Another NCAA Swimming Championship season has passed us, and I find myself once again feeling the usual amount of awe. These meets are incredible and unique. The NCAA Championships is fun as hell, and yet makes no compromises on competitiveness. As always, it begs the question: why can't we have more of this?
Well for one thing, the NCAA meet is very exclusive. Reform five years made it somewhat less so, allowing more swimmers to be invited individually and actually beefing up the relays. Still, we are talking about a meet with a few hundred swimmers, each limited to three individual races.
Compare this to Junior National championships in the US, which still managed 1000+ attendees in split locations. Or the Olympic Trials, which seems likely to have around 2000 people in it again.
That it not a disparagement of either meet. In fact, the inclusivity of those types of meets is probably a huge advantage for the United States. If there is any suggestion for reform for those types of meets is that we spread out the opportunity more (and possibly even create more opportunity).
It is only to say, that the exclusivity of NCAA Championships make it an action packed, fun competition to attend and compete in.
The growth of the CSCAA post-season meet, open to all NCAA "B" standard qualifiers, is a great step forward in creating "more opportunity" without compromising on the exclusivity of NCAAs.
You know what's awesome? Short Course Yards. Take it from someone who lived and coached in a country where they openly mocked our clinging to an imperial measurement in our swimming pools.
Short course yards swimming a huge advantage the US has, and it remains so up through the college level. A couple reasons for that:
1. With all the talk of making age appropriate playing rules for small kids, we have the smallest course (with a few exceptions). One country that has fascinated me over the years with its consistent ability to put together strong swimming despite a tiny, spread out population is the Faroe Islands. Many of the kids there learn to swim (and even compete) in 16.66 meter pools.
Long course swimming is very hard and in many ways an "advanced" concept in swimming, with the skill of maintaining a stroke for that long and the fitness needed to maintain that skill very demanding.
2. The SCY format of NCAAs means that even some transcendent swimmers face tough competition. Remember when Aaron Peirsol was undoubtedly the worlds best backstroke swimmer, but also competed for University of Texas? Peirsol was far more beatable in the SCY format, and continually had to gut out close races.
Joseph Schooling, Olympic champ in the 100 fly, is currently taking his licks in NCAA swimming, and some of those swimmers couldn't come near him in LCM. Ultimately I think that's a good thing.
A Tenuous Bubble
Unfortunately, before the meet could get underway we got news of another uncreative, leadership-challenged Athletic Director cutting Men's Swimming. The yearly dirge of program cuts is rough, especially for men's swimming which finds itself more often on the chopping block.
Somehow, NCAA swimming remains better than ever, but it won't stay that way on its own.