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.