College tennis history was made this past weekend in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California. During the 60th edition of the historic Southern California Intercollegiate Championships, PlaySight SmartCourt technology was available to players and officials to challenge close line calls with the PlayFair Challenge system.
The University of Southern California’s Marks Stadium was outfitted with six SmartCourts earlier this year, and has been used significantly since that time in training and matches by both the men’s and women’s tennis teams. While PlaySight technology was primarily developed as a player performance and development tool, the company recently unveiled the PlayFair Challenge System – giving any SmartCourt player the ability to access multi-angle video review to challenge line calls made by their opponent or an official.
Over the course of the five day tournament (held October 27th through the 31st), there were 63 challenges in total. The possible outcomes for a challenge were as follows:
1. A “correct” challenge (the on-court call is overturned and the player kept his challenge)
2. An “incorrect” challenge (the on-court call remains the same and the player lost his challenge)
3. An “inconclusive” challenge (the video replay did not provide a definitive answer, the on-court call remains the same, and the player kept his challenge)
Of the 63 challenges, 35 were correct, 19 were incorrect, and 9 were inconclusive. This means that over half of all challenges overturned incorrect on-court calls. The feedback from officials, coaches, and players was unanimous – there were less bad calls at this tournament, better sportsmanship, and an increase in piece of mind for everybody involved.
ITA official Sean Cook was quick to embrace the PlaySight technology even though this was his very first time seeing or using it.
“The PlayFair Challenge system gave us officials a huge peace of mind. It also gave players and coaches peace of mind, and resolved a huge amount of potential interpersonal conflict between coaches and players. PlaySight adds a whole new dimension to a competitive tennis tournament environment.”
USC head coach Peter Smith felt that the PlayFair Challenge system created a better feeling of fairness among coaches and players, as he told Lisa Stone, who runs Parenting Aces.
“Guys were trying really hard to make the right call because they had ‘god’ above them. Last week at Regionals, several teams walked away with a bad feeling. We’re okay if we lose; we just don’t want to be robbed. I don’t think anyone left here yesterday feeling like they were robbed.”
Texas Tech head coach Brett Masi hopes to see PlayFair Challenges at future college tennis tournaments.
“I think it is a groundbreaking technology that will only get better and can be very helpful in making the game fairer and more consistent.” Masi also saw a noticeable difference in how the players called their lines. “I feel like it made players think about their calls a little more. Some are hesitant to make a bad call so they know they have a backup just in case … others who make bad calls now hesitate as well knowing that there can be an easier way to be overturned.”
USC senior Nick Crystal, who lost in the final to his teammate, freshman Brendan Holt, also noticed a difference with the PlayFair Challenge system in place.
“You have a second eye. The officials are on the court, and if it’s close, you’re going to challenge. It’s nice to get that second opinion and just know that you’re sure about a call. It’s impacting the close calls. People are only calling balls they for sure see out – rather than making a tight call – because they know you can go to the challenge system and they can get overruled. I think you can go out there and play more freely when you don’t have to worry about someone making a bad call, just focus on yourself and your game.”
UCSD junior Eric Tseng felt that there was less arguing and disagreements between players (and officials) because of the PlayFair Challenge system.
“I did like the ability to challenge calls because the line calls were not subjective on a final ruling of the play. Unless a player completely disagreed with the PlayFair challenge ruling, I observed much less arguing between players and umpires.”
ITA COO Erica Perkins Jasper was on hand throughout the tournament to oversee the PlayFair Challenge system. She came away impressed, too.
“I was thrilled to be able to be on site to work with PlaySight and our ITA Certified Officials to utilize the PlayFair technology. Shout out to Peter Smith for his leadership to make this happen and to allow us to be a part of it. I was pleasantly surprised with the ease at which our officials picked up using the system — a huge thanks should go to Anthony Montero, ITA Officials, for helping us come up with a process and protocol for the challenges, which worked really well. I also felt we saw better overall sportsmanship at this particular event and although I don’t have conclusive proof, I can’t help but think that the PlayFair technology had something to do with it. I think the future for this kind of technology is exceptionally bright. It is a priority of the ITA to be on the cutting edge of exciting technology and concepts and we are happy to be working in partnership with PlaySight on this.”
For a video recap of the PlayFair Challenge system in action at USC, watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMbuIDLGv3Y.
For more on PlaySight, visit www.playsight.com.