The Tuskegee University athletic will file a formal letter of complaint with the NCAA in the wake of the school’s appearance in the South Region-1 Division II women’s tennis tournament.
The Tuskegee University athletic department will file a formal letter of complaint with the NCAA in the wake of the school’s appearance in the South Region-1 Division II women’s tennis tournament.
The tournament was hosted by Barry University, No. 2 in Division II this year and the defending national champion, was scheduled for April 29-30 in Miami Shores, Fla. However, rain delayed play for two days and the tournament wasn’t completed until May 2. Tuskegee, the SIAC champion, forfeited its first-round match with Barry because team members – including three graduating seniors – needed to return to school for final exams, which began May 2.
“I don’t know what to expect from the NCAA,’’ Tuskegee Director of Athletics Alvin Jackson says. “We had no choice (but to file the complaint). They may respond and they may not. But the problem needs to be identified. Everybody should be treated fairly. Tuskegee may not with the (SIAC) championship next year, but somebody will, and it could happen to them.’’
Jackson said the letter of complain is being drafted and will be sent to the NCAA in the next few days.
The complaint centers around Tuskegee tennis coach Ernest Grant’s claim that tournament director Bridget Lyons, Senior Associate Director of Athletics at Barry, ignored his request that his team’s first-round match with Barry be moved from 1 p.m. to 9 a.m on May 1. Grant also says Lyons excluded him from a meeting with the coaches of the three other teams in the tournament during which the match schedule was set.
Moving the Tuskegee-Barry match to 9 a.m. would have permitted the Tigerettes to compete in the tournament and given them time to make the 14-hour bus ride back to campus and get some sleep before taking finals the next day.
Instead, Rollins University and Saint Leo played the morning match. Grant says he was told his team’s match couldn’t be played earlier because Barry’s team members needed to take finals. Initially, Grant agreed to play the early match. But after deliberating on his decision, he called Jackson, explained the situation and said he was bringing the team back to campus, and Jackson gave him the go ahead.
“It was a difficult decision, extremely difficult,’’ Grant says, adding that seniors were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to graduate and a number of parents were considering flying their daughters back to school in order to take finals. “I wanted to do what was right for the team, but I wanted to do what was best for the girls.
“(Parents) didn’t want them to get an incomplete in those classes and have to take them again. They didn’t want to spend more money for college. Barry could have taken finals after the match. They treated us like we were nothing. It was selfish and inconsiderate. I get pissed all over again talking about it. This doesn’t need to be let go. If they do that us, they’ll do it to somebody else.’’
Barry University Director of Athletics Michael L. Covone referred questions about the incident to NCAA representative John Baldwin. Baldwin didn’t return calls or respond to e-mails requesting comment.
Grant says Lyons’ action is perplexing. In addition to being the top seed and the defending national champion, Barry is undefeated this season. In addition, Tuskegee was without its No. 1 singles players Shaneka Knight, MVP of the SIAC Tournament. She didn’t make the trip because of academics commitments in an effort to enroll in Tuskegee’s Nursing Program.
“I don’t know what the situation was,’’ he says. “I don’t know if it was racism. We were the only black team there. They just didn’t handle the situation right. If you’re hosting somebody, you should be as accommodating as possible. Our chances weren’t too good. Whatever the outcome was going to be, it was going to be. But let us play the match. I don’t know why they would have felt threatened. If you’re 22-0 and play in a city where the weather is sunny 340 days out of the year and you can play every day, why worry about Tuskegee?’’
Things went downhill quickly after Tuskegee arrived in Miami Shores at approximately 8:30 p.m. April 28. Rain washed out opening round matches that were scheduled for the next day, and the coaches met agreed to begin play the following morning. Grant says at that point he informed Lyons of his team’s finals schedule. The rain continued on the morning of April 30. At that point, Lyons told the coaches that she would contact the NCAA for guidance about rescheduling the tournament, a move Grant says he had suggested to her, and that she would give them an update at 2 p.m. Efforts to locate indoor courts were made to no avail.
Meanwhile, Grant says he took his team to eat, and two o’clock came and passed with no word from Lyons. Grant says at 2:30 he got a call from Belinda Roby, Tuskegee’s Senior Woman Administrator who traveled to the tournament with the team. Roby informed him of the meeting that Lyons had convened with the other coaches. She also told him that he needed to get the team to the court since there had been a break in the weather and a decision had been made to try get the matches in.
Team members got their food to go and hustled over to the Buccaneer Tennis Center. However, the rain returned and no matches were played.
Grant says he was steamed that he had been excluded from the Lyons’ meeting with the other coaches and that organizers had no rain plan.
“They played me and the University for chumps. They just didn’t give us any respect,’’ he says, adding that the situation was exacerbated by organizers prior to the tournament not identifying an alternative site for the matches in case of rain. They had no backup in case of rain. Granted it doesn’t rain there often. But even when we play roundups, we have a backup plan.’’
Grant says he agonized over whether to stay and try to play in the tournament or return to campus for finals the entire weekend, and that the team checked out of its hotel three times before departing.
“It was a difficult decision,’’ Grant says, “extremely difficult. I wanted to do what was right for the team, but I wanted to do what was best for the girls.’’
All the while, he says he was getting calls from parents who said they were considering flying their daughters back to school in order to take finals.
“They didn’t want them to get an incomplete in those classes and have to take them again,’’ Grant says. “They didn’t want to spend more money for college.’’
It was a disappointing end to what had been an outstanding season for the Tigerettes. They won their first SIAC championship since 2009. In addition they captured the conference’s Women’s Tennis All-Academic Team Award with a 3.85 team grade-point average, and Tremaine Creighton, (4.0 GPA), Christian Patterson (4.0) GPA) and Maria Saddler (3.94 GPA) were named to the SIAC All-Academic team.
“It’s very special to have this kind of team,’’ Grant says. “We’ve got some smart girls on the team. I always give them room for school work. I tell them ‘that’s what you’re here for to go to school. First is academics; second is tennis, and then your social life or whatever.’’