The dynamic of NCAA swimming is changing. It’s been coming for a few years. The 100 fly/100 back double is now almost commonplace in college swimming: likely a function of continued emphasis on underwaters meaning that what happens on top of the water is become more-and-more irrelevant in short course swimming.
The momentum really picked up a few years ago when swimmers like UNC’s Carly Smith and (then Virginia swimmer, now Arizona swimmer) Lauren Smart began swimming the 100 fly/100 back double on day two of the meet. Now there’s a slew of swimmers swimmers like Tom Shields, who won both national titles at last year’s meet, and Cindy Tran who take on both races.
This is not a wholly new phenomenon. There have been swimmers in the last generation like Albert Subirats who did both the 100 fly and 100 back on day 2 of this meet.
This year, though, the trend may be hitting a peak. As the women’s precut psych sheets were revealed today, we noticed that the top four seeds in the 100 backstroke are also entered in the 100 fly. Those four are Cindy Tran, Rachel Bootsma, Paige Miller, and Felicia Lee.
The SEC has now transitioned to a 5-day meet schedule. Nearly every major conference in the country uses a 4-day meet schedule. Perhaps in the least it’s time for the NCAA to consider some modification of the current four-day conference schedule.
Short of that, though, there is a relatively simple change that could be made to meet the evolution of the sport. That would be to switch the 100 fly and the 100 back on the current day-two meet lineup.
The current day two schedule:
200 medley relay
800 free relay
What’s interesting about the involved swimmers on the women’s side is that they’re almost always better backstrokers than butterfliers. The change would allow them to be less-tired when they hit that backstroke.
Like all rules changes, of course, this debate then becomes a question about what the goal of the rule is. There will be some who would prefer that the double stays the way it is; because that at least minimally negates the advantage of those swimmers who are just underwater superstars. At most levels of swimming, the season is all geared toward maximizing performance at a single year-end point, which would urge the change to happen. The college season, because of the NCAA qualifying system, already varies from that theory though, where it’s about who can perform best under a given set of circumstances.
Similarly, there are plenty of examples throughout sports where rules were changed both to take advantage of evolving skill sets, and to negate dominant skill sets. When Wilt Chamberlain was the dominant player in the NBA because of his size, the NBA expanded the lane, which forced him a little further away from the basket. In sort of the opposite direction, when Michael Jordan was the star, the NBA limited the amount of contact that could be made on the perimeter to allow players like him to attack the rim more often.
In this scenario, changing the schedule would be the equivalent of the Jordan Rules. Leaving them the same would be like expanding the lane.
Even within our own sport we’ve seen it. FINA has generally reacted to the evolution of the sport by loosening the rules to accommodate. That includes splitting the butterfly off of breaststroke a decade ago; and more recently the hoopla we’ve seen with the underwater dolphin kick on the breaststroke pullout.