millions of dollars are going to foreign-born players in scholarship money every year – money, they say, that should be earmarked for home-grown students.

The discussion over the issue is heating up as the numbers of foreign college students who represent their colleges on the tennis courts grows every year.


College Tennis

Tennis is one of the oldest collegiate sports. The game was introduced to US universities in 1883 before the establishment of the National College Athletic Association (NCAA). At its inception it was a game of the elite but by the 1920s a number of non-Ivy League universities were involved, creating the platform on which the NCAA Tennis Championships would be built.

The first NCAA Tennis Championships were celebrated in 1946. National College Athletic Association games involve both men's and women's divisions. Competitors in each division play towards the individual, doubles and team championships.

For the men's championships there are separate tournaments for Divisions 1 and 3 – Division 2 was eliminate in 1995.  There are still 3 women's division championships. In both men's and women's NCAA tennis a singles championship, a doubles championship and a team championship are awarded.

Almost all major universities offer NCAA collegiate tennis options and over the years the colleges have upped the level of services and support that they provide to their tennis players. These endowments increase every year. College sports departments are prepared to invest significant finance and facilities in college tennis and, in turn, donors respond by funding more scholarships for student tennis players.


Developing the Team

However, in each coach's drive to develop the best tennis program in the country, the coaches are turning to foreign players who fill out the teams in power and ability.

Baylor University's Joey Scrivano is one head coach who has no qualms about bringing "ringers" from outside of the US. "I believe I should be able to win and so I will find the best players who are going to be competitive," he says.

Scrivano's view is shared by other college tennis coaches who have also been actively recruiting foreign players. Today, the top 25 teams in men's and women's tennis list 37% of their players from abroad. At the recent ITA Indoor Championship in Virginia six of the 16 competing teams have more international players than Americans. 


American Players

Part of the problem stems from American players themselves who prefer to play for some of the traditional tennis powerhouses like Harvard, Stanford and USC. This means that other colleges who want to build up their tennis teams have a more limited choice. David Benjamin, President of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, says "It's a dilemma for the coach who is under pressure to win and has a limited number of outstanding American players available. With more money and prestige in college sports, the pressure is on the coaches and the athletic directors. It's a lot tougher now. You might not get fired, but you might not get a bonus, either."

International players raise the level of college tennis, admit critics of the internationals' inclusion. The US Tennis Association (USTA) argues that bringing these players to the US helps in the development of US teams in future international competition. Erica Perkins, Manager for Junior and Collegiate Competition at the USTA gives an example "A player like John Isner needed those four years in his development and the added push that the high competition level provided."

Critic Wayne Bryan is not impressed. Bryan's sons, Mike and Bob, played for Stanford. They are currently the best men's double team in the world. Bryan notes that the sole goal of college tennis sport isn't to simply develop professional players. It also aims 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."

David Benjamin also notes that limiting the number of scholarships that are given to international players could conflict with the US constitution. "We are a global village, and that is not unique to college tennis."



One person who has a lot to say about the subject is Anton Rudjuk, a Russian-born player who now runs a recruiting service for coaches and players. Rudjuk connects non-citizen athletes to the colleges which are prepared to offer them scholarships for tennis and other sporting events. The higher you go in the team rankings, the more international players you will find, says Rudjuk. "Obviously the pressure is on."

The players that Rudjuk represents pay him between $1,500-$2,000 to provide them with the connection to a coach, help with the paperwork and consultation fees. Rudjuk has place hundreds of foreign-born athletes at US universities, making the payment a good investment for the young players. Some of these players have been unsuccessful as professional players in their home countries. They aren't simply playing Vegas games online for free – they turn to US college tennis as a chance to get a free education and for a second chance to launch their tennis careers.  

The NCAA has addressed the controversy in part by passing a bylaw which mandates that all college players start their college career within 6 month of their high school class graduation. In this way, they believe, they can stop older players from starting as freshmen where their age and increased experience gives them an advantage over US 18-year-old freshmen. 

Whether this bylaw succeeds in creating the kind of spirit of college competition that the NCAA wants to create remains to be seen.