On the latest edition of the Beyond the Baseline Podcast, host Jon Wertheim talks with former University of Virginia tennis player, former ATP player and current coach of the Vanderbilt University women's tennis team, Geoff Macdonald. Wertheim and Macdonald discuss the world of college tennis, including what it's like to coach a college program; the state of the sport at the university level; his thoughts on the number of international players on college rosters; the crossover between "Varsity Blues" and tennis; and much more.
Jon Wertheim: From where you sit, what is the state of the union on college tennis in general right now?
Geoff Macdonald: I was on the college tennis Intercollegiate Tennis Association board for three years. So you look at trends. I think college tennis deserves more support from the USTA. I think we're kind of a vital role. You play junior tennis, hopefully they get to play college tennis and then some people want to play the pros and college kids kind of sits in the middle of that and might not get enough support. We could get a little bit of financial support.
There's an ongoing question of: how much pro tennis do you need to play while you're a collegiate athlete?
JW: Right, right.
GM: There’s kind of an arms race where colleges are trying to put on pro events, often on campus—25 and 50s and things like that. Right. They use it as a recruiting tool, etc. You get into a lot of slippery slopes there with just the ethics. An example is giving the wild cards to a 50K on your campus to a recruit. That's a pretty good advantage there. Then the other model is if you look at some of the people who've done really well in pro tennis, they weren’t playing pro events in college. Steve Johnson wasn’t. Danielle Collins wasn't. They might have played one or two. So that's a trend that I think is alarming.
That said, I think more really good coaches trying to be good than ever before. And, you know, the problem we face is there's a bit of a labor shortage. So there aren't enough elite players to stop the college programs, so people go overseas. Nothing wrong in balance, but when it kind of tips over to where, you know, there's no U.S. citizens playing, that seems to hurt our game in terms of local support. There are all kinds of forces or in really in any college sport, but certainly college tennis.