Flash forward to this year. Over the Labor Day weekend, I watched the U.S. Open Tennis tournament`s historic match between losing American icon Andre Agassi and German Benjamin (no relation to Boris) Becker.
During play, CBS commentator and former tennis great John McEnroe mentioned that Becker played for the Baylor University Bears while he was in college.
And off-handedly, McEnroe asked his partner, veteran sportscaster Dick Enberg, how many Americans did he guess play for Baylor.
Enberg—perhaps wanting to avoid controversy—responded that like many major universities, the Baylor tennis squad is well stocked with foreign-born players.
But I knew the specific answer to McEnroe`s question: there are zero (0) Americans on the Baylor tennis team!
Baylor`s 2006-2007 varsity tennis roster consists of eight players, two Germans, a Russian, an Australian, a Czech, a Hungarian, a Slovenian and a Brit. (Contact Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw and Tennis Coach Matt Knoll here.)
The presence of foreign players, many of them semi-pros in their native country and several years older than the average college student, is not a secret in the tennis community.
But this abuse of the process, initiated with an F-1 student visa, is little known by casual sporting fans.
And its impact on American kids who are also outstanding players and would love to have the same opportunity is rarely, if ever, considered.
Of the top 125 players ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, about 90 are foreign-born.
I can`t give you more specific information because, no accident I`m sure, many players list their hometowns, home countries, birth dates and major courses of study as N/A.
How common vital statistics are "not available" is a mystery since that information absolutely must be on the student`s application and passport. Perhaps the players and their universities have something to hide?
Since 2001, every ITA National Player of the Year, has been foreign-born: 2006, Benjamin Kohlloeffel, UCLA, Germany; 2005, Benedikt Dorsch, Baylor University, Germany; 2004; Amer Delic, University of Illinois, 2003, Bosnia and 2001-2002 Matias Boeker, University of Georgia, Argentina.
Pretty good schools, don`t you agree? Wouldn`t it be nice if your tennis-playing child could compete for a scholarship and a spot on one of those prestigious teams?
That`s not likely to happen given tennis` slide into the win-at-all-costs mentality.
Here`s how Baylor Coach Knoll sees it:
"But when we start going head to head with Duke, Stanford and UCLA … we can`t beat them for these kids. So do we let Duke beat our brains in because we`re taking third-tier Americans while they`re picking from the first tier? Or do we get first-tier (foreign) kids and try to beat them? What would you do?" [Baylor Enjoys Success With Foreign Athletes, by Jason King, Kansas City Star, June 14, 2006]
I spoke with a former California college tennis star and coach who has been fighting the NCAA for years to get a resolution so that young Americans could have a fair shot at these great opportunities.
Here`s what he told me:
"Originally, the coaches wanted to limit the number of foreign players per team. But our lawyers said it would kick in legal issues and we would not be able to do it without risking lawsuits. [JG note: Doubtful. No university coach has to justify to anyone which players he ultimately selects for his team.]
"We spent years with NCAA trying to get stricter rules and better compliance. In brief, both coaches and foreign players found loopholes and ways around the rules…..
"And.... there is still constant disagreement whether recruited international players are amateur or pro. One university NCAA compliance officer (e-mail the NCAA public relations office) may say they are pro and can`t be recruited—yet same kid will show up playing for another school.
"Foreign kids come knocking on coach`s doors—free education and a way to keep playing tennis. Also coaches now go to Europe and all over the globe to recruit. The rest of world has no organized college sports. International kids decide to go pro at age 16. If they haven`t made it by 21, they look to U.S. scholarships."
Sounds like there`s no scholarship in the offing for your youngster—boy or girl, since the same foreign-player obstacle exists in collegiate women`s tennis.
Not only are Americans shut out of academic benefits, but the foreign-born player may stay on after he gets his taxpayer subsidized university degree to beat up on your kid again in the job market.
The overseas player who starts out with a non-immigrant F-1 student visa often ends up—either by overstaying, marrying an American or getting a savvy immigration lawyer—becoming a permanent resident and thus a candidate for solid jobs.
Ask yourself this: your kid and Mr. UCLA/International Tennis star both interview for a fast-track job at Citibank. Who gets employed?
I view the loss of college tennis innocence with particular sadness.
When I played on the University of Pittsburgh team, no one would have had to travel to Argentina to find better players. There were plenty of them right across the state line in Ohio.
Since tennis wasn`t a major sport at Pitt, we didn`t get scholarships. We got a free pass to the school cafeteria for three months and a racquet.
Each March, we shoveled snow off the courts to practice whenever the weather permitted. We were gearing up for our annual April trip south where we played against the United States Naval Academy, Georgetown and major universities in North Carolina and Florida.
We got hammered at every stop, of course. But at least we took our pounding from fellow Americans.
I learned that college tennis is a team sport. Gloating was not permitted. If you won your match but the team lost, that`s a bad day.
Conversely, if you lost but the team won, then all was well.
I found out how to cope with adversity. In our collegiate matches, players called their own lines. Sooner or later, I`d meet up with a cheater—he called every close shot in his favor. But I realized that I gained nothing by blowing my stack. I had to figure out another way to win. And if I couldn`t...no whining. No one wants to hear it.
Are these better lessons for a kid than to learn that his university is willing to recruit halfway around the world so it can win tennis matches?
Maybe the team will never be above .500. Maybe it will never beat the likes of Baylor who stretch the rules to fulfill its lust to win
But important principles more important than winning should be encouraged.
On the top of my values list is promoting American ideals through the skills and talents of young—wait for it— American athletes.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.