Fair Game News Logo

Women on the Men’s College Tennis Team? You Betcha.

April 24, 2009 – 8:44 AM
The 2009 Wheelock College Men's Tennis Team

Wheelock College Men's Tennis Team

By Laura Pappano

Yes, she is on the Men’s Tennis Team. And so is she and she and she.

Anyone who noodles around the Wheelock College Men’s Tennis homepage – or goes to see them play a match – notices the obvious: There are females on the roster. (And yep, there are more women than men on the team).

“We don’t have enough guys for a men’s team,” says head coach Marty Morrissey. “There aren’t a whole lot of guys to choose from and a lot of them have been recruited for other male sports.”

Ironically, it was the need to add sports for men at the Boston college that landed women on the team, says Wheelock College Athletic Director Diana Cutaia. While men only make up about 10 percent of the student body at Wheelock, Cutaia says the NCAA requires co-ed institutions with fewer than 1,000 students to sponsor at least five sports each for men and women. Wheelock has a waiver to offer fewer (they are adding soccer next fall for men, bringing the guy’s total to four). But last year, Cutaia wanted to add a sport for men — tennis.

“We didn’t offer women’s tennis because we had enough women’s teams at the time, and we needed to add some men’s sports,” Cutaia explained. “We decided to add tennis because of access to a facility, and our conference sponsors it.”

So, ironically, rather than taking away from guys, allowing females to play on this men’s team has actually increased athletic opportunities for men at the college (without six players, they can’t have a team).

Under NCAA rules, Wheelock’s team is “coed” – meaning they must compete against other men’s teams (including some which also have women on them), but not against women’s teams.  Wilson Chang, a male member of the Wheelock Men’s Tennis team, says he’s “definitely O.K. with the mixed-sex structure” though he gets annoyed when opponents “think they can roll right over us because we have girls on our team.”

The fledgling team’s challenges are less about gender, says Chang, than “lack of experience playing tennis at this level of play.” First year player Katharine Needham says she’s gotten much better – but doesn’t know whether that’s because her practice partner is a guy or because he is — well — just better than she is.

The team is young and because this is a new sport (missed a year of recruiting) and Morrissey’s first year coaching at Wheelock, he says they are in a building phase. “We’ve struggled so far this season — but not because we are mostly a women’s team.” The bottom line, says Morrissey (who played Division I tennis at the University of New Hampshire), is that even at Division I there is overlap in skills among males and females. “It’s not that no woman could actually beat a man at that level,” he says, noting that his UNH coach coached both men’s and women’s teams. “Some of the women on that team could beat some of the men.”

At the intramural level, the United States Tennis Association’s Tennis On Campus program has robust high-level play that lets top high school tennis players enjoy coed college competition (even a National Championship!) without the varsity-sized commitment that comes with it.

In other words: Why not coed collegiate tennis?

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.