The 2014 spring season shifts into high gear January 24-27 during the sixth annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend. In all, 120 teams will compete across the country for the 30 berths at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The ITA Division I National Women's Team Indoor Championships will be hosted by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, while the ITA Division I National Men's Team Indoor Championships will be hosted by Texas A&M University in Houston.
The 25 universities hosting ITA Kick-Off Weekend events were designated as host sites in order of their year-end 2013 ITA team ranking, with five schools serving as dual gender sites. Three visiting schools will travel to each host site for a four-team tournament with the host school facing the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed playing the No. 3 seed. The winners will come back the following day to play for a berth at the 2014 ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
Over 100 team matches will be played over the weekend, with the Top 10 teams in the ITA Division I Men's Team Rankings all in action and nine of 10 top teams from the women's side taking the courts. Some teams will play their first dual matches of the 2013-14 season during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, while others have already competed this spring.
Adding to the excitement, the ITA Kick-Off Weekend will be the first national tournament to use the new, experimental formats decided upon by the ITA Division Operating Committee.
The Operating Committee is comprised of 36 men's and women's head coaches, and represents all 12 ITA regions and 13 of the conferences across the country. The ITA Rankings are well represented on the Operating Committee. Five Top 10 and 21 Top 50 teams are coached by Operating Committee members. In addition, 12 coaches outside the Top 50 are members of the committee.
No. 2 Florida head women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist says fans will be a benefactor of the experimental format.
"As we continue in our quest to enhance the status and attendance of college tennis, I am excited to try new formats this year," Thornqvist said. "I expect them to be both shorter, as well as more exciting for the fans. I'm encouraged by the college tennis community's commitment to increase market share in what is a very competitive sports landscape and am convinced format change is paramount."
The women will be playing all sets in singles and doubles to six games, with regular scoring and tiebreakers at 6-all. However, if a singles match splits sets, a match tiebreaker will be played in lieu of a third set. The men's teams will also play sets in all matches to six games, but with tiebreakers at 5-all and no-ad scoring. All third sets for men's singles will be played out unless the team match is decided.
Head USC Men's Tennis Coach Peter Smith says no-ad scoring adds to the compelling nature of the dual match structure. His Trojans enter the season at No. 4 in the ITA Team Rankings.
"We are trying to find a balance between developing great tennis players, protecting the traditions of our college with great doubles play and putting an exciting sport on the tennis court that will attract fans," Smith said. "Many of the coaches played college tennis when it was no-ad scoring and we remember how it exhilarating it was."
All men's and women's matches will be played under the "clinch-clinch" format and with no warm-up against opponents. More detailed descriptions, along with time management guidelines, can be seen here and are also accessible on the ITA Rules page. An FAQ is also available on the ITA website, with answers to frequently asked questions regarding the experimental formats.
Sheila McInerney, head coach of the No. 26 Arizona State women's tennis team, is excited to test the waters.
"With the goal of making college tennis matches shorter and more exciting, I think trying different formats in the non-conference season makes sense," McInerney said. "I believe the players will have a heightened sense of urgency with the shorter format which will add to the intensity and excitement of a college tennis dual match."
Georgia head men's tennis coach Manny Diaz, whose Bulldogs are ranked No. 3 in the ITA Team Rankings, is also supportive of experimenting with no-ad scoring.
"I think we had many good years when tennis went to no-ad scoring in college (1973-88), and we produced many great players during that time," Diaz said. "We also attracted many new fans that are still fans of college tennis today. Our attendance improved during those years and playing no-ad did not hurt our players once they went into the professional tour."
John McEnroe is one of many players who played during the no-ad era and went on to succeed at the professional level, and the list also includes Kevin Curren, Paul Annacone, Mikael Pernfors and Tim Mayotte among many others. Seven collegiate players, including Jim Grabb, Rick Leach and Richey Reneberg, reached the top of the doubles mountain, attaining the No. 1 ATP Doubles ranking. McEnroe won seven Grand Slam singles titles and reached the No. 1 singles ranking. In all, 69 singles players and 81 doubles players reached the Top 100 in the ATP rankings.
In-depth previews and playing schedules for each of the sites can be found below and also on the ITA event page, with links to host-site tournament centrals available. The defending ITA National Team Indoor Champions (Virginia men and North Carolina women) will both host opening round action. The Cavaliers captured their fifth title in sixth years, while the Tar Heels won their first ever national title in Charlottesville.
2014 ITA Division I Men's Kick-Off Weekend
2. Texas Tech
1. Ohio State
2. Georgia State
2. San Diego State
2. Notre Dame
1. Ole Miss
2. South Carolina
2. Wake Forest
2. Florida State
**Denotes a dual gender site
2014 ITA Division I Women's Kick-Off Weekend
1. Texas A&M
2. San Jose State
2. Saint Mary's
1. Miami (Fla.)
2. South Florida
2. Notre Dame
2. Texas Tech
**Denotes a dual gender site
For complete coverage of the 2014 ITA Kick-Off Weekend please visit the official ITA event page. Follow the ITA on Twitter, @ITAtennis, and Facebook for updates and news from the weekend's events. Use the hashtag #ITAKickOff for all tweets in regards to the event, or search the term "ITAKickOff" to find others who are tweeting from across the nation about ITA Kick-Off Weekend, Jan. 24-27.
About ITA Kick-Off Weekend: The ITA Kick-Off Weekend events were created in 2009 as qualifiers for the ITA Division I National Team Indoor Championships. Sixty schools compete for the remaining 15 spots in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, with a reserved spot for the host institution. After host sites are named, a draft is held with schools selecting which site to play at in order of year-end ITA Team Rankings.