Arkansas women’s tennis had a surprisingly strong run in the SEC Tournament last week, making it all the way to the semifinals despite finishing 11th in regular season conference play. It was enough of a run to give the school hopes of an at-large bid in the upcoming NCAA tournament, if not for one problem: Arkansas’s record was still only 10-16, and under NCAA rules, teams under .500 aren’t eligible for the tournament.
Since the SEC tournament ended, however, The Razorbacks have found a way to get to 16-16. Two days after they were bounced out by Florida, Arkansas traveled to Nashville to play six games in one day against Tennessee State, who had already celebrated its Senior Day over a week before, and had gone just 1-8 in Ohio Valley Conference play. In six matches over 14 hours, Arkansas won six times and became tournament eligible.
According to the results logged by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Arkansas won five of the matches 4-0, with only the final one finishing 4-3. Razorbacks standout Ana Oparenovic participated in four of the six matches as both a singles and doubles player (12 total sets). More incredibly, several Tennessee State players played in every match, including both singles and doubles play in many instances (Ani Popiashvili retired after one point in her final singles match, which was her 18th set of the day).
A spokesperson for the Arkansas athletics department, Brandon Langlois, said he could not speak specifically to how the matches came about, or how much TSU got paid for hosting. Last Word Tennis notes, however, that the Arkansas athletic department, as a policy, won’t pay in-state schools for hosting games, which explains why the Razorbacks had to travel to Tennessee to get these matches in. Langlois did confirm that the matches against TSU weren’t on the schedule at the beginning of the season, but thought college tennis was unique in its ability to allow these spontaneous, late-season marathon days to occur.
“It seems like it’s a thing since I was in college tennis that you can schedule matches at will,” he said. “I don’t know of any other sport that you can do that, but I know I’ve seen it happen in college tennis before.” Congrats to Arkansas for their well-earned tournament eligibility.
Update (3:57 p.m. ET): In response to Deadspin’s request for comment, Tennessee State directed me to this Q&A, which includes a statement about how the matches were scheduled:
We spoke to the Arkansas staff over the weekend and they were looking to schedule three or four matches with us if possible and then find another team to play another couple with to give them their six. On Saturday they reached back out to us and said they were unable to find another team to play and wanted to know if we would agree to six.
The Q&A did not mention how much TSU was paid for the matches, but I asked in a follow up email and will update if they respond.