Thursday, April 15, 2010


My alma mater, Missouri State University, has one of the most infamous records in college basketball. At one time, we held the record for the best RPI score to not get invited into the March Madness Tournament. We had the #33 RPI score and still did not get invited into the 65 team show. Since that year, we beat our own record twice with a 29 and then a 19!! I believe we currently own three of the 4 best all-time snubs in NCAA history. You see, at one point in the 90’s, the Missouri Valley Conference felt they weren‘t getting a fair shake, so the coaches all got together and made an effort to play as many BCS schools as they could so that their games would matter more; and it worked! One of those years, MSU beat Wisconsin when they were a #13 ranking, and they still didn’t get in! Mid-majors get screwed. Period. Any “big-name” school with that RPI and with the exact same record against the exact same schools would never have been considered unworthy. The truly sad part is, the last time MSU got into the tournament before they set their disgusting record, they made it all the way to the sweet sixteen. This year, wasn’t it a Mo Valley team that ruined your bracket by knocking out Kansas?

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 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."


  1. I sit here at my desk as coach of a m w program that was cut this year. We set 9 team records, had several B cuts, but still finished at the bottom of our conference. I think that the administration can look at our programs any way they like to justify cutting swim teams to clear up a bit more money for their sports. Top academics, fast swimming with almost no scholarship support, and a perfect APR made no difference in the decision of the school to cut our program.
    Cash is the only thing that will make a difference and at this point the school is not interested in anything less than a full endowment.
    We have had swimmers qualify for the NCAA Championship and I don't think that helped us at all.
    I'm frustrated...

  2. I am very sorry to hear about your program... I will be one of the first to agree with you. If you have followed my blog at all, you know that I am very outspoken about college sports spending.
    Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to get out of the path of the out of control blaze that is modern college sports marketing.
    We are at war. Plain and simple. Jack is right in the interview. It's not about title IX any more. As a matter of fact, if it were up to them, all of the colleges would get together and get rid of title 9 and get rid of the minimum number of sports to stay in D1. They would offer nothing but men's football and basketball, they'd offer 500 bowl games and the march madness tournament would be expanded to 4096 teams.
    have you seen this one from the onion?,14317/
    while, it's funny. from my perspective it's really not.

  3. How many conference champions are there that are not invited? 10? 15? And then how do you work these guys in? Do you try to expand the meet or just allow there to be only 5-10 at-large bids open? In that case it is conceivable you are leaving out a top 10 swimmer. (see PAC-10 breaststroke as a possible example).

    Also, the solution that you propose is the complete opposite of the metaphor you begin with. There you complain that MSU was left out despite being the better team. With your solution, at least as I understand it, you want to put swimmers from major conferences, in MSU situation from basketball.

  4. ... many people read this and make the assumption that slower swimmers in mid-majors might eliminate faster swimmers from the big conferences from qualifying if conference champions were allowed into the meet:
    1) when John Leonard spoke on the idea at swimming world, he specifically said that the talk at the NCAA was that they might be on board with expanding the meet to do this.
    2) if this rule were in place, faster swimmers might be more willing to consider attending a mid-major because it might alleviate the fear that they will be left out if they don't sign with the big school. the mid-major kids who qualify aren't going to be slugs.
    3) we already allow slower swimmers into the meet with their B cuts by allowing the schools with relays to include them on a relay line-up. We all know this happens and some of them only swim on the prelim of the relay.
    4) the MSU relay that swam 2:56.2 that year had four guys on it who more than likely would have made the meet with their b cuts because of a relay if they had been at a major school.

    The metaphor at the beginning might seem like an opposite to you, because you assume that the Missouri Valley is an inferior basketball conference. In basketball the name of the school carries weight in their selection process as it is done by committee. RPI is supposed to be a major factor, but really it is a decision made by guys in a room. (just like when KU got chosen over MU for the bowl game a couple of years ago. they evaluated who could make more money if they played in the game. $$.) in swimming it should not. if we were to truly be fair, we would get rid of the A/B cut system and just take the top 20 relays and top 30 in each event. but then again, how many people think the regional system in track is unfair? it is traditional and accepted. adopting the conference champ rule would not only bring us closer to that kind of traditional sports thinking that swimming kind of needs to relate to the rest of the sports world, but it might also relieve some of the lack of parity that exists at the D1 level.

    just like swimcoach4life: i subscribe to survival of the fittest... but this goes beyond that. it is bigger than just the big meet.

  5. If it means expanding the meet instead of cutting down the at-large numbers then that is obviously better for the sport. And I can also see how increasing the number of programs represented and making these programs more lucrative to recruits wanting to make the meet could help improve the sport. However, you still would be allowing the less qualified atheletes (at least in terms of speed) to go to the meet. With the expansion this means that you are keeping out the 15-25 best at large which doesnt seem that out of line with basketball and seems to be a fair solution, versus my initial consideration when you were keeping out all-americans.

    On the how they should just take the top 20 in an event. Isnt that what they do? And then once they have the athletes there they allow them to swim additional events. NCAA paid for them to be there so why not have them swim? For the MSU relay that is additional cost. NCAA sets limits for how many they allow to swim at the meet to limit their costs. Again, if they are willing to increase this amount, great.

  6. Didn't watch the interview yet, but here's the huge problem in a sport like swimming allowing conference champs automatic entries.

    Ashley Danner.

    Yes, Ms. Danner is an awesome swimmer. She did an interview for us, and seems like a great girl.

    But if this plan went through, she would be the hands down, guaranteed winner of the 2010 NCAA Championship in the 100 breaststroke. Basically, in her conference, she could completely blow off her conference championship, and put her full taper on NCAA's, which is a luxury other teams have. The trade off is that other teams' swimmers, in the major conferences, have to taper to get their A-cuts or qualifying cuts, and to win the conference. Danner would win her conference if everyone was at full taper and she was in hell-week training.

    Top swimmers would go to smaller schools simply to gain a competitive advantage. This would then give swimmers at TOP schools a disadvantage.

    I guess the issue is whether or not you're looking for parity between teams, or individuals. Giving smaller conference champs an automatic bid would hugely swing the competitive advantage in their favor.

    I would buy it if you made some A.1 cut, that was between the A and B cut, that a championship swimmer from a smaller conference would need to make it. Try and land it where a Danner-like swimmer from a smaller conference will have to put forth some amount of taper to make NCAA's, but not have to go all-out, full-taper.

  7. Meant 2011 NCAA Champ, I forgot that it's next year already!

  8. are you telling me that texas does a full taper for the big 12?

    and on the other side of that argument:

    if you really think the big conferences can't get ready for the big meet just because they are in a tough conference... then you haven't seen the big 10's and SEC's.

    the issue you bring up, while I am sure that is an issue with the track/regional system, is not enough to keep it the way it is. the kids in the big conferences do have to perform well at their conference to be included NOW! they still have to turn in a time fast enough to make the cut-off and for 99.9% of swimmers that means it is a serious taper. Even Smit swam slower at NCAA's than her conference!

    in my eyes, that is a pretty small issue. especially if they expand the number of invites to accommodate.

    i really feel that it won't take long if the rule is adopted to give the mid-majors enough recruiting leverage that their conference meets will be turning in times that would qualify now anyway. some of them already are.

    plus, any "advantage" given to a mid-major is a drop in the bucket compared to the advantages to established powers already have in other ways.

  9. I think your response just proved my point. Right now, the kids in the big conferences have to perform well at their conference meets to make NCAA's. But right now, so do the kids at the small schools. Even swimmers like Julia Smit tapered for conference to get their times. Right now, swimmers like Danner have to taper just as much to try and gain the same qualifying times as the swimmers in the bigger conferences. Under the proposed change, they wouldn't. Sure, this would be fine when you're just talking about the kids who win their conference, but have no real hope of finaling.

    But in some instances (like Danner), this means that individual swimmers from the big conferences aren't competing on an even playing as those from the smaller conferences. This would mean that some swimmers, like an Annie Chandler, would have to taper to get her cuts (especially in relays), but Danner (who can swim a B-time without any taper) at George Mason wouldn't.

    Texas' men don't have to do a full taper for Big 12's. #1, they are guaranteed the victory, and #2, they do do a partial taper, which affects them somewhat. It's not just full tapers that hurt performances, even partial tapers can.

    And in fact in a sport like track, it matters even less, because all of the runners go through the same regional qualification without regard to whether they're at a big school or a small school. In swimming, this doesn't happen. The equivalent of track would be if swimming used the NCAA zone system for qualifying.

    I'm not sure using the underlying theory of basketball works. Basketball teams are chosen subjectively. Swimmers are chosen by a time, and every swimmer in every conference has to achieve the same time.

    I think an unfortunate consequence of this would be that you'd start to see more of the top swimmers choose not to go to school and just go pro instead. If a swimmer has to choose between the better facilities, (usually) better coaching, and better perks (more swag), versus having to go to a smaller school to be able to focus all of their efforts on NCAA's, I think they're just going to skip it all.

    And I'm still not sure that even in a perfect world the plan would equalize as you predict. Missouri State is never going to get a world class facility, coaching, etc. ala Ohio State or Texas or Stanford until their football team starts making Big-6 conference money. That's just the economics of it. I think you would get all of the negatives (like what I stated above) without seeing parity improved.

  10. To the previous...MSU already has world-class coaching in Jack. If you don't know that you have no right speaking on the issue. As a fellow conference coach, the way he prepares, guides, and leads his swimmers is second to none...and I've never had a conversation with the man longer than 10 seconds and it is obvious.

    And no, MSU may never get a great facility...but have you seen UC's new pool where Josh Schneider trains? Worst pool ever designed, period. Ohio State? The one they have drained twice already because it was built wrong? OSU does well because they carry 50+ by recruiting from the name they're football team gives them. They grab guys who would rather say they swam for a team with a big name than go some where and work for it because they know their chances are slim. Revamping this system would allow them to change their thinking and stop going to places like OSU to die.

  11. To "anonymous", I don't think that I ever attacked Missouri State's coach. I'll leave the coaching issue alone, because as a smaller conference coach, you're going to have an unreasonably defensive response to anything I say about that.
    You say that revamping the system would ALLOW them to change their thinking. It sounds more like you want to FORCE them to change their thinking. If they want to go to the big name school, why not? To suggest that the 35th guy on Ohio State or Texas' or Stanford's roster doesn't work just as hard would be off-base, at best.
    In trying to disprove me, I think you may have inadvertently strengthened my position. If there's world class coaching at the mid-majors, and if facilities don't matter (there's more to facilities than a hole in the ground BTW. Weight rooms, study facilities, etc. also go into it), then why do the swimmers from the big schools make the qualifying times every year? It's likely because they're better swimmers to start with. And if so, why should we punish them for being good swimmers?
    My disagreement is not at the team level. It's at the individual level. I think this proposal would give INDIVIDUALS from smaller schools too much of an advantage over those from bigger schools. And I know that college swimming has a heavy team emphasis, but if that's the case, then why try and parade this individually oriented solution as a team-oriented one?
    Allowing 99% of the conference champs from mid-majors to go to NCAA's would result in exactly 0 team points. The only conclusion that can be made from that is that this is a solution that just helps coaches make their individual swimmers happy and feel better, rather than give their team a chance at that cinderella moment. There are still Cinderellas under the current system. Look at Aemisegger, or the aforementioned Danner. Swimmers from smaller schools can still go out and fight with the big dogs. And as for the other 1% who would score, if they want to score at NCAA's, then they can do it the same way as all of the other swimmers in the country do, by qualifying fairly and squarely.
    I'm not saying that I wouldn't be in favor of some change. Just not this change. If you came up with a way to help smaller schools advance swimmers to NCAA's without giving them an unfair advantage over swimmers at bigger schools, then that would be more equitable.
    You do bring up a good point "Anonymous" about trying to push those 13th-30th swimmers to other schools. Unfortunately, the big side affect of this is that it pushes a lot of swimmers who are currently on mid-major rosters out of D-1. Furthermore, what you're doing is limiting Division-1 swimming opportunities, and simply shuffling the same swimmers around to different schools which weren't their first choice anyways.

  12. Basically, if what you seem to be indicating is really what you intend to indicate, which is that the only difference between Big 6 schools and mid-major schools is the level of quality of the recruits, then what do we do by shuffling them around besides allowing Mid-major coaches to feed their own egos by proving that they are just as good as the other guys? If it were about the swimmers going where it was best for them, then they would've gone to the mid-majors in the first place. I'm not saying that mid-major coaches are jerks or need to feed their own egos, all I'm saying is that that is what these solutions would do-feed their egos.

    NCAA swimming is a delicate balance between individual and team focus, and the best way to balance that is the current system. Individuals from every school has the same opportunity to advance to NCAA's (no bogus polls or SOS's, everyone needs the same time), but it takes more than one super-star to win the title.
    And I don't buy that PUBLICITY of a good football program is what convinces swimmers to go to certain schools. Any top swimmer (one who can finish top 16 at NCAA's) who makes their decision based on the quality of the football program is way off base. It more likely has to do with institutional factors (the perceived quality of a program, the personality of the athletes, the quality of the educational programs, the campus environment, the location, the support from the athletic department, long-term viability of the program). It's going to take a heck of a lot more than a rules change to convince quality recruits that SW Oklahoma State Tech University is a better choice than Stanford in any of those categories, including the quality of the football program. If you want to differentiate your program on something other than those levels, like having a great coach as Missouri State does who can develop you just as well as any of the major programs, then it shouldn't take a rules change to convince them to go to your school.

    Perhaps there could be an adoption of the system that college tennis uses, where there are both individual and team championships. Golf, last year, switched their final 8 format to a team, head-to-head format from stroke play. Maybe swimming could do the same. Have dual meets to determine the team champ. THAT could be fun to watch.

  13. Braden-- I have a lot to say in response to your comments, (enough that I am working on another post) but you are also bringing up things that strengthen our side of the argument. you have never once acknowledged the fact that the current system is allowing slower swimmers in... because swimmers who would not qualify on their own are being accepted because of relays. those swimmers count against thenumber of planes tickets and hotels the NCAA pays for and they effectively remove other swimmers who would have earned bids based on their own speed. why is the conference champ idea any different?
    Raichin Antonov on the msu relay had the exact same split Bruno Barbic did on the 400 MR when northwestern set the nat record. if he were on the roster any any of the traditional powerhouses he would have been invited and would have swam all of his b cuts. are you telling me he didn't deserve to be there? same kid, same split, wrong school? that is an injustice.
    how in the hell is a mid major supposed to recruit? my argument is just as much about individuals as yours. maybe more.

  14. by the way, have you watched the interview yet?

  15. Right, but how do you solve that without eliminating relays? I think the idea with giving those kids bonus swims is "if they're here anyways, why not let them swim individual events?" Arguably, neither swimmer deserved to swim an individual event.

    All mid-majors have to do is recruit 4 swimmers over 4 years who can get a relay there. With 9.9 scholarships and world-class coaching, they shouldn't have a problem doing that, should they? I mean, you're telling me that you couldn't find 4 NCAA caliber swimmers who would go to a mid-major for a full ride, especially if they have an outstanding coach? Full rides are very hard to come by in college swimming.

    I don't think teams should be given an advantage in recruiting for having poor competition. I just don't understand why it's fair to declare that mid-majors should get a huge advantage. What about the poor 10th team in the Big Ten? How are they supposed to recruit then? I mean, does a swimmer at Illinois really have any more of a hope of getting a qualifying time than one at Missouri State, just because they're in the Big Ten? No. But if you changed this rule, they still won't be able to recruit good swimmers any better than they can now (if a swimmer was good enough to be the Big Ten Champ at Illinois, then they'd be good enough to get their times anyways.) And we should feel bad for the Missouri State Swim Team because their football team sucks? PS, Illinois was 3-9 last year, and played in the same bowl game as Missouri State.

    I don't have a problem with letting more kids go to NCAA's or creating parity or whatever. I just don't think that this specific solution is the right answer.

    I'd much prefer a roster limit. There's some precedence for this, because football programs like Texas used to take 30 potential All-Americans every year and sit them on the bench just to keep other teams from having them. I think that this would help spread the wealth while still holding each individual to the same qualifying standard.

    You cite this swimmer at MSU who got left home even though he was just as fast as another kid. Well, what happens when the kid from Auburn gets left home even though his times were 2 seconds faster than the kid from Eastern Illinois? Again, we don't feel bad for him because he swims on a good team in a good conference and at a school with a good football team?

  16. Tossing in my two cents here...I like the idea of allowing conference champs with B cuts into the show. It would provide support for those rare individuals (did I read 12 at this year's meet?) from the mid-majors by bringing some teammates with them.

    Granted, I am biased. My kid swims for a mid-major and was one of the 12 at NCAAs. It would have been great to have some teammates along for the ride. Aside from my personal preference, this would send an important signal to coaches, swimmers and parents from all conferences that the kids have a shot at making nationals.

    Since college athletic departments are looking at team performance as a major factor in deciding which programs to cut, doesn't it make sense to expand the opportunities for mid-majors in order to save their swim programs?