2014 M. NCAA Championships 5 Big Things #4: Not a Single ‘Last Chance’ Qualifier Scores at NCAA’s

  25 Braden Keith | April 13th, 2014 | Big 12, College, Featured, News

NCAA swimming has a system of meets in place that are colloquially known as “Last Chance Meets,” but in official NCAA jargon are referred to as “Approved Championship Qualification Meets.”

These meets are held after the completion of Conference Championship meets, and when submitted and approved prior to the beginning of the season, are a special exception allowed after conference meets to achieve NCAA qualifying times.

There are several administrative rules surrounding these meets, but ultimately, they give swimmers what often seems to be a limitless number of attempts at making qualifying times for the NCAA Championship meet, and are commonly used as college coaches as a ‘mulligan’ for when athletes don’t hit the standards needed to feel safe for an NCAA invite.

In the 2014 season, there were 5 approved men’s last chance meets:

  • Pac-12 (King County Aquatic Center)
  • Georgia Tech
  • Texas (American Short Course Championships)
  • Georgia (M&W)
  • Tennessee (M&W)

Among those 5 meets, there were 10 swimmers that we found whose only invited swim was a swim done at a Last Chance meet.

Kyle Troskot – 50 free – 19.32 – American SC Championships
Cory Bolleter – 50 Free – 19.38 – American SC Championships
Pedro Coutinho – 100 fly – 46.58 – SE Championship Qualification (Needed this time AND a couple of scratches)
Garrett Trebilcock – 100 back – 45.92 – Yellow Jacket Championships
Imri Ganiel – 100 breast – 53.23 – American Short Course Championships
Renato Prono – 100 breast – 53.03 – SE Championship Qualification
Nick Munoz – 1650 Free – 15:02.04 – American Short Course Championships
Patrick Myers – 200 Back – 1:42.32 – Yellow Jacket Championships
Steven Zimmerman – 200 Back – 1:41.66 – Yellow Jacket Championships
Nico van Duijn – 200 Fly – 1:43.00 – Yellow Jacket Championships
Note: Texas’ John Murray swam an invited time in the 50 free, but his 100 free time from mid-season was also under the ‘Invited’ Line. Texas’ Will Licon improved his qualifying status with a last-chance swim, but his Big 12’s swim ultimately would have been good enough in the 200 breast.

Of those 10, not a single swimmer wound up scoring at the NCAA Championships.

Texas freshman Will Licon, who picked up 22 points for the Longhorns, was sort of a last-chance qualifier, but would have been in even without that meet, so we don’t count his 22 points either. That included a 5th-place finish in the 400 IM, though that 400 IM wasn’t the event in which he was invited to NCAA’s.

Update: one of our readers pointed out that Licon’s previous season-best in the 200 breaststroke would have qualified anyway, so strike him from ‘last chance qualifier.’

So, after running 5 meets, investing many resources in hosting those meets and undergoing much stress and uncertainty and handwringing, the swimmers qualifying at last chance meets had zero effect on the final team placements or scores.

Of course, from an individual level, it’s a different story. There are 10 swimmers whose lives were significantly impacted by these last chance meets. There are 10 swimmers from 7 teams who seized their opportunity to jump into the NCAA Championships, and specifically Licon, who seized the opportunity to earn three All-American honors (one first-team, two honorable-mention). In fairness, were there not a last chance meet, Licon probably was the most likely of the 10 swimmers to qualify anyway.

But based on the current NCAA qualification rules, where there’s a cap on the number of swimmers who can go to nationals rather than a time, there’s 10 swimmers who lost a spot due to these last chance meets as well.

When you speak to coaches around the country, the responses that I’ve heard about this meet are fairly consistent. Most coaches, though not all coaches, would prefer to see the last chance meets go away, but while they’re still in the rules, those coaches fully intend to take advantage of them, and would never fault another coach for doing the same.

I’ll admit that this pretty well matches my personal perspective on the matter. I don’t particularly like that swimmers get a ‘do over’ when they miss their taper at their conference meet, or when they underestimated just how fast of a swim it would take to qualify for NCAA’s. I think that last chance meets take a lot of the excitement and intensity out of conference championship meets. I’m not particularly a fan of time trials to qualify for NCAA’s either.

Of course, there’s an obvious other side to that coin. The fact that different conference meets are different weekends means that while Pac-12 swimmers know what their targets are well before their conference meet means that they have a better idea of just how much rest they might need to qualify for NCAA’s.

There are also teams like Texas who are in conferences that regardless of how hard they push for qualifying times won’t have the same intensity as a meet like SEC’s or Pac-12’s. Those teams are naturally at a disadvantage, and the way that those conferences are laid out have little to do with swimming. It’s no coincidence that Texas got three guys in through last chance meets. Eddie Reese is smart, and he knows that there’s little emotion that can be captured at Big 12’s, so he might as well take advantage of the other advantage and host a last chance meet every year.

Last Chance meets have both pros and cons. Every year, the number of athletes who benefit from them will equal the number of athletes who are hurt by them.

But if, at the end of the day, they are not affecting the outcome of the team score, and ultimately the swimmers who sneak in through these last chance meets are not swimming very well once they get to NCAA’s, the question becomes are they worth the expense? Are they worth tying up a pool for a weekend, and worth teams travelling for multiple days, even with small squads? No coach would ever tell the swimmer right on the cusp that ‘no, you’re not worth the money,’ even if they really weren’t.

If the rules were changed, it’s likely that some of these 10 would have qualified at their conference meets and that those 7 coaches would have planned their seasons a little differently as well, so there’s an adjustment that would undoubtedly take place.

Perhaps it’s time for the last dance for last chance.

Comments

  1. Whoohoo237 says:
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    Congrats Will Licon! Although there is one major fault in this article. Ryan Murphy, junior at Cal, qualified through a last chance meet and ended up winning the 200 back on the final day of competition. He had just enough in him to edge out the super star French, Eric Ress, from Indiana university, which is no small feat. If there were no last chance meets, Ryan Murphy would not have qualified for the NCAAchampionships this season and would have made a real dent in Cal’s final score in the team standings. Goes to show how important those meets really are.

    • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:
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      Whoohoo237 – that is incorrect. Ryan Murphy was easily qualified for NCAA’s already in the 100 and 200 back with his Pac 12 Championship winning times.

    • Mistakes says:
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      Um… Ryan Murphy is a Freshmen and not a junior. Ryan Murphy easily go into NCAA, and just like Braden Keith said, his Pac 12 times got him in with ease.

  2. Reid says:
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    I think Licon’s time from Big XIIs would have made it anyway, no?

    • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:
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      Reid – yes it appears you’re right. He would have snuck in by a couple of tenths. Further strengthening the argument – I’ll note above.

      • iLikePsych says:
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        If Licon scored why does the title say not a single qualifier scored? You could say that Licon wasn’t actually a last-chance qualifier, but clearly that wasn’t taken into account in tye originally published draft.

        • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:
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          iLikePsych – I missed that he would’ve already been qualified in the originally published draft, is is mentioned earlier in the comments.

  3. weirdo says:
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    I agree that last chance meets should be banned. They hurt and help a team equally…get some in and get some knocked out. If they can’t do it under pressure when it counts at conference then they probably aren’t going to do it at NCAA’s.

  4. mattrwahl says:
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    “Perhaps it’s time for the last dance for last chance.”

    Beautiful wordsmithing, Braden. Beautiful.

  5. Chris Knight says:
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    Braden, obviously D3 is less interesting to most of the readers, but I imagine that the impact of last chance meets on the scoring is much higher there, given how much closer the cut line is to the top 16?

    • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:
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      Chris – that makes a lot of sense, and just sort of clicking around at random, I didn’t find any (I’ll admit that I didn’t do a thorough look of every event.)

      In theory, however, yes, I think if you look at a trend of some sort, there would be a much bigger impact from D3.

      • Swim3057 says:
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        Only D1 has “last chance meets” – both D2 and D3 have done away with these type of meets that required NCAA approval. As long a meet is on the schedule and fits into the playing season requirements and is held prior to the NCAA qualifying period deadline they are acceptable. Since D3 is limited to a 19 week season (not counting NCAA’s), very few teams have any time after their conference meets to consider another competition opportunity.
        Division 1 still requires NCAA Championship Committee approval to hold these type of meets.

    • Nathan Smith says:
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      Are there the same number of athletes qualifying for last chance meets in D3 though? As mentioned by Swim3057, the 19 week rule means that any team looking to attend a last chance meet has to take 18 weeks to prepare for their conference championships to compete the week after.

      This puts most coaches in a bad position. If you have a NCAA Championship hopeful, you want to give them the best shot at qualifying and should be giving them the most chances to get there, so you plan your season around a last chance meet. But then you have to sacrifice a week of training for what should be your focus, your conference championships. It’s already tough getting a team prepped in 19 weeks, let alone 18 weeks. You end up dragging the rest of your team into the plan for your NCAA qualifier.

      Denison and Kenyon take advantage of it, but you don’t see too many other schools using last chance meets. It’s hard to justify it if you don’t have too many NCAA level swimmers.

  6. Paul McCall says:
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    The sad thing is that, in general, last chance meets replace guys who have rested less and have greater chance of performing well at NCAA’s with guys who have rested more and have less chance of performing well at NCAA’s.

  7. Phil McDade says:
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    Ban the last-chance meets. And ban all time trials while you’re at it. Make your times in real competition.

  8. swimmer says:
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    Yes, that really sucks for those not able to swim because someone bumps them out of the meet at a last chance meet.. But what about the swimmers who get sick during their big meet and don’t perform as highly was they’re capable of? Or if you’re conference meet is in greensboro and you have bad asthma and can’t breathe all weekend, then how is it fair to them? Keep the last chance meets, the best swimmers will be at the big show that way.

  9. Matt says:
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    Although this is great research, is any of it really that surprising? I could have come up with the same results on just a hunch. My guess is that swimmers that achieved their NCAA invitation by only a few hundredths of second did not score much, if at all, either. I’ll also wager that most swimmers that barely met the Olympic Trials selection times didn’t make the Olympic team either.

    I think these meets are a great idea. NCAA’s, as with every other big meet, has more dynamics at play than just the team score or individual champions. I don’t care how it is molded to fit into NCAA, high school, or whatever USA Swimming is trying to come up with, swimming is an individual sport. For some people at the pointy end of things, NCAA’s is all about making finals, or scoring, or if they are lucky, winning an event. Congratulations. For others, it may be about gaining All-American status. For others, though, simply making the meet is a goal. I think the goal to simply qualify for a prestigious meet can be applied to all sorts of events…High School State Championships, Olympic Trials, or even the Olympics themselves.

    These meets are not about getting more scoring swimmers to NCAA’s, they are about letting those on the fringe accomplish something that could define their swimming career. What are the issues with this? Cost? The NCAA has very little to do with these meets, and if the meets lose money, that is an issue for their hosts. How much could it be for one or two days of time trials? The NCAA does not invite more swimmers to NCAA Championships, as the number is essentially capped. Is it that this is technically “out of season” and a swimmer gets nearly unlimited shots to make their times? Well then apply that same thought process to all non-NCAA meets. Make swimmers qualify only at conference meets or duel meets. What if teams have more duel meets? What about small schools that don’t get invites to the big Texas and Florida invitationals?

    I doubt any swimmers outside of Texas, Florida, Cal, or Michigan gave a second thought to the team scores while at NCAA’s this year. Heck, I bet some swimmers on those top teams didn’t even care. To cap off your season by qualifying and competing at NCAA’s is a tremendous honor. Whether you do that by duel meet, conference meet, invitational meet, or last chance meet is irrelevant.

    • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:
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      Matt – I expected some people to have that reaction, and it was my initial reaction as well. However, I couldn’t justify it against “every 10 that get in at a last chance meet means 10 that lose their spot.” About 80% of what you said could be applied to the swimmer who had a great time and qualified 30th at their conference meet, so I just don’t see where the Last Chance meets are necessary to have this sense of pride about qualifying.

      • Matt says:
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        Braden, great point. The question is where do you draw the line at what meets a swimmer can qualify? Swimming (and track) are very different than other NCAA sports in that athletes compete in both NCAA and non-USA (AAU, US SWIMMING, USA T&F, etc.) events throughout the season. Seems you need to go narrow (only NCAA meets) or go wide (any meet), but not down the middle. If the rules in place are what they are, then I don’t feel bad for that kid that gets knocked off at conference. A guy that was playing (or swimming) within the rules beat him. Same way he would have beaten him whether his time was swim in October, January, or at his conference meet that ended 3 hours later because it was on the west coast.

        Why not just make it such that a swimmer needs to qualify at an NCAA duel meet or conference meet? Doesn’t that solve everything? Swimmers getting sick and swimmers having bad swims is just part of the game. Get more sleep.

        • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:
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          Yeah, I agree, and like I said in the post, nobody, including me, would fault anyone for using the rules as written. Would still like to see the rule changed. The whole thing just seems sort of…silly to me. The idea that “you had an off day, but here’s another chance.” Off days are part of sports, though in individual sports there’s less of a cushion for off days.

          So if I’m understanding your last sentence correctly, you’re saying no mid-season invites, either?

          • Matt says:
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            Braden – I’m the wrong guy to ask. My personal opinion is that it should be wide open. As long as there is an official on deck, anyone can qualify. This is coming from someone that got his first junior national cut back in 1994 at a last chance meet at State College Area High School after the PIAA meet.

            The more I think about your argument about that poor kid that got left out of NCAA’s after his conference meet, the more I don’t feel bad for him/her. Conference meets are all over the place, on different weekends, with different forms (men/women, combined, etc.) and don’t really represent any definitive end to the college swimming season. I bet some last chance meets happen before some conference championships are run.

            If you are going to make it really strict, why not make it interesting also – NCAA invite times come from Conference Meets only. That way it puts everyone in the same boat and give them one chance. There would be much more interesting conference meets. No sandbagging.

  10. Tim says:
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    What about swimmers who don’t make conference teams? Every so often at a deep school like Cal, Georgia, etc someone who just missed the conference team ends up having a great last chance meet and makes NCAAs.

  11. Swimmers ear says:
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    Lindsey Gendron got her 200 fly NCAA cut at the last chance meet in Knoxville. And she placed 3rd in the 200 fly at NCAA’s, about one-tenth out of 2nd place. With the 100 fly leg on the 400 MR up for grabs late in the season, she split 51.7 at SEC’s and decided to try the 200 fly at the last chance meet. Just an FYI

  12. John Dussliere says:
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    The deadline is the deadline so no one actually “loses their spot”. They qualified. The 10 swimmers that qualified in the last chance opportunity gained valuable experience at the meet. Now they know they can get in the meet or others at this level (internationally) and continue to progress toward the top. How many first time “last chancers” ever went on to do something bigger? in swimming? in life? I’m guessing 100%. Swimming is a set up for life after swimming. Trust me, every chance to qualify for something is legitimate.

  13. mikeh says:
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    What John Murray did for UT was truly remarkable. I think he went 19.72 in the 50 yard free at Conference. The next weekend at Short Course Champs he went a 19.40. Then at NCAA’s a 19.07, plus an 18.3 relay split. The 100 was similarly dramatic – best time of his life going in was 42.9 – at NCAA’s he went a 41.7. I’d say he just needed more rest! Really incredible.

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