Return of men’s tennis brings ASU a step closer to goal of becoming Olympic mecca

From left, ASU women’s tennis coach Sheila McInerney, Buffie Anderson, ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson and Chief of Staff Rocky Harris announce plans to restore men’s tennis as a varsity Sun Devil sport. (Photo by Torrence Dunham/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – From the day he arrived at Arizona State in 2014, Ray Anderson has worked to make the university a destination for Olympic hopefuls.

“Part of my desire coming in was (ASU) President (Michael) Crow’s aspiration that, in fact, we would be able to make Tempe, this area, the Olympic training center, the place where people can aspire to be Olympians,” said Anderson, ASU’s vice president for university athletics and athletic director.

In an athletic department that has already added current and former Olympic coaches in wrestling’s Zeke Jones and swimming and diving’s Bob Bowman, and attracted the likes of swimming legend Michael Phelps to train on campus, Anderson took another step toward his goal Wednesday. He announced that men’s tennis would return to the varsity level for the first time since 2008. Anderson, along with his wife, Buffie, donated $1 million to the program.

“If it’s an Olympic sport, we need to make this a place where folks know they can come 12 months a year and train to reach their goals,” Anderson said. “So, this program without tennis, as an Olympic sport and as an international sport, was just not whole. Well, it’s going to be whole now.”

Part of Anderson’s vision involves making Tempe the epicenter of tennis in the Southwest. The goal already has a head start with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s move to Tempe earlier this year.

“When we ultimately build a tennis facility, it should be a community asset that also, very much so, serves our men’s and women’s teams at a very elite level,” Anderson said. “But at the end of the day, it belongs to all of our community.”

The resurrected varsity men’s tennis program is also getting aid from Adidas, the first-year apparel partner of Sun Devil athletics.

“The game of tennis is international and is reflective of Adidas’ global footprint,” Mark King, president of Adidas Group North America, said in a press release provided by the university. “Along with Arizona State and its new alliance with the ITA, Adidas saw the reinstatement of the ASU men’s tennis program as, not only an opportunity to impact the game of collegiate tennis, but expand opportunities within the sport and impact a diverse community of athletes.”

Adidas donated $4 million to the men’s tennis program as part of a relationship based on a broader Olympic vision the school laid out for the sports apparel maker before the eight-year deal between the parties was announced in December 2014.

“We’re going to look to you to help us advance our Olympic sports in particular, including all of our women’s sports,” Anderson said Wednesday, recounting the conversations the school had with Adidas before their partnership began.

Anderson said Adidas will give the school an additional $75,000 a year for every varsity sport added as part of the financial arrangement. He also said the contract included an additional $500,000 a year to be used at the discretion of the athletics department.

“Adidas is a real partner invested in the welfare and advancement of what we want to do with regards to serving our student athletes, our university and our community,” Anderson said.

The university has set a fundraising goal of $10 million to support the men’s tennis program.

While there is no set timeline yet for when the men’s tennis team will begin play, Anderson has already begun what an athletic department spokesperson called “an “international search” for a coach.

ASU’s women’s tennis coach Sheila Mclnerney, who has coached the Sun Devils for 32 years and was recently named Pac-12 Women’s Tennis Coach of the Year, is thrilled to see the men’s team return.

“When they dropped the men’s team it was a sad day and today is a happy day,” Mclnerney said while holding back tears. “It’s a really happy day.”