When I went to NCAAs for the first time in 2013, I quickly realized that the “hype” of the meet actually didn’t capture how awesome it was. Put it shortly, it’s everything a swim meet should be. The swimming is fast, the spirit is excellent. The crowd is into it, and so is everyone involved.
At the risk of sounding cliche, somehow NCAA swimming is getting even better. Watching the meet from home this year, I was struck by one fact. The meet is becoming somewhat less predictable. And that makes it way more exciting.
Swimming, on the whole, is a fairly predictable sport, one of the many reasons it has failed to grab the attention share of some other sports. We do not get upsets in swimming the way that Michigan State upset Duke last night in the NCAA basketball tournament. Imagine if Duke won those games 100% of the time? Would we care as much?
While the team race remains fairly predictable, the events are finally, fitfully starting to see some instability. This was witnessed most dramatically at the men’s meet, when Felix Auboeck, the Austrian wunderkind who won the 500 free last year, failed to even make it back.
Did he not swim well? Of course not. But also, there was 3.5 seconds separating 1st from 16th place in a race that is a little over 4 minutes long. Many of the events in the meet left a similar lack of room for error. And although many “favorites” still won (Does Dean Farris count as a favorite since everybody seems to love him so much?), the margins are closing.
The women’s meet captures less attention I think partially because of the big gaps between the top swimmers and the 16th place finishers. That and entrenched sexism. Which is actually layered into the first reason, since with the number of women participating in the sport it defies any common sense that there should be such a lack of depth. Maybe we are burning through the top female swimmers in the sport at an alarming rate?
Once again, I’m getting off topic. NCAAs was an awesome spectacle on both sides this year. Cal won on the men’s side, so thankfully we do not have to buy that Eddie Reese book. Everyone agrees he is overrated right? Maybe I should get working on my Dave Durden book. First step- actually talk to Dave Durden!
On the women’s side, Stanford won but Cal made it interesting with a very small squad. Lily King and Louise Hansson made things seem a little unfair in their races we can’t blame them for that.
All in all, I’m just grateful that NCAA swimming is super fun and exciting to follow, and only seems to be getting more so. So thanks, NCAA swimmers (and coaches).