USTA Tennis On Campus (TOC) is a club-level tennis program that is currently offered on over 700 college and university campuses reaching nearly 45,000 students. Its success is built around co-ed team play and student leadership while providing an option for students who want to continue their competitive sports activity without involvement in a varsity program.
The program, which is offered by the United States Tennis Association, hosts multiple competitive events throughout the year, including a National Championship (in partnership with the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association and World TeamTennis), Spring and Fall Invitationals, and Section Championships. (The USTA has 17 geographic Sections; the latter events are coordinated by many of those groups.) In addition, campus TOC programs can (and do) host their own events at various points during the academic year. NIRSA and USTA offer both a USTA Tennis On Campus Start-Up Grant to help colleges and universities open a new Tennis On Campus program, and a USTA Tennis On Campus Alumni Event Grant, for events involving both TOC student participants as well as TOC alumni.
Sports Destination Management: The numbers for Tennis On Campus are strong.
Glenn Arrington: We’re proud of our accomplishments so far; the overall numbers may fluctuate a little from year to year because this is a student-driven group. Some clubs might have a really strong, active group of students one year and not as much activity the next because the leaders graduated and someone else took over. We work closely with the schools to insure a positive transition when there’s a leadership change but that’s a very common phenomenon in student led clubs. One item we’re particularly proud of is that we’ve recently activated tennis programs on 24 Historically Black College and Universities. This will lead us to a more diverse participant base while also furthering our goals of increasing diverse coach opportunities.
SDM: And now individual schools’ Tennis On Campus organizations are also hosting their own tournaments?
Arrington: Yes! We encouraged that, and the clubs began realizing they could host their own tournaments and invite whichever schools they liked who could travel to be there. We’re now seeing about 80 to 100 tournament and event activations that are being hosted by students for students - we love to see the organic growth.
SDM: Is the National Championship held in the same location each year?
Arrington: No, not at all. We had considered trying to find a permanent home for it, but the students actually enjoy traveling to different places and playing there. We’ve gone back to the kids and they’ve told us that, so we try to rotate our events. For example, we have our Fall Invitational to kick off the season in October. This year, it will be on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, at Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center. There will be 48 teams there, which is a good number; that event has a smaller footprint than Nationals. Our 2017 Spring Invitational will be held April 7-9 at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in Surprise, Arizona. It’s a great facility and community.
The National Championships are also held in April. The past two years, we have held it at the Cary Tennis Center in Cary, North Carolina, but next year, it will be held in Orlando, at the new USTA National Campus in Lake Nona. (also known as the New Home of American Tennis). The facility will be open for play in January and we’ll be there a few months later, allowing participants to enjoy the expansive, innovative new venue.
SDM: What does Tennis On Campus look for when it’s seeking out a facility to host its events?
Arrington: It’s all about the facility in my opinion; that’s typically where the participants will spend the majority of their time – it can make or break a great event. We’re a big group for most tennis facilities so we seek out venues that have plenty of courts and open space designed specifically for large groups. Facility choices also revolve around the kind of play format we offer. It’s not just about the number of courts but how they’re arranged. We use the World TeamTennis format which works best at facilities that have banks of two courts that include viewing areas and seating because we’ll have two schools – for example, Florida and Georgia – competing against one another on two courts, with the other students on the teams watching and cheering. On another bank of courts, you might have Rutgers and UCLA. So for us, it doesn’t work as well to have all the courts in one big long bank because not everyone can see the matches they’re interested in.
SDM: What else do you look for in a host site?
Arrington: We obviously need a convenient airport so that people can get in and out. We need the facility to be in an area that is comfortable to play in that time of the year. We also consider other items like safety, ample parking, trainers, officials, food service and facility personnel. We love to work with facilities that are passionate about tennis and like to showcase their complex.
SDM: What kind of economic impact does TOC have on a host community?
Arrington: Between food, airfare, room and everything else, it’s probably about $400,000 for Nationals.
SDM: It’s college kids. Do you ever worry about it getting too much of a spring break vibe?
Arrington: Not really – cities have actually come to love us because of the positive nature of this event. These kids are here to play, so their energy is channeled into a purpose, and we keep them pretty busy while they’re here. We work to promote the expectation well in advance. It’s part of our team approach; they know they’re representing their school and that word will get back to their Recreational Sports Department if there were to be bad behavior. The fact that it’s a co-ed event doesn’t hurt either; they want to put their best foot forward for the other players they might meet or be interested in.
SDM: The NIRSA partnership is a plus, then?
Arrington: Absolutely it is. We value our relationship and partnership very much. We’re equally tied to this event – it’s all about participation and providing a healthy positive team experience for our players. Because we work with NIRSA, it gives us the ability to have kids play out their match and then go somewhere quiet and take an exam with a proctor so that they stay current with their schoolwork. NIRSA has been an incredible partner and they have the connection with those rec sports directors in schools. They add tremendous value to this event.
SDM: Does TOC have a social media presence?
Arrington: We promote engagement with the kids through social media - a lot of our leads for new campus program activations connect with us in this way. What blows me away is the fact that a student might go away to college and get in touch with us and say, ‘We don’t have a club tennis team; can you help me start one?’ That is really a tribute to the character of the individuals; not all kids are that proactive. I’m always taken aback by the student leadership mentality and by their willingness to jump in. They also get involved in community service projects, and some of the stuff they’re doing is truly amazing.
SDM: Do you think that rec sports on campus are on the uptick?
Arrington: There has been a phenomenal growth of rec sports on college campuses; over the past 15 to 20 years. I don’t see this trend slowing down. Campuses used to rely on their academic reputation or the strength of their football program, and they have come to realize that if they built a student rec center and had dynamic program offerings, they contribute to a higher quality of life for all students, not just the elite athletes who are on scholarships. It results in better recruitment of students and better students in general.
SDM: In addition to working with Tennis on Campus, NIRSA offers championships in flag football, soccer and basketball. Are there other sports rec programs out there?
Arrington: There are all kinds of clubs, usually run through the rec sports office in schools. We’ve seen bass fishing, rodeo, water ski, even outdoor adventure clubs so kids can go hiking or whitewater rafting or anything else. It makes for good outreach and extension of the campus to the entire community in which it resides; it’s all good for the quality of life and for the people who happen to be fortunate enough to live near campuses.
SDM: Do you think TOC is helping to keep kids in the sport?
Arrington: Yes – in many ways, it’s a retention program. A lot of our players were involved in high school tennis. We don’t want them to get to college and not make the team, or not have a campus tennis program and drop out of the sport as a result. Tennis On Campus keeps them playing actively rather than just casually. With the success of this at the college level, we’re now trying a new program for high school kids to keep them playing all summer long; we’re doing events around the country and bringing in the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams from different schools and playing in a co-ed team format, having a D.J. and making it fun. It involves the coaches too. This is something we’re looking forward to expanding.