Are the NCAA’s Overhyped?

by SwimSwam Contributors 38

March 20th, 2017 College

Courtesy of Barry Revzin

A now infamous comment in an early live recap post suggested that the NCAAs are overhyped. Leading into the meet, we make all sorts of crazy predictions about what might happen. Katie Ledecky is going to go 1:38/4:22/14:56. Kathleen Baker is going swim a 1:46 200y back. Lilly King is going to give a non-controversial post-race interview. So now that the weekend is over and we have some time to reflect on the crazy swims that did happen, we can attempt to answer the question – was it overhyped? As usual, it depends.

The first place to look might simply be: do swimmers at NCAAs improve upon their seed times? Turns out, typically not. If we compare the better of a swimmer’s prelim and finals result to his or her seed time, we find that most swims were worse than seed. In fact, this year’s women’s meet had the highest improvement rate of the last 7 years: at 41.9%. On the plus side, if we aggregate by swimmer instead of by event, we find that a majority of swimmers do improve in at least one of their events (70.5% of the women this year, also a 7-year high), but very few improve in all of their events (just 12.1%). So from that standpoint, expecting all swimmers to drop buckets of time at nationals is unrealistic. You could even call it… hype.

But even if not every swimmer in not every swim improved, how does this 2017 edition of NCAAs compare to 2016 or 2015? In only one individual event, the 200 Breast, was the 8th place time prelims slower this year than it was in 2016. In all but three events (adding in the 100 Breast and 200 Fly), it was the fastest cut we’ve ever seen. In one event in particular – the 100 Back – the cut has gotten faster every year, dropping nearly 3% in the past 6 years. In 2011, a 53.34 was 8th. This year, that would’ve finished 40th.

Not every swimmer might improve, but the machine that is college swimming never stops spinning. This year’s edition of the fastest meet on earth definitely lived up to that hype. And I already can’t wait for next year.

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I wonder if some of the improvement in the backstroke events is attributable to the new start wedge.

JP input is too short

I’ve kind of wondered the same thing – not that I’ve actually used the wedge start, I was done before that came along. Seems sprint backstroking has gotten quite a bit faster recently, and these stats seems to support it improving at a faster rate than others.

It would be interesting to see that same kind of thing with the wedge on the blocks (I don’t remember when exactly that was implemented but I never got to use one of those either), or the breaststroke dolphin kick (which I know came about somewhere around 2005 after Kitajima got caught doing it after the fact in Athens).

Steve Nolan

Without crunching any dang numbers, I’mma go out on a limb and say 50s definitely got a big boost from the wedge. And that breastroke got a similarly big boost from the dolphin kicks.

I doubt the backstroke wedge has had such a big impact as those other things – to me, it’s kind of more of a safeguard against slipping – but I’m sure it hasn’t hurt.


would only have an effect on the 1st 25 of a race….so maybe do a comparative split analysis pre and post?


I know that I would have been a LOT faster with this wedge… same in the other events like 50 and 100 free as well. My biggest issue that I could never overcome was my start, no matter how fast (.58 or .65 reaction time) my first 25 was always the same and I was always behind after the start. The reason was because my hamstrings were sooo tight that I could not get as strong of a push while getting in the awkward (for me) position that the start required. I still had the highest vertical leap of anyone on my team by a few inches, but one of the worst starts. My relay starts were great and because… Read more »

PK boo I\'m sad my name is too short now

I remain of the opinion that the 100y backstroke improvement is more closely tied to swimmers in general “catching up” to what Coughlin did 15 years ago. The normalization of going 15m underwater off all 4 walls has resulted in the entire field catching up to what the elites were doing.


A simpler way of evaluating how Fast this years NCAA were, is count up how many American, NCAA, school records were shattered. I thought that it was an awesome meet.

Stephen Parsons

This was done for last year’s NCAAs, would like to see it done for this time.


Yes, that shows how a meet is at the top end. But NCAA’s are much more about team competition.

Irish Mike

Also, the records get harder and harder to break every year, so inter-year comparisons based on records broken is a tad misleading


Personally, I also like looking at some of the more absurd non-winning times 46.3/1:40.7 were good for 3rd place in the freestyles. 4:28 not only didn’t win but was 5 seconds back. 2:03.5 in the 200 breast? 2nd place.


No, American/NCAA records dont determine how fast the meet was overall. There are a few great swimmers that skew the data, as this article indicates.


Is it just me or do the men tend to drop more at nationals then the women? Compared to their conference swims.

Attila the Runt

This might be idiotic, but I think it might have something to do with swimsuit coverage. When a woman “suits up” for conference —and they all do—, that’s a much bigger performance benefit than a man putting on a jammer, partially rested, but maybe unshaved. In other words, the women get most of the bang for their performance ancillaries (tech suit, shave) with the suit than do the men. Tough to not feel fast in a near full-length/body tech suit at an exciting rivalry meet. The only thing, then, holding back the women at conference compared to nationals would be the taper. Back in the supersuit era, a guy putting on a body suit could feel fast (and swim fast)… Read more »

King of Taper

This is purely speculative, but I think it’s because guys need more rest in the first place. Guys have more muscle mass and I think needing more rest would highly correlate with a second rest period being more beneficial/less harmful for males as opposed to females

tea rex

Women typically swim closer to their best times in-season than men do. More muscle = more lactic acid during the training cycle.

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