Friday, April 30, 2010
I just happened to run into Dave Denniston at one of his stops on the Fitter and Faster tour. I can't say enough about how friendly this guy is. We talked a little about a mutual friend who swam with him at Auburn and with me in Alaska before I turned the camera on. I have to say that Dave is hilarious, and you will see a little of that here, when he fills us in on the tour and some of the other important things he is doing for the sport of swimming.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Does anyone else smell that smoke? Can an aquatic sport actually burn to the ground?
Mark Emmert is the new head of the NCAA. Anyone remember who he is? He was the President of the University of Washington when they cut their swimming program during it's most successful year ever. I know he wasn't in charge at the time, but didn't UW also refuse to allow the Goodwill Games pool to be built on campus for free back in 1990, forcing it to it's location in Federal Way? And then they used lack of facility as an argument to cut swimming multiple times before it was finally killed for real?
Ummm... I can't help getting a little Han Solo vibe when I say it: "I have a bad feeling about this."
A quote from an article about his hiring:
The NCAA distributes nearly 96 percent of all revenue back to member schools, Emmert said.
"The most important issue is to recognize the NCAA does in fact engage in a variety of activities that generate revenue, the basketball tournament being the most dominant one of those by far," he said. "That's not inconsistent at all with the goals and values of the NCAA.""The question is, what do you do with those resources? If those resources are deployed toward advancing the values and interest of intercollegiate athletics and student athletes, I don't see an inherent contradiction there at all."
Uh... yeah. I don't either unless the wrong people are deciding the priority list for what sports see the benefit. So far, the "values of the NCAA" is the part I am struggling with. Right now it almost seems that if a sport don't make money, it ain't got no value. If they had expanded to 96 teams in the men's tournament, I would have thrown up. There would have been almost half as many TEAMS in the championship for basketball as there are SWIMMERS in the D1 swim meet. Ouch. It's a good thing that was never a real possibility.
According to John Leonard on the MSS, when he talked about combining the men's and women's NCAA meets and possibly expanding the meets to allow conference champs with B cuts, former NCAA leader, Myles Brand, was an "enthusiastic supporter" of meet expansion and the idea of a temporary pool to host a major championship. I have a feeling that Mark Emmert is not going to be on board at all.
I think that when most people listen to Mr. Leonard's proposal, they stop listening as soon as one of his 5 points rubs them the wrong way. Listen carefully to what he is proposing. He says that the NCAA has "listed swimming as an endangered sport." The proposal is amazing and it goes right along with what we have been arguing about here all week. We need MAJOR changes like this to help our sport survive.
I hope that when the CSCAA votes next month, the stubborn coaches who like things the way they are don't politic and shut it down. This proposal is the first major thing I have heard in a long time that can take us in the right direction. Anyone who has a problem with "the girls invading the boys meet" is being selfish and is not really weighing out the positives. They are not thinking about the well-being of the sport as a whole.
I see the ASA U meet getting more popular every year. Lots more swimmers will have nowhere else to swim if we keep heading in the direction we are now.
Watch John Leonard's proposal here. Yes, the entire thing. Then use my comments section to shoot holes in it if you can.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
NCAA Tournament Proving That Mid-Major-Semi-Upper-Lower-Middle-Mids Should Be Taken Seriously.
and watch this:
NCAA Expands March Madness To Include 4,096 Teams
Monday, April 26, 2010
When I say, “regional system” I know that since you are all swimmers, your first thought is probably the same as mine: “No one is going to support an idea that forces us to taper for a conference, then a regional, then nationals!” We all at least understand the concept of the regional system enough to understand that it means we have another step in the process, and for swimmers who meticulously plan tapers to peak at the right time, that is a scary prospect. What I am asking is for you to consider whether the benefits outweigh the negatives. It works on several levels.
If we were to divide the country up into regional meets and invite everyone with a B cut to those meets, we could let them all duke it out head to head to see who really deserves to be at the big show. Teams could pay their way to the regional and the NCAA would only pay for the final meet. The regional would be a part of the national meet, the same way the regional is considered a part of the national tournament for other sports. This way, everyone with a B cut is a “national qualifier“-- in fact, we would only need one cut.
The regional system addresses the concern that if conference champs with B cuts are allowed, teams might try to migrate to another conference for an easier chance at an automatic berth. It might also get rid of the idea that a team in a weaker conference gets to coast in to the meet, (as Texas is accused of now in the 3 team Big 12,) the same way individual swimmers might be able to do in the weaker mid-major conferences. Especially with the recent announcements of the possible realignment of the major conferences, we need to be aware of the effects this has. In the regional system, we could throw the conference alignments out the window during the post-season and assign teams to each region based on what would be the most even and fair.
In the regional system, we would be creating an “Olympic Trials” type atmosphere in that the stakes are high. If you don’t get the job done that day, your season is over. In this format, we might not be contributing to parity nearly as much as if we were allowing conference champs, but at least no one can say the small school kid didn’t get his chance. He was part of the “national selection meet” by participating at the regional and he raced those guys in person. Face to face. He had his legitimate shot.
The regional system would automatically get rid of the relay “loophole," simply because there would be no “bonus swims” just because you are there. Let them put whoever they want on a relay. No one swims an individual event unless they earned their spot in that event at the regional.
We would have to decide how many regional meets to have and how many swimmers we would want to move on to the big show in each event. We would also have to decide if we would want to take any more swimmers based on times to fill to a certain number. For example, I would prefer to see six regional meets. 5 per individual event qualify from each region, and then we take the next 5 fastest times to choose who gets in from the 6-7-8th places that are left in the regional final. That makes 35 spots at nationals, which equals the number who qualify for the diving events. Remember, diving already has a zone system that is very similar to this. For relays, I would like to see 3 from each regional to make 18, and then the next two fastest.
Those “next fastest times” would have to be times from the regional. Just like the others, you earn it that day or stay home. I would not be opposed to allowing swimmers in the B final, who missed the top 8 in the prelim, to take one of those “next fastest” spots even if he is 9th place at the regional. He would not have access to the automatic berth of a top 5 place, but he could still take a spot if he swam a fast enough time.
Why have a B final at the regional? I think that the regional should be scored just like any other championship meet. Why take that excitement away? Winning your regional should mean something too.
It is hard to do a cost analysis to know how many should qualify and how many relays to take, but it doesn’t really matter. The numbers could be worked out later. I would love to see more than 35 get in if it is not too outrageously expensive. I would like to see more like 48 individuals and 24 relays, but dollars are probably too much of an issue. Of course, with the new 10.8 billion dollar contract they just signed with CBS and Turner, the NCAA could probably afford to help us expand the meet. Right?
Some of you might also appreciate this aspect of it all if you were one of the unlucky swimmers who has been left hanging in this way: swimmers would know if they qualified immediately on that day! No more leaving swimmers to work out on their own, hanging in limbo for weeks before they know if they even have another meet to swim at! How stupid has that part of our system been! “Hey, you keep working out just in case while your teammates are all partying to celebrate the end of a great season!” That is torture! In a regional system, we know who is in when the dust settles that night!
Back to the issue of stretching a taper over conference, regional and nats… Has anyone ever asked a track coach how they manage that? Many of the swimmers who would potentially earn a spot have hit their B cuts in dual meets or December invites, and everyone will be in the same boat in that they will all have to decide for themselves how much rest to give their swimmers for the conference and regional. I think that risk ups the stakes a bit, wouldn’t you say? I think that would make it more interesting.
No matter what you think of the current system, you have to admit that there is some value in exploring this option. No crazy formula. No bonus swims. No one is left out of the post-season because we would have one Q time to reach the regional. No one leaves feeling they did not get a fair shake. Coaches are smart. They would adapt, and their swimmers would adapt with them. With a regional system, we are not addressing parity as much as in the “conference champs with B cuts” idea, but it would be easy to place some kind of roster limit, which is an idea that was brought up several times in the comments.
Mid-majors would have a fair shot because they would get to actually race the people they need to beat to get in, we would eliminate some of our loopholes that contribute to our lack of parity at the big meet, we would be nearing a more accepted method of qualification, and we just might have a shot at earning a few more fans from outside our fishbowl.
It is at least worth thinking it through. Lots of details to work out. Sound off below.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
“Here is what the problem boils down to, guys. The fact is, the mid-majors work harder than everyone else! Everyone knows they are better looking than everyone else! In my opinion, they deserve a free pass to the Division 1 meet! We oughtta be flying all those mid-major kids out there and putting ‘em up on the medal stand and taking pictures. We should be buying them medals and flowers and having a gigantic parade. Hell, we should get their girlfriends out there too and send them on a shopping spree because that is what you do for people when they're that awesome.
The mid-majors are bad-asses and it is time all the big schools learned to face their fears and come to terms with it. What in the hell are they so scared of, huh? Come on, Gregg Troy! Come on, Eddie Reese! You know it’s true! You know that if Fat Jack and his Bad News Bears show up, they are gonna raid your pic-a-nic basket and eat your damn lunch! Deal with it and change the damn system already!”
No, really. I would have nailed it. I was even gonna slam my fist on the table, and maybe start talking about myself in the third person, Craig Lord style. Hells ya. I was ready.
Please realize it’s a joke, big guys. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. It’s all in fun. But you know, if Eddie Reese calls Jack and sets up a dual because I threw down the gauntlet... well, I hope they have it in Springfield so I can head over there and watch. :)
Friday, April 23, 2010
Also, Garrett McCaffrey, Mike Gustafson and Chris DeSantis might invite me in as a guest swim-geek on their weekly podcast "The Swim Brief" to do more of the same. Check out last week's inaugural episode here. No promises that I will be on the show, but I think they are gonna touch on the D1 meet topic either way.
While I am posting this, I have to include the link to the Swimming World's write up of the controversy at the ASA U National meet. Please go there and read the comments. It is hilarious and disturbing at the same time. I read it and immediately started thinking that this would make a great "Bad News Bears meets Major League" style swimming movie. I am hoping that someday the swim-nerds all get together and take this on as a project. I think that this could be the beginning of something really fun in the future. I have been boo'd at a swim meet before. Long story involving the "Cinci, Cinci, Cincinnati Parents!" (Do the parents for the Cinci team still do a cheer in the bleachers?) Anyway, I felt like a movie star that day. The ASA U meet sounds like it took that to a whole new level. Maybe next year they will settle their differences in the parking lot after they duke it out in the pool. :)
Thursday, April 22, 2010
I am taking a little break from the hot discussion to inject a little humor.
Ever since I bought the first Tenacious D album, I have started messing with the drive-thru workers when I get fast food. Not in a mean way; just for fun. Sometimes they play along, sometimes they don't. Once at Hardee's the lady asked me if I wanted some kind of Monster Burger, and I told her NO because I was "trying to watch my figure." She went into a list of all of the diets she has tried and gave me tips on what ones to avoid, and all sorts of stuff for a few minutes before I got my food. Way too much information. Sometimes it backfires, but it is all in fun.
Below is the conversation I had the last time I went to Burger King:
DRIVE THRU LADY: Would you like to try a breakfast bowl today?
SCREAMING VIKING!: Uh... I don't know. Will my health insurance still cover me if I eat something like that?
DTL: Well, sure sweetie! It's yummy and that is all the insurance companies really care about!
SV!: You sold me!
DTL: What else would you like? Some biscuits and gravy? A croissant?
SV!: I think I want a croissant combo with a large coffee.
DTL: Do you want ham, sausage or bacon on that croissant?
SV!: Well, me and some of the guys at work are in a race to see who can get their cholesterol the highest by summer. I guess I should go with bacon, eh?
DTL: Sure, bacon is a good bet! While you're at it, why don't you get some cini-mini's?
SV!: Nah... I think that would be cheating.
DTL: ha! Please pull around and I will have your total at the window!
*When she handed me my food, she said, "I just know you are gonna win that cholesterol contest, honey. Good luck!"
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
First point: The "conference champs with B cuts" idea is not that far-fetched. It is a pretty traditional system. My high school state meet in Alaska took the 5 region winners and then the next 7 fastest times. We were limited to 12 qualifiers due to travel costs, the same logic by which the NCAA has a system based on a head count and A/B cuts. It is based on an athlete cap and just because some conferences are stronger than others does not mean it is inherently unfair.
I feel that the argument that "we don't want slower kids to knock faster kids out of the meet" can be thrown out the window. No one seems to want to acknowledge that we are already doing that by allowing relay roster manipulation. Here is what I did to prove the point that this is happening, it is happening way more than people think it is, and it is a horrible injustice: I did a name search of the PDF files of the pre and post-cut psyche sheets for the men's D1 championships. I only spent a few minutes and only searched for 6 names from the bottom of the list on two events. From those I found two perfect examples, both from the same team, that say: the mid-major kid is not getting a fair shake. He is forced to make it on his own while others are often not. We are not just taking the fastest kids with the current system. It is sneakier than that. For example:
1. Joel Elber from Ohio State was the #73 ranked 100 back-stroker in the pre-cut sheet. He got into the meet. I did a name search to confirm that he did not qualify on his own right because he was not ranked in the top 24 in any other events. He was not fast enough to get in on his own but was a pretty good freestyler so surely he got in through a relay. Not that big a deal... except that he was exactly a full second slower that Roko Simunic, the conference champ of the MAC, who was the #35 ranking pre-cut and did not get in. Elber was the #3 backstroker on the OSU squad. Are you telling me that he deserves to be there more than Roko? The conference championship should count for something, because obviously when you compare these two swimmers, the time counts for nothing.
2. Andrew Bretscher was the 4th ranked 100 flyer on the OSU squad. He was not listed as having any other B cuts on the pre-cut psyche sheet. He was #82 in the 100 fly. He got in. Are you telling me that OSU is so awesome that they are putting their #4 flyer on their A relay at the big show? Right... no manipulation there. That is awesomely unfair.
If we were just allowing the straight up top 24 per event and top 12 relays, it would be fair. Too exclusive, but truly fair.
In the 100 back, 24 were invited. 20 more swam it. There were 23 invited in the 100 fly. 52 actually swam it. That means almost thirty swimmers got in some other way. How many of them got in from relays? How many of them got in on a relay, when they were not the top dog of their team and are probably not really on the relay team at all? How many were added to the relay roster, probably for the prelim only, to get them into the meet? How is this any more fair than allowing a conference champ in with a time that is faster than those guys but might be slower than a few others? How many guys like this are taking valuable spots away from others who are faster and probably are more deserving? This is a loophole that the big schools get regularly and the mid-majors do not. They have a foot in the door that the small schools don't. That goes against every conceivable rule of fair play in the world of sports.
I say, if we are going to throw a bone to someone, we shouldn't be throwing it to the schools that already have more to eat. I don't have a problem with relay only kids being allowed to swim their b events... if they are there, let them swim. But this goes beyond that, because in a system with a cap on the number of athletes it hurts others... and it is an advantage that only the major schools have.
The benefit of allowing conference champs in will make a bigger impact on the sport. My good friend Randy Horner at the University of New Orleans put it this way: "if a kid were being recruited and trying to choose between a mid-major and a BCS school, he might actually choose the mid-major." That is good for the sport, because right now the blue chip athletes don't sign with mid-majors, partly because they know that if they are on the bubble, a big school can get them in and a small school can't.
I am not saying we should take away the relay opportunities for the big guys... I am saying, give us an equivalent loophole so that our swimmers don't leave their swimming career feeling bitter and regretting that they didn't get in simply because they know that they would have been invited at the major school with all times being equal, yet they chose to believe in their mid-major program and signed to go there.
We also have to look at another aspect of the conference champs with b cuts idea: it would add some value to those other conferences by offering automatic berths, which would essentially raise the stakes and create interest from outside of the conference. Right now, when people go to conference central to look at results, they are mostly looking just at the BCS meets or the conferences they have a stake in personally, meaning a friend or family member swims there, or you are an alum. Well, if this rule passed, I am pretty sure everyone will be tuning in to the MAC and the Sunbelt to see who gets those automatic berths. More people will be paying attention. Nothing but good for the sport. Wouldn't it be great if we made those meets matter too?
My initial reaction to the conference champ idea was negative. At first look it seemed unfair... but when I got to really thinking about it, it works on several levels. It was bigger than just the one meet. It might just have a leveling effect, even if it is just a small one, but it would without a doubt be a step in the right direction for our sport as a whole. I don't know how many more swimmers we would have to add to the meet to make this happen in a fair way, but I can't help but think it would be more than worth it in the long run and for our sport in general to expand the meet to make this happen.
Think it through. I might not be a perfect solution, but it should be given a fair, thorough and educated discussion. Please sound off below. More to come. ;)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
In 2010 there were only 12 swimmers invited to the NCAA Division 1 Swimming and Diving championships who were not from BCS schools, men's and women's meets combined. That statistic bothers me. Any time I bring it up in conversation or say anything about the mid-majors having a tougher road, I get a lot of unsympathetic flack. “Quit whining…” “Tell them to swim faster…” “We don’t want to dumb down the D1 championships just to make the little schools feel better about themselves…” “Shut up, Viking! You’re just a high school coach. What the hell do you know?”
The thing is, the major schools already have an advantage in recruiting just based on the name of their school and the exposure they get on tv from the major sports. They have the state-of-the-art facilities. They have budgets that allow them to go to greater lengths in recruiting and carry rosters far beyond what the mid-majors can carry. I don’t have a problem with any of that. We all wish our schools would invest more in swimming and consider us a priority.
My issue is that the exclusivity of the D1 meet is bad for the sport. It is bigger than fairness. Unless you have been part of one of those teams, you probably can’t see that just getting a swimmer into the big show can be a gigantic boost to a small program, and might be the boost that is needed to keep that program from getting the axe the next time the economy takes a down-turn. When we do things like allowing the big teams to manipulate relay line-ups to get a guy with B cuts into the meet who would not have made the cut-off otherwise, people forget that it might be taking a spot away from someone who could be doing something historic for some other program. Giving more advantages to the teams who already have the advantages is just bad business.
There has been a lot of talk on the web lately about stepping back and taking a look at our sport and ways we can make it more popular. We talk a lot about making changes that might help to keep college swimming from being obliterated in the modern arms race of college sports marketing. We need to quit talking and do something about it. The idea of conference champs with B cuts getting in needs to be considered. More big ideas need to be brought to the forefront. The CSCAA convention is coming up. Is this the year we make a real change?
The video is my old college coach: Jack Steck-- Papa Bear at Missouri State. Before I turned the camera on, I warned him: “People who see these love to post anonymously. I don’t want to put you in a position to look like a sore loser. It gets harsh.” He said something to the effect of: “I have been at this long enough, it doesn’t matter. The small schools far out-number the big schools, and people are still afraid to speak up. Something has to change. Someone has to say something. Maybe someone with a bigger voice can be convinced to do something and someday we will actually get somewhere.” In the first clip, one part in particular haunts me because I have heard the same thing from my own Athletic Director: “I don’t understand your sport!”
Check out the excerpts. Listen to the uncut interview (1, 2, 3). You might be surprised how what he has to say might resonate with not just the swimming community, but also the average sports fan like “Joe Pabst Blue Ribbon.”
The quotes below were cut and pasted from the collegeswimming.com message boards to help you to see that I am not the only person who feels this way. The issue is broad, and often misunderstood:
From TheRoboticRichardSimmons on March 13, 2009. “what has always amazed me about swimming was its lack of parity. In other words, year in and year out its always the same teams in the top 10... It seems virtually impossible for teams to rise up from obscurity and challenge the established giants in our sport… it is a case where the rich get richer. If I am a high school recruit and I think that, at the top of my game, I would be on the bubble in my best events, would I take my chances at ncaa’s to go to a school where I would have to qualify on my own, or would I go a pick a bigger program where I will almost DEFINITELY qualify on a relay?”
From Swimcoach4life on January 26, 2010. "I do believe the SPORT would benefit from parity via roster management, entry limits and automatic berths to the championships… I do believe that we are cutting off our nose to spite our face and being extremely myopic in our thinking when we look at the NCAA D1 championship and roster sizes. Wrestling is so far ahead of us in their thinking it is ridiculous. They have approximately 80-90 teams in D1 and 70+ are represented at the NCAA tournament due to automatic individual conference champion berths as well as ranked invitees. I believe somewhere around 60 schools score points. In my university’s situation it was a consideration not to cut the wrestling program because “they have a better chance of bringing home All-Americans, winning a national title or being a nationally ranked program…” administrators look at things differently… I do subscribe to survival of the fittest but at some point we have to realize that we will run out of food… We need to limit rosters and spread the wealth/participation. The top end will still be the top end, friendships will still be forged, and the sport will be stronger and exist longer because of this. Including automatic berths to the dance will give administrators reasons to keep swimming instead of reasons not to.”
*From wondering mum on March 13, 2009. “The current system is a vicious cycle. As the championship meet becomes more exclusive, programs don’t appear as successful, swimmers can get frustrated and athletic directors can withdraw support… Does anyone know where to get total NCAA participant numbers for men’s wrestling and swimming? If championship numbers are based on percentage of total participant numbers does wrestling really have 25% more participants than men’s swimming?"
*From swimalum2 on January 26, 2010. "What kind of perspective do you have on mid-major swimming?? Most mid-majors have relays, and individuals getting b and a cuts every year. Missouri State, Oakland, Cleveland state, Miami Ohio, Wright state, UIC, these schools all have 47’s 100 fly, 43’s 100 fr, 19.5-19.9 50 free, 420’s in the 500, 54 100 breast. Hell, Oakland has had a top 8 or 16 male swimmer 6 years in a row. They had a 142 200 back guy last year!… This is all by getting the “scraps” of big programs! So, I do think these coaches are good enough."
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The article is about Gemma Spofforth and the dual nature of being a British Olympian and living life as a Florida Gator. It also has an excellent video interview that includes a tour of some of Florida's athletic facilities. Essentially, the blog takes a look into what British swimming can learn from the American system. Obviously the advantages of facilities and Title IX are a part of it, but Gemma turns the conversation in another direction: she puts responsibility on the fans to help create an inspiring environment.
So, given she made the conscious decision to cross the pond, does Spofforth feel British Swimming should be learning any lessons from the States? She has an interesting answer which places the focus not on facilities, but fans.
"My coaches at home have been able to do really good things with me, although the facilities out here help the coaches a little bit more," she explained.
"I don't really know if it's a case of what the UK can do, rather than what the crowd [back home] can do to change.
"In the US, the crowd stand there and shout the whole way through. I was like, 'Wow'. Every person in the crowd is invested in one team or another. But it's not a rivalry where you're going to beat people up, it's a rivalry where you're having fun with it."
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I have been at home on a sick day with disabling back pain. This was how I entertained myself.
It's perfect, right?!