The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 27, 2021

The NCAA failing women again, this time in tennis — Interview: Brittany Collens — Must-click women's tennis links

(Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.

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Erasing Collegiate History — Over $252

Imagine helping secure the second conference title in program history and first in 16 years, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. You send your coach off to retirement in style. Then, just over three years later, it’s taken from you. Why? Because of a landline phone jack. Now, imagine hearing you’re at the center of the controversy and you had zero knowledge. Unfortunately, that’s the case for current professional tennis player Brittany Collens.

I mentioned this previously when the news broke, but the story is rightfully picking up some steam. Just a month after the fiasco at the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball tournament, Collens penned an article for The Player’s Tribune. Pause here and read her letter ASAP.

In the 2015-16 season, Collens’ junior year, she and her best friend unknowingly accepted a $252 stipend marked as a “telecomm fee.” Unbeknownst to them, that was only for students living on campus, whereas they moved off. What’s even crazier? Those dorms don’t even have telephones! UMass uncovered the error, totaling three years, 12 athletes and $9,100, when auditing the athletic department. The school self-imposed a $5,000 fine and a two-year probationary period as a result.

That was the end until the NCAA Division I Committee of Code Infractions deemed it a Level II infraction. As a result, any match or game played by an ineligible athlete should be nulled in the record books. In total, 186 men’s basketball and women’s tennis matches were erased in a simple click — including Collens’ final two years. The NCAA released a statement that said because UMass’ financial aid department properly awarded 98% of cases, it wasn’t a failure-to-monitor violation. I struggle with the fact that they applauded the school, yet their COI deemed this such a big deal, they’re vacating history.

This case isn’t paying athletes under the table during recruitment or during eligibility. This isn’t turning a blind eye to various cases of abuse. There’s no fraud or money laundering. This was a simple administrative error that was self-reported. Now, this case bears a bigger question — should schools self-report their errors to the NCAA? Collens put it best, why should they if the lowest “crime” receives the harshest penalty?

This could seriously forever change the future landscape of the NCAA, dangerously walking a thin line when there is already a lot of conversation surrounding amateurism and players monetizing off of their likeness. There was zero performance enhancement given to Collens, her teammate or UMass, but they’re being treated worse than LSU and their Title IX mismanagement. It’s a slap in the face to true victims of the NCAA system when they struggle seeing the light of day, while true accidents are treated the harshest.

UMass recognizes that there is a bigger task at hand and is in the midst of appealing the NCAA’s ruling. The two parties are in limbo, with COVID-19 not helping the length of the case. Collens said UMass has spent over $100,000 in legal fees to fight this, but there’s no end in sight.

Even if UMass loses their appeal, Collens has started to unearth many cases of athlete mistreatment. She’s hearing from athletes and parents that revolve around the same theme: manipulation, fear, scare tactics, sexual/mental/physical abuse and more.

While her history is still up in the air, she may have found her purpose in being a needed voice for female student-athletes. The NCAA can right this wrong, especially in the wake of their basketball and softball errors. Here we are again, being shown how expendable women are to the NCAA. Time and time again, we’re seeing non-revenue women’s sports be seen as an afterthought, but Collens doesn’t mind stepping up to the plate and being the voice and face against a billion dollar corporation.

NCAA, do the right thing here.

Make sure to scroll down for my Five at The IX with Brittany, but also be sure to sign the petition she’s created that’s approaching 10,000 signatures and check out her merch shop that benefits a nonprofit helping mistreated athletes.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The WTA calendar added two more WTA 250 events, one in Parma, Italy for the week of May 17 and another in Hamburg, Germany the week of July 5. Both will be held on outdoor red clay.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty fought her way through in her Stuttgart debut, taking the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with a three-set win over Aryna Sabalenka. Not only did she have to fight from a set down in her last three matches, she also captured the doubles title with Jennifer Brady. The duo defeated top-seeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Desirae Krawczyk in a match tiebreaker.

At the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championship Istanbul, Sorana Cirstea won her second WTA singles title, knocking off top seed Elise Mertens in straight sets. Cirstea won her first title since 2008 and didn’t drop a set en route. Mertens did leave Turkey with gold hardware, taking the doubles title with Veronika Kudermetova, decimating Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya.

Awesome news coming from the WTA — they’ve partnered with The Fan Project!

How about some feel good news!? Carla Suarez Navarro announced she’s overcome Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is on-site practicing at the Mutua Madrid Open. She plans on returning at Roland Garros before a hopeful farewell at the Tokyo Olympics.

Sadly, Can Uner, the former longtime coach of Cagla Buyukakcay, lost his three-year battle with brain cancer at the age of 47. Alex Macpherson of the WTA spoke to Buyukakcay about Uner’s impact and her role as a trailblazer in Turkey. Honestly, it’s a must-read.

Ashleigh Barty rises to No. 1 on the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, while Sorana Cirstea had the largest leap in the Top 100. Top 20 debuts in singles for Karolina Muchova and in doubles for Desirae Krawczyk also headline this week’s ranking update.

Former Top 10’er Coco Vandeweghe is playing the game because she enjoys it, not because she’s good at it or it’s all she knows. Her coach Craig Kardon opened up to Matt Cronin about the American’s eagerness to gain some wins and work her way back to the top.

Bianca Andreescu sure can’t catch a break. The 2019 US Open champion will be missing the Mutua Madrid Open due to a COVID-19 diagnosis:

Kudos to Daria Kasatkina, who opened up about a significant dark period when she was among the world’s best players. I love seeing the vulnerability of the game’s best. I highly recommend you watch her entire interview with English subtitles here.

Be sure to check out WTA Insider’s wrap of last week’s play, as well as their Champion’s Corner with Ashleigh Barty.

Though centered on the ATP, enjoy this read by Tumaini Carayol on wildcards being given on last name and not merit.

Congratulations to Yanina Wickmayer, who recently gave birth to daughter, Luana. The Belgian plans on returning to tour following her maternity leave.

Chris Evert’s latest One on One with former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber is live. Make sure to check out her other interviews with Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, as well.

Big college tennis news was announced today that the NCAA will be choosing the singles and doubles championship fields, as opposed to the ITA rankings.

Because many conferences, such as the Big Ten, only had inter-conference play and not much of a fall season, the rankings don’t reflect the top of the came. Best example? Three-time All-American Ashley Lahey, the 2018 NCAA runner-up and No. 1 player last year. Now? She’s No. 113.

Tweet of the Week

Totally here for Misaki Doi shuffling, shuffling

Five at The IX: Brittany Collens

Brittany Collens is a 2017 graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she helped lead the team to an A10 Conference championship. Following graduation, she turned professional, competing all around the globe. She’s reached one ITF World Tour doubles final and in the WTA rankings, is currently ranked No. 1288 in singles and No. 1450 in doubles. She holds career-high rankings of Nos. 1145 and 1137, respectively. Give her a follow on both Twitter and Instagram.

Joey: For our readers, give a background on your career, your decision to turn pro and where you are today?
Brittany: I started playing tennis when I was four years old. I was lucky to get a scholarship to New Mexico State University my freshman year and then later transferred to UMass Amherst, where I was also able to play under full scholarship. I was very fortunate. Then, I think my junior year, I met Tim Mayotte (former top 10 ATP) and he helped encourage me to continue my tennis after college and turn pro. It wasn’t something I had always thought of, more of something I dreamed of as a little girl and then thought probably wasn’t a reality in high school. That changed when I met Tim. I saw a successful first year and then was completely injured my second year, but tried to play. I had a good start to my third year but the pandemic happened and am soon returning to tour after training in Boston the last year. 

Joey: Where does UMass and the NCAA stand now? Is there any possibility of reinstating your wins and championship?
Brittany: UMass and the NCAA are having sort of a dance back and forth right now. There is a series of appeals that happen and then they schedule a virtual hearing. I think it’s been slower than expected because of COVID. It’s so hard to tell whether they are going to reinstate the wins or not because while there has been so much public support and we have almost 9,200 signatures on our petition it would start a slippery slope for the NCAA and they need to defend amateurism no matter what. I am hopeful though.

Joey: What have been the biggest eye-openers for you since the NCAA case first broke?
Brittany: I have experienced my own issues and seen issues within the NCAA, but never really thought there was anything you could do. In fact, that’s still true. There is not much recourse for athletes to pursue if there are issues. That’s because anyone you report it to have tied interests. What I didn’t know is how widespread the issues were and that there were a lot of really great people fighting to make athletes’ rights better. I also didn’t realize how fiercely criticized the NCAA was. I sort of just thought they were unaware of the problems, but now I realize they really do intentionally look the other way. I am much more passionate about speaking out because of how many of my friends currently face sexual, physical, and mental abuse in their sports. I would hope that we can all agree on better safety provisions. 

Joey: You’ve played primarily on the ITF World Tour since you went pro. Does any significant moment stand out and how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you? 
Brittany: I have had so many really great memories and experiences from playing on the ITF tour. I think my greatest moment was winning a round at the 60k in Kentucky. That win was amazing because it gave me my ranking but I also was at a tournament with a lot of girls who were planning to play the US Open. It gave me a lot of hope and motivation to rise to the next level.

COVID has been really tough because most tennis players are confident players. It can sometimes take a while to get on a roll and be ok with losing quite a lot. After my injuries, I struggled with confidence and then felt I was doing well by starting the year out with a win against a girl who had been top 700. Unfortunately not long after, the ITF World Tour was suspended and playing opportunities have been limited since. I hope that I won’t lose my ranking and don’t have to start that process over because that’s one of the hardest things about going pro. 

Joey: What are your goals for 2021 and beyond? How long do you envision playing professional tennis? 
Brittany: It’s hard to say how long I envision playing tennis for because while my goals with my coaches are big and do hopefully be within the top 1000 shortly and to climb the ranks quickly, COVID has put me a little more behind than I want. It can be tough to go pro after school, but I am glad I did. I do believe in myself but some of my other goals include continuing to fight for athletes’ rights. This has been a bizarre opportunity that has led me to great people and I feel that I have always wanted to work with organizations for good causes. I am excited to see where my tennis will take me this year and all my other projects!

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Brittany?
Brittany: Simply put my Papa (grandfather) and Nana (grandmother) have always told me never to give up. They showed me that the biggest limits in life we face are the glass ceilings that we put above our own heads. And whenever we decide we want to break it we can. It is such a simple piece of advice but it is so true. We can always choose how we want to react to limits that other people try to place on us. It’s simple advice but hard to follow. It’s really helped me in my tennis and life in general.

If I could go back some years, I would definitely tell myself to be confident and go after what you want. I was a very outgoing kid and still am. But I have certainly developed as everyone does, doubts and second guess myself time to time. I am working on being authentic to who I am and have felt like I am finding my voice again.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.