Can We Build A Better College Meet Schedule?

  15 SwimSwam Contributors | January 11th, 2017 | College, Lifestyle

By Kevin Hallman.

As a collegiate distance swimmer, I had plenty of things to gripe about to my mid-distance counterparts: more monotonous workouts, a shorter taper timeline, 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 lineup that avoided doubling any of them on a single day easy.  If I decided I wanted a little more “speed” in my events, swapping the 200 IM for the 500, or the 200 free for the 400 IM, the schedule was accommodating. For reference, here is the standard three-day NCAA meet schedule (individual events):

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
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


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 were the 100 back and 200 free not scheduled a back-to-back on the second day.  Every year he was forced to swim the 500 on the first day instead to spread his events over all three days. 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 pity for them, I thought I would try to re-design the three-day meet format so 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 every NCAA swimmer in 2016, found their three fastest events in terms of their best swim’s percentile rank.  I then created a correlation matrix, showing how commonly each event was swam with the other.  The data included swimmers across both genders and all divisions.

The graph represents the % likelihood that each event will appear with any other event in a swimmer’s top three. One thing to note is the percentages are not reciprocal.  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.

More 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 checked the 1,594,323 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 (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 Freestyle

200 IM

50 Free

400 IM

100 Butterfly

200 Free

200 Breaststroke

100 Backstroke

1650 Freestyle

200 Backstroke

100 Freestyle

100 Breaststroke

200 Butterfly

9.1
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

10.2
500 Freestyle

200 IM

50 Free

100 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 on different days rather than trying to double on a single day.  I had hoped enough swimmers had top times from either four-day meets or from separate 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 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 sense to me because it balances the number of events on each day. It does make some sprinters combo the 100 of a stroke with the 50 freestyle, but both are short enough to make it manageable, something I didn’t take into consideration in my analysis.

Since I was curious, I also found data on the most commonly used lineup combinations and the percent of total 3 event lineups they comprise. The following nine lineups comprise 50% or all three-day meet lineups swum.  I also listed the average strength rank of the swimmers who swam that lineup.  The scale on the strength ranking goes from 0 to 1, with 1 being the fastest.  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 IM

500 Freestyle

3% 0.63

So age-group coaches, training your swimmers as IMers will probably pay off in the long run. However, if you’re going to specialize, choosing a stroke tends to be more popular than choosing a distance.

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15 Comments on "Can We Build A Better College Meet Schedule?"

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

It would be interesting if there was a way to make the source data include only non-invitational and 1 or 2 day meets, as that would start to remove the bias of athletes conforming their best midseason performances to meets that use the current format. Granted, then you’re still getting some bias in the 1day format because athletes are less prone to swim back to back events. But still, it would be closer.

As someone who went through 4 years of college with my best events being the 200/500 free and 200/400 IM, I was always curious if there was a better way to do it.

I was thinking the same thing. Or even pulling from a variety of national level USA swimming meets would give you a better picture. When I was in college I never swam (or even trained for) the 100 fly because it always fell on the same day as the 100 breast, despite the 100 fly being my second best event in high school.

Lane Line Sloth

The summit league changed their format this year to get rid of the 100 fly / 100 back double. They moved the 100 fly to day 1 for the conference championship meet. They also added the 100 IM on Sunday. Interesting analysis

Personally every meet I go to whether it is a championship meet or a regular in-season meet the 100fly and 200free are right next to each other and that double always kills me:)

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