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Rule change in Big 12 tennis etiquette draws mixed responses from UCLA

Junior co-captain Karue Sell said that crowd noise at tennis matches should be different from other college sports like football or basketball. (Jose Ubeda/Daily Bruin staff)

By Matt Cummings

April 22, 2015 1:07 a.m.

His well-worn UCLA basketball jersey already made his allegiances clear. But the fan in the front row did not hesitate to express his displeasure with the Bruins’ crosstown rivals.

“I hate USC,” he bellowed to the delight of his fellow students.

The scene would have been fairly tame had it come at a football or basketball game.

But this was a tennis match, where long-standing traditions of respect and courtesy made the exclamation seem strangely out of place.

“Our crowd was probably as bad as it’s ever been, and I’m certainly not happy about that,” said coach Billy Martin, who personally scolded the rowdy fans in the middle of Thursday’s home match against the Trojans. “I’ll kind of speak to some of our people as far as making sure that we don’t have it like that, as far as some of the comments that were made.”

But not all college coaches echo Martin’s aversion to heckling.

In fact, the Big 12 Conference has implemented a rule this season that allows its tennis fans to behave as if they were at a football or basketball game. Although cursing is still against the rules, fans can yell and scream throughout a point, rather than just between points, and they are allowed to taunt opponents.

The rule change – driven by Texas Christian University coach David Roditi – is intended to increase attendance, which has been a point of emphasis for collegiate tennis officials recently, as around 600 schools have disbanded their varsity tennis programs since the 1970s.

“They’re hoping that it’s going to attract people. But I don’t know if I’d go all that way with breaking down all the barriers quite honestly,” Martin said. “Tennis is a little different than football or basketball. I don’t think we’re going to generate the crowds of 10,000-plus, where I think it’s just noisy no matter what.”

On the other hand, senior co-captain Dennis Mkrtchian, an emotional player who feeds off the crowd’s energy, said he loves the idea of the new rule.

“It’s not part of tennis tradition at all, you know, where you got to be respectful. At the same time, this is college, man. I think it would be great – I think that would fire us up,” Mkrtchian said. “It’s different, you know, but it’s college. You don’t have the same rules for college football as professional football.”

Mkrtchian said he even thinks the change could work in professional tennis.

“You got thousands of people screaming at a basketball game when a guy’s taking a foul shot, am I right?” Mkrtchian said. “He’s still got to focus and do his thing – we got to focus and do our thing here. So what’s the difference? I know he’s expecting it, but if we learn to expect it, you know, it’ll be a great thing too.”

A Roditi pupil during his high school days in Southern California, Mkrtchian said he will make sure to commend his old coach when he sees him at the NCAA Tournament.

“Maybe if it was happening while we were playing, I would think differently,” Mkrtchian said. “But hearing about it, I think that just sounds awesome. I think that’s what college should be about.”

Though junior co-captain Karue Sell said he would welcome the idea of playing under the new rule, he thinks the aspect of crowd noise in tennis is different than in a major sport like football or basketball.

“It wouldn’t be as bad if it was constant noise,” Sell said. “If it was constant noise, you’d just go and play. But if you’re serving, and the guy screams something or they scream something every time you hit the ball, maybe it gets annoying. I don’t know if tennis is the sport for that.”

Mkrtchian and Sell both said that allowing fans more freedom would increase attendance nationally but that it might not be reflected at UCLA.

“I feel like those Big 12 schools are usually college towns – there’s less stuff to do,” Sell said. “But to get that many people out here on a sunny Saturday in L.A., I think people have other options of stuff to do.”

Mkrtchian agreed that the rule would appeal less to students at Pac-12 schools than in other conferences.

“I think the general vibe here is a little different than the (Southeastern Conference) or the Big 12,” Mkrtchian said. “Here (in the Pac-12) it’s a lot more respectful. There it’s a lot more rowdy, which isn’t a bad thing or a good thing – it’s just I think the nature of the schools.”

If the rule does in fact have trouble catching on in the Pac-12, it would be welcome news for Martin.

“To me, there should be some changing as to the etiquette in tennis as far as everybody having to be still. But to be able to scream at any time, which is one of the things I think they’re allowed to do, I don’t know where they draw the line,” Martin said. “I’d rather have a little bit more class in our sport than maybe football.”

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Matt Cummings | Alumnus
Cummings joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2014 and contributed until he graduated in 2018. He was an assistant Sports editor for the 2015-2016 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, baseball, cross country, women's volleyball and men's tennis beats.
Cummings joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2014 and contributed until he graduated in 2018. He was an assistant Sports editor for the 2015-2016 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, baseball, cross country, women's volleyball and men's tennis beats.
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