Typically when you hear someone say “don’t ask, don’t tell, ” you think they must be discussing the absurd U.S. military policy towards gays and lesbians. In Tuesday’s New York Times sports section, it was used in an article about tennis.

No, a male tennis professional has not finally come out of the closet, the term referred to the strategy of U.S. college coaches recruiting professional players for their tennis teams. Recruit the best player you can and don’t ask if they played professionally and don’t tell the NCAA if you find out that they did.

Tatsiana Uvarova from Belarus plays tennis for Virginia Commonwealth University. She won $39, 000 on the WTA tour last year. Her coach said that she played under the control of the Belarus Tennis Federation and made no money. Caroline Basu, a student at the University of Georgia, played almost 100 professional tournament in Europe. Evidently she didn’t do all that well. She was able to show the NCAA that she had spent more money than she earned and was allowed to play for Georgia.

If IMG didn’t take you and your family out to dinner when you were twelve or thirteen years old, if you didn’t win a lot of Junior championships, you don’t turn pro, you go to college.

If I were Jeremy Bloom, I would be very unhappy with this turn of events. Bloom is an Olympic moguls skier who was also a wide receiver for the University of Colorado football team. In order to train for the 2006 Olympics, he had to take on commerical sponsors to pay his training expenses which is against NCAA rules. Bloom had to choose between going to the Olympics as a skier or playing football.

The NCAA contended that the US Ski Association would cover his training expenses but an AP article on ESPN.com reported that “Bloom said the U.S. ski team tried unsuccessfully to set up a fund to help him, but officials were wary because of the NCAA’s position. ‘There was nothing they could do for me, ’ he said.”

So here’s the scenario. If you played in professional tennis tournaments then proved that you were so bad at it that your expenses outweighed your earnings, the NCAA will let you accept a college scholarship and compete for the NCAA championship. If you’re very good at a sport that is different than the one you play in college and you need sponsorship to make it to the Olympics, then you’re out of luck, no college sports for you.

This is particularly egregious when you consider that a professional baseball player can play in the minor leagues for a few years then decide to give it up and return to college to play a different sport. Josh Booty, a former LSU quarterback is an example. If you got a salary as a professional, no problem. If you accepted endorsements, unacceptable.

Are these older foreign players impeding the development of American tennis professionals? Probably not.

Are these older foreign players impeding the development of American tennis professionals? Probably not. If you’re a college tennis player, you’re probably not a good candidate for the professional tour. If IMG didn’t take you and your family out to dinner when you were twelve or thirteen years old and you didn’t win a lot of Junior championships, you don’t turn pro, you go to college.

An NCAA coach’s job is to win a championship. They always recruit the best player they can possibly get. Would Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski pass over a foreign player who could help him win the NCAA basketball title so he could give the scholarship to a less developed American player? The answer is no.

Speaking of the NCAA basketball championship: The NCAA is in the middle of an eleven year contract with CBS that pays them $6.2 billion dollars to televise March madness. In other words, the NCAA is much more concerned about basketball than it is about tennis.

The NCAA allows players who’ve played in professional events to accept a scholarship if they give up their winnings, well, their net winnings, and that’s a good idea. Donald Young should play Futures and Challenger events and accepts wild cards into ATP events, how else will he know if he’s cut out to be a professional? If you look at Caroline Basu and see that she has played almost 100 tournaments, you think that there is no way she should be a college player. But few players make a living playing Futures and Challengers.

The complaint is that she has played tennis all over the world professionally while many American players have gone straight from Juniors to college. There is a disparity and the foreign players are beating the Americans. All true. But the Americans won’t get better by avoiding superior players.

Everyone agrees that the NCAA has to tear themselves away from basketball and football long enough to enforce the rules for tennis, but I can’t say that I see anything wrong with the rules as they are.

[changes were made to the original post on April 15, 2006 to correct information]

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