Thursday, April 2, 2020

What might an altered USTA League schedule look like when play resumes from COVID-19 suspension?

With the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay at home orders, many tennis players are not able to play with some areas closing courts as a prohibited activity.  The result is they can only dream of playing once restrictions are lifted, and for those that play USTA League, the obvious question is how will play resume and schedules be affected?

The USTA suspended play on March 13, at the time through April 20, but subsequently extended the suspension through May 3rd.  That is the loss of 7 weekends of play.  In the hopes of still keeping Sectionals and Nationals, that 7 weekends has to be recovered one way or another, be it moving Nationals and Sectionals back giving more time, compressing schedules, or doubling up on playoff weekends and taking fewer teams or using shorter scoring formats.

To see how this might play out, I'll use my area (Seattle in PNW) as an example and look at just Adult 18 & Over and 40 & Over.  Our 40 & over was nearly complete, one weekend of play remained, and 18 & Over was to start on March 23rd.

Our Sectionals are planned for August 7-9 (18 & Over) and 21-23 (40 & Over).  This gives teams at least 7 weeks from Sectionals to Nationals to plan.  This could be compressed some, or National could move dates, but for now, lets assume these dates are kept.  That means local playoffs must be completed by mid/late July, and even that leaves little time for teams to prepare logistics for Sectionals, but that is often a short trip so can reasonably be done.

So, lets say that our local playoffs were held July 17-19, and perhaps were a combined event for 18 & Over and 40 & Over.  I'll discuss the logistics and impact of that shortly, lets just look at schedule.

This would mean 18 & Over league play would need to be completed by July 12th, which leaves just 10 weeks from May 3rd to get all the play in.  This was normally planned for 11 weeks so one week is lost, plus the one week of 40 & Over remaining so 2 weeks lost.  One can envision a revised schedule being compressed and getting 12 weeks of play in in 10 weeks, especially if some outdoor courts are used as play is in May and June as the weather warms up.  This is doable!

But what about those playoffs?  Normally each division has two weekends of playoffs, a wildcard weekend and then the final weekend with semis and finals.  I seem to have suggested that all this be played on one weekend above.  Is this possible?

First, perhaps July 17-19 is the first weekend of the two weekends, and things wrap up the 24th thru 26th.  That leaves little time between local playoffs and Sectionals, but is perhaps doable.

Second, there may be the chance that rather than taking the top-2 teams from each sub-flight, playoffs are abbreviated to take just the top teams or fewer wildcards to reduce the number of matches to be played.

Third, being mid/late July, perhaps more facilities aren't as busy or more outdoor courts are used, and play is dispersed across more courts increasing capacity for a huge weekend of playoffs.

Fourth, to fit more matches in, an abbreviated scoring format could be used like Fast 4.

I don't know that July 17-19 is a real date in any contingency plans, but what I've run through above at least makes having reasonably complete season appear possible, along with some semblance of normal playoffs.  There may be some impact with a more compressed schedule, fewer playoff teams, or short scoring formats, but there is hope for play to be complete on a schedule leading in to Sectionals.

And Sectionals dates could move as well so there is a bit of flexibility there, same with Nationals.

Now, all of this assumes play resumes May 4th, and that certainly isn't a given.  But if it does, look for some arrangement like I described above to be used to get play in on a schedule that allows Nationals to still take place.

Note, I've ignored Mixed and 55 & Over, something may have to be sacrificed and it is possible Nationals for a division or two are not held, and that would allow for Nationals to move back 2-3 weeks as some dates for Nationals would become available.  Of course, Mixed and 55 & Over are fewer courts and not as many teams typically, so there is more flexibility in getting these in, and in my area, all but 40 & Over Mixed has already had its regular season and local playoffs completed.

If more compressed regular season formats are required, look for the potential use of un-flighted round-robin, like is used at Nationals, for a "season in a weekend" (or two) instead of an 8-10 week season.  This is not ideal of course, but at least allows for teams to play a season and advance.  There are issues with the number of matches played and getting players qualified, especially with large rosters, but it is an idea.

What do you think?  Is play resuming May 4th too optimistic?  Do we just need to accept USTA League will not finish with any sense of normalcy this year?  Or is there hope?

Monday, March 23, 2020

USTA National extends suspension of all sanctioned events through May 3


Here is the full statement:
Due to the continued situation surrounding the COVID-19 virus, and after discussions with the USTA Medical Advisory Committee, effective immediately the USTA will extend the suspension of USTA sanctioned products and events, including Adult and Junior Tournaments, USTA League, Junior Team Tennis, Team Challenge, Team Tournaments, USTA Schools programs, Tennis on Campus and Wheelchair events, through May 3. Additionally, recognizing the evolving and fast-changing nature of this situation, the USTA will continue to monitor and assess conditions to make future determinations about events and activities taking place after May 3.

All Category 1 and Super Category 2 National Adult Tournaments with an ITF status, all ITF Junior events and all USTA Pro Circuit and professional events will align with the same calendar as the ITF, ATP and WTA, and be suspended through June 7.

Both the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., and the USTA National Campus, in the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Fla., will remain closed for play and instructional opportunities through May 3. Any patron who wishes to cancel participation in a scheduled activity should contact the specific location for refund information. These policies will be in effect pending additional guidance or directives from each local governmental agency and the CDC. The USTA will continue to monitor and assess conditions to make future determinations about all activities at these facilities.

There is no guarantee of course that USTA League or any other program will resume on May 3rd, but we know it is another nearly 6 weeks of no league play at this point.

As far as what happens when leagues resume, I'm sure contingency plans are being worked on and perhaps redone as a result of this extension, but hard to say if or when any or all Nationals is in jeopardy of being canceled.  We will all need to exercise some patience until there is more reason to believe any date is really the date play can resume.

Stay healthy everyone!

Friday, March 13, 2020

What does the USTA National suspension mean to Adult League play?

On the heels of several sections announcing cancelations/suspensions of league play yesterday, today, USTA National suspended all sanctioned play through April 20.

As I understand it, all sections are to follow the National dates, although I saw a communication from NorCal stating their previously announced suspension end date is still March 31, so perhaps they believe they can restart league play sooner if conditions merit it.

So what does this mean to league play?

Some leagues are mid-season:
  • Will they be completed when play resumes?
  • If not, will current standings be used to determine who advances to playoffs?
  • If both teams agree to play a scheduled match and do so, can the score be entered?

Other leagues are yet to start:
  • Will these leagues be played as scheduled?
  • Or will adapting to the leagues currently mid-season cause the to be played leagues to have their dates affected?

And what about playoffs?  These dates may be affected depending on how league dates are affected.  Can they be played as scheduled or are reschedules possible?

And what about refunds for leagues that end up being canceled?

The answers to these questions are all "depends", although I'm guessing there is nothing stopping results from being entered on TennisLink.

In any case, the various playoff dates progressing to States, Districts, and Sectionals are all driven by the dates for Nationals.  Sections work backwards from those dates to arrive at when they need to hold Sectionals and so on.  While there may be some flexibility in these dates, at some point a suspension of play will affect the ability for seasons to be completed and playoff teams identified.

Keep in mind that we don't know that play will resume after April 20th.  Should this suspension go on even longer, it becomes even more difficult to adapt and it isn't out of the question that Nationals could be canceled, or very creative ways of determining the participants identified.

So what will happen is I'm sure section and even district dependent.  Some will have more flexibility with schedules and facilities, but others are facility constrained and may have to be creative to come up with solutions, or at some point not be able to.  If there still are playoffs and teams to advance be identified, let's hope they come up with equitable ways of doing so.

As interesting as it is to speculate on what might happen, with this news of the suspension just breaking, it is far too soon to expect your section or league coordinators to have all the answers, so I'm sure they'd appreciate not being bombarded with questions.  Give them time to plan and figure out what is possible and communicate it when the time is right.

Should I hear anything, I will continue to write and update, and if you hear anything please let me know with comments or an e-mail to ratings@teravation.net.

Stay safe, stay healthy, play some tennis if you are so inclined, and stay tuned.

Breaking News! USTA National suspends all sanctioned activities

Yesterday, several sections started suspending junior, league, and tournament play, and today, USTA National has made a statement suspending all sanctioned activity through April 20.

It is interesting that they state that the National Tennis Center and National Campus will remain open, players may continue to use the facilities and play, but group activities will be limited in number of participants.

If they aren't closing facilities, why not let league matches continue?  These have anywhere from 12-16 players which isn't that many, but I'm guessing having league matches continue might put pressure on players that might not want to play, to do so.

Looking on the bright side, all those courts used for league, tournament, and junior matches just got freed up!  If you do want to play and take appropriate precautions, you still can.

Update: See this link for more information.  I am also told this applies to all sections and is effective immediately, look for communications from sections shortly.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Breaking News! USTA Eastern suspends all League/Tournament/Junior play! Update: New England too!

The corona virus and COVID-19 are certainly serious in most every area of the United States and around the world.  It has affected the tennis world with Indian Wells being postponed earlier this week and as I write this, the ATP and ITF suspending tournament play for 6 weeks.  And we've seen most major sports affected including suspension of the NBA and NHL seasons, and many NCAA sports being affected.

But as I wrote, in my section USTA League play had continued with permission to be flexible on getting matches in and penalties for defaulting matches being suspended.  As far as I know, no other section had cancelled play, until now!

As of an hour ago, USTA Eastern posted that they are suspending "all sanctioned junior and adult tournaments, adult League matches and Junior Team Tennis matches effective immediately for the entire section up to and including April 1st, 2020".

This is certainly exercising "an abundance of caution" and is probably the safe thing to do.  It does feel a bit extreme to me though given that tennis is played on opposite sides of the net with no body contact and players generally being a reasonable distance apart.  The gotcha is likely the sharing of touching a tennis ball though and how the virus could be transferred that way.

What do you think?  Is it appropriate to suspend all sanctioned play?  Or is that going a bit overboard?

Certainly players can use this opportunity to still go play and simply exercise good hygiene practices to avoid an issues.  If you are in Eastern or any other section that suspends play, will you still play tennis or be extra safe by not playing at all?

Update: I understand the New England section has notified players that USTA events are suspended through the end of March.

Monday, March 9, 2020

COVID-19 and its effects on tennis events, pro and others - Indian Wells, Tri-Level Nationals, local leagues

The spread of COVID-19 is clearly a major worldwide concern, and its effects are being felt in the tennis world at several levels.

The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, which was due to get started today with qualifying rounds, and the main draw later in the week, announced last night that the event was being canceled.  The reason given was one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Palm Springs area, but I think the larger concern was the influx of fan coming in from all over the country and tens of thousands of them milling around together in close proximity for two weeks and the possibility they would spread it to other fans and local residents.  And with Seattle being a hot-bed for COVID-19 cases and Indian Wells being a popular destination for Seattle tennis players, one can understand the concern.

The cancelation of Indian Wells raises questions about other events, be it the Miami Open in two weeks or the clay court season in Europe that starts in a month.  With quarantines and restrictions on public events with more than 1,000 attendees, one can see how putting on a tennis tournament might be logistically difficult and perhaps not in the best interests of the area the event is in.

But it isn't just pros that are being affected.  For those that play USTA Tri-Level and look forward to the Tri-Level Invitational, also held at Indian Wells, that event too has been canceled.  One can understand it, given the BNP Paribas Open was canceled, but certainly Tri-Level Nationals is not an event that draws thousands of fans, one could perhaps argue this event could have gone on as planned.  But perhaps a big reason the participants show up is for the pro tournament, so with that not happening, players didn't want to make the trip.

Local leagues, USTA or otherwise, may also be being impacted.  My section (PNW) sent a notice to players saying:
  • It is acceptable for players and teams to default matches due to COVID-19. If a default is necessary, please communicate with your opponent's captain, the host facility, and your Regional League Coordinator. 
  • Any match that is defaulted due to players being unavailable to play due to COVID-19 can be considered for a reschedule, however, the following parameters will need to be followed:
    • Reschedules must be completed within the posted Local League season dates. 
    • The host facility must agree to the reschedule. Be advised this could be a different host facility than originally scheduled. 
    • Both captains must agree on the new date, time, and location. 
    • Both captains must clearly communicate via e-mail with the host facility and Regional League Coordinator once a new date, time and location is confirmed. 
  • If both teams agree to a default or both teams are unable to field a team and no reschedule can be accommodated, then this will be recorded as a double team default (per PNW Regulation 2.01c(2)b). 

FWIW, I had a match this weekend and it went off without a hitch.  Players did generally avoid handshakes and high fives, sticking to fist and elbow bumps instead, but nothing more dramatic than that.

What is your league doing regarding COVID-19?  Are any players reluctant to play?  Are captains having a hard time fielding a line-up?

Latest update on the NorCal Facility Use Fee - Monday 9-Mar-2020

I wrote about the letter from NorCal to USTA players late last week providing background and their justification for the Facility Fee as they call it.  Players continue to be vocal, and other clubs have come out with their opposition to it too.

First, I've learned the timing of things is a bit suspicious.  While the board voted on this back in December, the playing population was not publicly notified about it or a date when it would go into effect until the letter sent the evening of Friday March 6th.  Specifically, the e-mail I saw had a timestamp of 8:56 pm.

I learned today that the deadline to withdraw a team from the upcoming 18 & Over league was Friday March 6th, so teams that have signed up did so without knowledge of the fee increase.  While it appears a player could sign-up before April 13th when the fee goes into affect and avoid it, if a player or team wanted to boycott USTA League play because of the fee, the team can no longer withdraw from the league.

The timing of this and lack of transparency about the fee until after the team withdraw deadline seems highly suspicious and it will be interesting to see if teams try to withdraw now and if they are allowed to do so.  Players and captains, please report.

Second, I wrote a few days earlier about Spare Time Sports Clubs not being on board with the fee, and I have subsequently heard that Bay Clubs, the second largest organization involved in League tennis, as well as Lifetime Activities have both written letters to members indicating they are against the fee.

Third, the Saving NorCal Leagues blog wrote up a detailed response to the letter sent to players from NorCal.  Read that here.

There is a lot to continue to monitor.  Will the fee be rescinded?  If not, will clubs refund members?  Will players boycott and participation in leagues drop?

Stay tuned, I will write more as I learn more.