ATHENS – Georgia is getting ready to host the NCAA Tennis Championships once again. In case you’re not up on these kinds of things, it has done that a lot. This will be the 32nd time.
It may be a while before they get to 33.
More on that later. This should be a good year for it at least. The 13th-ranked men’s team is just coming off another double-whammy season in which it won both the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. For those keeping count, that’s 41 SEC titles in all and 28 during the 29-year tenure of coach Manuel Diaz.
The Bulldogs are expected to move up in the new rankings that are being released Thursday and are considered long-shot contenders to win another NCAA championship. They’ll find out Tuesday night during the NCAA selection show exactly what seed they’ll receive and who they’ll host for the first- and second rounds next week.
“Can we win an NCAA championship? Yeah, we can,” said Diaz, who has been a part of all six Georgia has won. “We can beat anybody. Can we do it four days in a row? We’ve still got that test in front us.
As for this year’s NCAA Championships, you’d advised to attend and enjoy it because it’s going to be a while before it comes back.
UGA recently found out that it won’t be hosting over the next five years, and if and when it comes back after that is anybody’s guess. Considering this as one of my favorite sporting events to cover, I see this as a travesty.
For a time UGA served as host of the NCAA tennis tournament every year, thanks to legendary coach Dan Magill. Then the Bulldogs started to win a few of the titles themselves and the NCAA figured it ought to move it around a bit. That’s been the case for the last 15 years.
But the event was never away from Athens for long. The longest absence was three years from 2004-06. Most of the time since then it has been held at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex every other year.
The NCAA tennis committee announced last week the sites for the next four championships and Athens wasn’t among them. Since it was already going to be held somewhere else next year (Wake Forest), that means we won’t see this storied event back here at least until 2023, and Georgia can’t be sure it will get it back then. It hopes to.
As one might imagine, for a school with a tradition-rich tennis history such as UGA’s is, this did not go over well.
“I was just sick to my stomach,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said of getting the news the morning before it was announced. “I couldn’t eat I was so disappointed. It hurt me to call Manny and tell him. That was a phone call I was not looking forward to. It’s just part of the disappointment. It’s unfortunate but we respect those who have to make these tough decisions.”
Those who support and follow UGA tennis closely – and there are more than you might think — were incensed. How could this happen, they wondered? Who dropped the ball? Who’s to blame?
There have been a lot of accusations in that regard. Many pointed to McGarity and his decision to put on hold a long-discussed project to expand the indoor courts from four to six courts. Others pointed to the bid process. “Georgia mailed it in,” it was offered. “They rested on their laurels and just assumed they’d get it like they always do.”
All that sounded plausible to me. But the reality is that neither is likely the case. At least Diaz doesn’t think so.
“The initial reaction is somebody dropped the ball. What didn’t we do right?” Diaz told me. “And that’s OK to ask those questions, whether you’re a fan or in the press or you’re on the inside. Me as a coach and our administration are going to make sure that we do everything possible to correct it. But I don’t think this a decision based on us not having six indoor courts or any of that stuff. I just think there were a lot of factors out of our control.”
For the record, the NCAA tennis committee doesn’t provide any such details. There are only clues in where their championship is going over the next several years.
After Athens hosted the tournament in 20 of its first 23 years, the NCAA determined that it wanted to move it around geographically to different regions of the country. And that has been the case to the most extent. Since Georgia won its last national championship on its home courts in 2007, the tournament has been held in Tulsa, Okla. (twice); College Station, Texas; Palo Alto, Calif.; Champaign, Ill.; and Waco, Texas.
After this latest bid cycle, the new hosts are UCF (twice), Oklahoma State and Illinois.
Those places all have one thing in common. They’re all have new facilities, or at least relatively so.
The newest and most significant player is UCF. The host site its two years, starting in 2019, is the new USTA facility in Lake Nona, Fla. It’s a state-of-the-art place with 100 outdoor courts – and six indoors. It’s so nice that former UGA player John Roddick, who was head coach at Oklahoma, left there to take over at UCF.
Oklahoma State just built a new facility and Illinois did for when it last hosted in 2013. So clearly facilities are a part of this deal.
“We understand there are new players in the game every year that have made commitments to their tennis facilities and that’s what the NCAA is trying to encourage others to do, to invest in facilities like we have,” McGarity said. “Some schools have done that, not many, but some have. These are things that you learn going through the process.”
Actually, Georgia was all set to go forward with a project that would either add two new courts to the Lindsey Thompkins Indoor Courts or tear it down and build a new six-court facility either at the Dan Magill Complex or out on South Milledge Avenue at the soccer-softball complex. But McGarity put all that on hold shortly after coming on the scene as AD in 2010. And then it got de-prioritized again after Georgia moved to improve its football facilities with the construction of the $30 million indoor practice building and now the $63 million stadium project to build a new locker rooms and recruiting lounge into the west end grandstands.
“We’ve been so focused on so many other things,” McGarity said. “At some point finances come into play. We’ve had to kind of prioritize things. Whatever we do (with tennis) is going to have to be donor driven. A final location has not been determined at this time.”
So Georgia won’t be hosting anymore NCAA tennis tournaments for a while. Not a big deal to most Bulldogs’ fans I’m sure, but that’s one of the repercussions of Georgia having to focus so intently on getting back up to speed with regard to its football facilities.
Kind of ironic though isn’t it, that all those people donating all that money to be in the “Magill Society,” named for legendary tennis coach, and none of it is going toward tennis?
Diaz gets it.
“You have to get your revenue-producing sports to produce,” Diaz said. “You’ve got to give them everything they need. I think Kirby Smart is a great coach. The indoor football facility was very needed. What they’re going to do at the stadium is needed. All these things are priority one. I’m good with all that. I know we’re coming around the bend and we’re going to get what we need.”
Eventually. And maybe then the NCAA tournament will come back to Athens. For putting that event on the map, UGA certainly deserves it.