Building A Better Meet Schedule

by Kevin Hallman 13

May 08th, 2020 College

With the world shutting down, we’re reaching into our archives and pulling some of our favorite stories from the SwimSwam print edition to share online. If you’d like to read more of this kind of story, you can subscribe to get a print (and digital) version of SwimSwam Magazine here. This story was originally published in the 2016 College Feature edition of SwimSwam Magazine.

As a collegiate distance swimmer, I had plenty of things to gripe about to my mid-distance counterparts: workouts that were a bit more monotonous, a shorter taper, and a distinct lack of yoga during morning practices. One small thing I did have going for me was a conference meet schedule that made choosing my events pretty easy. Like many conference meets, ours was scheduled over three days and had the 500 free, 1650 free, and the 400 IM all scheduled on different days. This made picking a schedule that avoided doubling any of them on a single day easy. If I decided I wanted a little bit more “speed” in my events, say swapping the 200 IM for the 500, or the 200 free for the 400 IM, the schedule was similarly accommodating. For reference, here is the standard three-day NCAA meet schedule (individual events):

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
500 Freestyle 400 IM 1650 Freestyle
200 IM 100 Butterfly 200 Backstroke
50 Freestyle 200 Freestyle 100 Freestyle
100 Breaststroke 200 Breaststroke
100 Backstroke 200 Butterfly

On the other hand, almost every mid-distance swimmer on my team had one gripe or another about the event schedule. My friend Andrew, for example, a backstroker/freestyler, would have raced the 100 back, 200 back, and 200 free had not the 100 back and 200 free been scheduled only a single event apart on the second day. Every year he was forced, to many complaints, to swim the 500 on the first day so that he could avoid doubling any events on a single day. Another friend, Brian, a flyer/backstroker, was forced into the 500 every year as well to avoid a hard double of either the 200 backstroke and 200 butterfly or the 100 backstroke and the 100 butterfly.

Since I felt a bit of pity for them, I thought that I would try and re-design the three-day meet format so that fewer swimmers were forced to double events on a single day. To do this, I first had to measure what events were usually paired together. I went through the data for 2016 and for every NCAA swimmer, found their three fastest events in terms of their best swim’s percentile rank. I then created a correlation matrix that would show how commonly swum each event was which each other. The data included swimmers across both genders and all divisions.

(Click image to enlarge)

One thing to note here is that the percentages are not reciprocal, so for example a 200 backstroker is more likely to taper the 100 freestyle than a 100 freestyler is to taper the 200 backstroke since unsurprisingly, the 100 freestyle is a more popular event to swim tapered than the 200 backstroke.

A couple of observations:

  1. 1650 swimmers tend to be the most specialized.
  2. People tend to group more around strokes than they do distances.
  3. 200 IMers and 200 freestylers tend to be the most generalized.
  4. The two most popular combinations were the breastrokes and the 50/100 free

Using this data, I then checked all 3^13th possible three-day meet combinations to see which ones would minimize the amount of doubles on a single day. Here are the top meet lineups that I found (changes from the standard format are bolded):

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 % conflicts
500 Freestyle, 200 IM, 50 Free 400 IM, 100 Butterfly, 200 Free, 100 Breaststroke, 100 Backstroke 1650 Freestyle, 200 Backstroke, 100 Freestyle, 200 Breaststroke, 200 Butterfly 8.1
500 Freestyle200 IM50 Free 400 IM, 100 Butterfly, 200 Free, 200 Breaststroke, 100 Backstroke 1650 Freestyle, 200 Backstroke, 100 Freestyle, 100 Breaststroke, 200 Butterfly 9.1
500 Freestyle200 IM50 Free400 IM 100 Butterfly, 200 Free, 100 Breaststroke, 100 Backstroke 1650 Freestyle, 200 Backstroke, 100 Freestyle, 200 Breaststroke, 200 Butterfly 10.2
500 Freestyle200 IM50 Free100 Backstroke 400 IM, 200 Butterfly, 200 Free, 100 Breaststroke 1650 Freestyle, 200 Backstroke, 100 Freestyle, 200 Breaststroke, 100 Butterfly 10.6

Unsurprisingly, the current three-day meet schedule was the best combination. It has a big leg up on all the others since swimmers often conform their event lineups to the current meet schedule, swimming slightly worse events for them on different days rather than trying to double on a single day. I had hoped that perhaps enough swimmers had top times from either four-day meets or from multiple different taper meets to tip the balance away from the current schedule, but no such luck.

Most of the other top choices were very similar to the current format and only involved minor changes such as swapping the 100 and 200 breaststroke or swapping the 100 and 200 butterfly. However, I did find a couple of interesting options. One was moving either the 100 backstroke or 100 butterfly to the first day. This makes some sense to me since it balances out the number of events on each day. It does make some sprinters combo the 100 of stroke with the 50 freestyle, but I would think that both are short enough to make it manageable, something I didn’t take into consideration in my analysis.

Since I was curious, I found data on the most commonly used lineup combinations and the % of total 3 event lineups they comprise as well. The following nine lineups comprise 50% or all three-day meet lineups swum. I also listed the average strength rank of the swimmers who swum that lineup. The scale on the strength ranking goes from 0 to 1, with 1 being the fastest. Unsurprisingly, IMers came out on top. With the combination of the 400 IM, 200 IM, and 200 breaststroke (too uncommon to be shown below) coming in with a strength ranking of .75.

Events % of Lineups Strength Rank
100 Breaststroke, 200 Breaststroke, 200 IM 10% 0.59
100 Freestyle, 200 Freestyle, 50 Freestyle 8% 0.64
1650 Freestyle, 200 Freestyle, 500 Freestyle 8% 0.61
100 Butterfly, 100 Freestyle, 50 Freestyle 6% 0.64
100 Backstroke, 200 Backstroke, 200 IM 4% 0.63
100 Butterfly, 200 Butterfly, 200 IM 4% 0.60
100 Freestyle, 200 Freestyle, 500 Freestyle 4% 0.65
100 Backstroke, 100 Freestyle, 50 Freestyle 3% 0.63
1650 Freestyle, 400 IM500 Freestyle 3% 0.63

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Oh my
4 years ago

Why no combo with 200 fly. 400 I’m and mile. What is that strength ranking

Oh my
4 years ago

My girl has always done mile. 200 fly. There were a lot of those in our conference. And 500 free sometimes and 400 IM. I stand by my statement that the 3 hardest events in swim are 400 IM and mile. And 200 fly. None of these belong on same day. I’d argue 400 IM up against mile. Fewer kids do these two.

Oh my
4 years ago

I do not think the 300
Fly and mile should be same day. Mile should be Day 1. My swimmer Eays had to cope with

Oh my
Reply to  Oh my
4 years ago

I meant not be same day

4 years ago

I remember one guy in college did 1650, 200 back each year. Then one year he added 200 fly.

4 years ago

The current schedule makes decision-making for sprinters and pure distance freestylers fairly easy.

Gets complicated for the middle distance and IM types. Know that any event order over 3 days will leave some swimmers unhappy and forced to make hard decisions on the 3rd event to swim. Then again, I’m not really sure why we’ve become so worried about swimmers of the elite caliber swimming in 2 prelims and 2 finals in a single day… maybe with a relay swim as well. In elite teen age group meets, swimming 6 events trials/finals over 3 days was practically no big deal. Why is it always such a problem in college?

Reply to  200 SIDESTROKE B CUT
4 years ago

For most conferences the best swimmers can swim a lot of different events and they end up on as many relays as possible. Relays being double points and often coming down to the wire every tenth counts. If your best swimmer doubled up on one day and then had to swim a relay the athlete is gonna by exhausted

4 years ago

Would be cool to see the SEC’s format utilized in other conferences?

Steve Schaffer
Reply to  Swimnerd
4 years ago

A five day format is nice, but cost prohibitive for many conferences, especially those that have to rent quality facilities for their meets.

4 years ago

Would be interesting to look at each swimmers best events (power points or whatever) and put those over the different combinations to see which one had the fewest conflicts. That might be able to get a result that isn’t so closely tied to the current format.

I think the most common line ups table does a great job showing why the current format makes sense though!

Reply to  CACrushers
4 years ago

Yeah–the results are strongly affected by the ubiquity of the current three-day meet lineup. Would be interesting to see if the results are different for LCM events, since LCM meets are usually not on the same three-day lineup as are SCY championship meets.

Nice work!

Oh my
Reply to  joe
4 years ago

Distance swimmers should not be pushed to the end.

4 years ago

I think you forgot to paste in the results