Comparing The NCAA Championships To Short Course Worlds

by Daniel Takata 57

December 31st, 2023 College, National, SwimmingStats

This article originally appeared in the 2023 College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine. Subscribe here.

The NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships are among the most expressive meets in swimming, with performances that are often among the best in history. The depth is almost unmatched anywhere in the world, and an increasing international presence means that not just the top American swimmers, but many of the world’s top swimmers, run through the NCAA system.

Some NCAA records over the years have been legendary. For example, Natalie Coughlin’s 49.97 in the 100 backstroke in 2002 for Cal is a performance that many predicted was ahead of her time — and they were right — as it took 15 years for another swimmer to break the 50-second barrier. In 2018, Caeleb Dressel’s 17.63 in the 50 freestyle for Florida was a quantum leap forward — at the time almost a second faster than the second-fastest swimmer in history.

However, the fact that the NCAAs are performed in short course yards makes the results assimilation not an easy task, especially for those who do not follow the college season closely and who are not from the U.S. Many have no idea what it means, for example, to swim a time below 18 seconds in the men’s 50 freestyle.

Therefore, it is not easy to compare NCAAs results with those of other major meets performed in long course or short course meters.

Some performances in short course yards have definitely been on the level of the great performances we witness at World Championships and the Olympic Games. But, overall, how do the NCAAs results compare to these meets?

Short Course Yards x Short Course Meters

The Olympic Games and the World Aquatics Championships are the most important meets on the swim calendar and, as a rule, bring together the very best in swimming. So, it seems obvious that the level of these competitions in general is higher than that of the NCAAs — and any other swim meet in the world.

Perhaps it makes sense, however, to compare the NCAAs to the World Short Course Championships. Despite being a World Championships, the short course version of the meet does not bring together all the top swimmers on the planet, unlike its long course counterpart. But there are always great athletes, world records, and great races, just like in the NCAAs.

Therefore, the question remains: which competition is stronger, NCAAs or World Short Course?

In this article, we will try to make a comparison between the results of the 2022 World Short Course Championships, held last December in Melbourne, and the 2023 NCAAs held in March.

But, before that, we bring an additional and interesting comparison, to get an idea of the balance of forces of the two meets.

In 2000 and 2004, the NCAAs were performed in short course meters. The idea, at the time, was to compete in the NCAAs in a 25-meter pool in Olympic years, already aiming at preparing for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

It was something that only happened in those two years; in the next Olympic year, in 2008, the NCAAs were performed, as usual, in short course yards.

As expected, there were fast performances and several world records. And, interestingly, in those years, World Short Course Championships were also held, just a few months away from the NCAAs.

Therefore, it is possible to make a direct comparison between the times of the winners.

2000 NCAAs x 2000 World Short Course Championships (fastest time in bold)

2000 NCAAs 2000 Short Course Worlds
Event Winner Time Winner Time
W 50 FREE Courtney Shealy 24.80 Therese Alshammar 23.59
W 100 FREE Courtney Shealy 53.99 Therese Alshammar 52.17
W 200 FREE Maritza Correia 1:57.33 Yang Yu 1:56.06
W 400 FREE Christina Teuscher 4:04.09 Lindsay Benko 4:02.44
W 100 BACK Courtney Shealy 58.66 Sandra Volker 58.66
W 200 BACK Beth Botsford 2:06.70 Antje Buschschulte 2:07.29
W 100 BREAST Kristy Kowal 1:05.74 Sarah Poewe 1:06.21
W 200 BREAST Kristy Kowal 2:22.05 Rebecca Brown 2:23.41
W 100 FLY Limin Liu 57.97 Jenny Thompson 57.67
W 200 FLY Limin Liu 2:06.04 Mette Jacobsen 2:08.10
W 200 IM Kristy Kowal 2:10.69 Yana Klochkova 2:08.97
W 400 IM Christina Teuscher 4:33.81 Yana Klochkova 4:32.45
M 50 FREE Anthony Ervin 21.21 Mark Foster 21.58
M 100 FREE Anthony Ervin 47.36 Lars Frolander 46.80
M 200 FREE Ryk Neethling 1:43.90 Bela Szabados 1:45.27
M 400 FREE Ryk Neethling 3:40.47 Chad Carvin 3:41.13
M 1500 FREE Erik Vendt 14:31.02 Jorg Hoffman 14:47.57
M 100 BACK Matt Ulrickson 52.05 Neil Walker 50.75
M 200 BACK Matt Cole 1:53.68 Gordan Kozulj 1:53.31
M 100 BREAST Ed Moses 57.66 Roman Sludnov 58.57
M 200 BREAST Ed Moses 2:06.40 Roman Sludnov 2:07.59
M 100 FLY Adam Pine 51.23 Lars Frolander 50.44
M 200 FLY Adam Messner 1:55.79 James Hickman 1:53.57
M 200 IM Attila Czene 1:54.65 Jani Sievinen 1:56.27
M 400 IM Tim Siciliano 4:06.02 Jani Sievinen 4:09.54

2004 NCAAs x 2004 World Short Course Championships (fastest time in bold)

2004 NCAAs 2004 Short Course Worlds
Event Winner Time Winner Time
W 50 FREE Kara Lynn Joyce 24.24 Marleen Veldhuis 24.41
W 100 FREE Kara Lynn Joyce 53.15 Libby Trickett 52.67
W 200 FREE Margaret Hoelzer 1:56.16 Josefin Lillhage 1:56.35
W 400 FREE Emily Mason 4:01.58 Kaitlin Sandeno 4:02.01
W 100 BACK Natalie Coughlin 57.51 Haley Cope 59.03
W 200 BACK Kirsty Coventry 2:03.86 Margaret Hoelzer 2:05.84
W 100 BREAST Tara Kirk 1:04.79 Brooke Hanson 1:05.36
W 200 BREAST Tara Kirk 2:20.70 Brooke Hanson 2:21.68
W 100 FLY Natalie Coughlin 56.88 Martina Moravcova 57.38
W 200 FLY Mary DeScenza 2:06.02 Kaitlin Sandeno 2:06.95
W 200 IM Kaitlin Sandeno 2:08.11 Brooke Hanson 2:09.81
W 400 IM Kaitlin Sandeno 4:30.44 Kaitlin Sandeno 4:30.12
M 50 FREE Fred Bousquet 21.10 Mark Foster 21.58
M 100 FREE Ian Crocker 46.25 Jason Lezak 47.97
M 200 FREE Jayme Cramer 1:45.04 Michael Phelps 1:43.59
M 400 FREE Peter Vanderkaay 3:40.78 Yuri Prilukov 3:40.79
M 1500 FREE Peter Vanderkaay 14:44.53 Yuri Prilukov 14:39.16
M 100 BACK Peter Marshall 50.32 Aaron Peirsol 50.72
M 200 BACK Aaron Peirsol 1:50.64 Aaron Peirsol 1:50.52
M 100 BREAST Brendan Hansen 58.19 Brendan Hansen 58.45
M 200 BREAST Brendan Hansen 2:04.73 Brendan Hansen 2:04.98
M 100 FLY Ian Crocker 49.07 Ian Crocker 50.18
M 200 FLY Rainer Kendrick 1:54.97 James Hickman 1:53.41
M 200 IM George Bovell 1:53.93 Thiago Pereira 1:55.78
M 400 IM Ryan Lochte 4:04.52 Oussama Mellouli 4:07.02

In 2000, out of 12 individual events, the women’s NCAA had the fastest winning times in four, and the Worlds, in seven — there was a tie, in the 100 backstroke.

Regarding men’s events, out of 13 events, in eight events the results of the NCAAs were faster, against five of the Worlds.

That is, considering both genders, the NCAAs had faster winning times in 12 events, and the Worlds had the faster time in 12.

In 2004, it was almost a massacre in favor of the NCAAs.

Women’s NCAA had faster winning times in 10 of 12 races. Men’s NCAA, in nine of 13 races. That is, totaling 19 fastest times for the NCAAs, against six of the Worlds.

That is, as you can see, taking this particular cut into account, in terms of winning times, the NCAA has a level similar to, or even superior to, that of the World Short Course Championships.

But that was two decades ago. How is the panorama today?

Comparing the latest results

As mentioned, the goal here is to compare the 2023 NCAAs to the 2022 World Short Course Championships.

In terms of the fastest times in history, the 2022 Worlds registered two world records, both from Canada’s Maggie MacNeil, in the women’s 50 backstroke and 100 butterfly.

As for the 2023 NCAAs, counting women and men, eight fastest times in history were set. On the women’s side, 50 free (Maggie MacNeil, this time representing LSU), 100 backstroke (Virginia’s Gretchen Walsh), 200 breaststroke, 100 butterfly and 200 IM (Virginia’s Kate Douglass). On the men’s side, 200 breaststroke, 200 and 400 IM by Arizona State’s Leon Marchand.

The following table shows the winning times of the two competitions. Obviously, times from short course yards and short course meters are not directly comparable. Therefore, there is an additional column converting NCAA times for 25-meter pools using the Swim Time Converter tool on the SwimSwam website.

Yards to meters conversions are controversial, mainly because the conversion can vary from athlete to athlete. Although the conversion from short course yards to short course meters is usually more accurate than a 50-meter pool, due to the equal number of turns in most events.

For these reasons, the performances highlighted in bold are those in which, notably, there is no discussion in relation to which was the most impressive. On the other hand, events in which the winners of the two meets presented similar times after the conversion, with a small difference between them, were considered as ties.

2023 NCAAs x 2022 World Short Course Championships (fastest time in bold)

2023 NCAAs 2022 Short Course Worlds
Event Winner Time Converted Winner Time
W 50 FREE Maggie MacNeil 20.79 23.07 Emma McKeon 23.04
W 100 FREE Gretchen Walsh 45.61 50.62 Emma McKeon 50.77
W 200 FREE Taylor Ruck 1:42.36 1:53.61 Siobhán Haughey 1:51.65
W 400 FREE Kensey McMahon 4:36.62 4:02.04 Lani Pallister 3:55.04
W 1500 FREE Kensey McMahon 15:43.84 15:49.50 Lani Pallister 15:21.43
W 100 BACK Gretchen Walsh 48.26 53.56 Kaylee McKeown 55.49
W 200 BACK Claire Curzan 1:47.64 1:59.48 Kaylee McKeown 1:59.26
W 100 BREAST Lydia Jacoby 57.03 1:03.30 Lilly King 1:02.67
W 200 BREAST Kate Douglass 2:01.29 2:14.63 Kate Douglass 2:15.77
W 100 FLY Kate Douglass 48.46 53.79 Maggie MacNeil 54.05
W 200 FLY Emma Sticklen 1:49.95 2:02.04 Dakota Luther 2:03.37
W 200 IM Kate Douglass 1:48.37 2:00.29 Kate Douglass 2:02.12
W 400 IM Alex Walsh 3:57.24 4:23.33 Hali Flickinger 4:26.51
M 50 FREE Jordan Crooks 18.32 20.33 Jordan Crooks 20.46
M 100 FREE Josh Liendo 40.28 44.71 Kyle Chalmers 45.16
M 200 FREE Luke Hobson 1:30.43 1:40.37 Sun-Woo Hwang 1:39.72
M 400 FREE Luke Hobson 4:07.37 3:36.44 Kieran Smith 3:34.38
M 1500 FREE Will Gallant 14:28.94 14:33.70 Gregorio Paltrinieri 14:16.88
M 100 BACK Brendan Burns 43.61 48.40 Ryan Murphy 48.50
M 200 BACK Destin Lasco 1:35.87 1:46.41 Ryan Murphy 1:47.41
M 100 BREAST Max McHugh 50.00 55.50 Nick Fink 55.88
M 200 BREAST Leon Marchand 1:46.91 1:58.67 Daiya Seto 2:00.35
M 100 FLY Youssef Ramadan 43.15 47.89 Chad le Clos 48.59
M 200 FLY Aiden Hayes 1:38.79 1:49.65 Chad le Clos 1:48.27
M 200 IM Leon Marchand 1:36.34 1:46.93 Matthew Sates 1:50.15
M 400 IM Leon Marchand 3:28.82 3:51.79 Daiya Seto 3:55.75

By this analysis, on the women’s side, of 13 competitions, there is a clear advantage in five of them for the NCAAs, and four in the Short Course Worlds.

On the men’s side, the score is also five to four, also in favor of the NCAAs.

Because of the conversions, it’s hard to pinpoint which competition had the most impressive winning times. But the comparison proves that, yes, the NCAAs have a level similar to that of the World Short Course Championships, if not higher. If the NCAAs eventually returned to being performed in short course, undoubtedly incredible performances would happen. Like, for example, a sub-54-second in the women’s 100 backstroke or a 1:58 in the men’s 200 breaststroke.

But for now, the debate will continue to exist in the theoretical world. While answers of certainty can sometimes be fun, so too are answers of ambiguity.

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1 month ago

I’ve read some comments about 200 women’s free and there is an interesting example from last months. Hungarian Minna Abraham, after a few weeks in the Ncaa, swam 1.41.38 in the 200 SCY free that converts to 1.52.53 in the 200 SCM free. In the 200 SCM free Abrahams’ PB (swum at the end of 2022) is 1.55.95 that converts to 1.44.45 SCY.
Is Abraham improving so rapidly in these months at USC?

Reply to  nuotofan
1 month ago

MOC for example had a long course PB of 1:58.7 at the end of 2020, and then dropped down to 1:55.1 in the Olympics. 3 second drop in a 200 is pretty hefty, but it’s also a pretty normal amount of improvement for someone going from the age of an 11th grader to the age of a 12th grader

1 month ago

so here are all the women’s converted SCY records compared to the actual SCM world record – bolded ones are where the SCY conversion is faster

50 free: 23.07 (MacNeil/G.Walsh) vs 22.93 (Kromowidjojo)
100 free: 50.57 (Manuel) vs 50.25 (C.Campbell)
200 free: 1:49.90 (Franklin) vs 1:50.31 (Haughey)
400/500 free: 3:51.05 (Ledecky) vs 3:51.30 (Li Bingjie)
800/1000 free: 7:52.19 (Ledecky) vs 7:57.42 (Ledecky)
1500/1650 free: 15:06.81 (Ledecky) vs 15:08.24 (Ledecky)
100 back: 53.56 (G.Walsh) vs 54.89 (Atherton)
200 back: 1:58.94 (Smith) vs 1:58.94 (McKeown)
100 breast: 1:01.86 (King) vs 1:02.36 (Atkinson/Meilutyte)
200 breast: 2:14.63 (Douglas) vs 2:14.57 (Soni)
100 fly: 53.79 (Douglass) vs 54.05 (MacNeil) – 53.61 from G.Walsh unofficially
… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

Minna Atherton’s SCM world record converts to 49.45 in SCY as reference for the rest of this comment. The 100 back really is an interesting case, and here’s a timeline on US Open record for the event for those not familiar with SCY:

2002: 49.97, Natalie Coughlin
2017: 49.69, Ally Howe
2018: 49.67, Beata Nelson
2019: 49.66, Regan Smith
2019: 49.18, Beata Nelson
2021: 49.16, Regan Smith
2022: 48.74, Katharine Berkoff
2023: 48.26, Gretchen Walsh

If you only had pre-Covid times, I think the conversions would be quite reasonable. Regan Smith from 2019 would’ve converted to 55.12 in SCM which I don’t think is a controversial conversion at all – that was the… Read more »

Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

200 free – there’s no way Franklin was a better freestyler short or long course than Haughey or Sjostrom.

100 breast – King’s had plenty of opportunities to produce her best in SCM and is still quite far off that time.

Stewie Griffin
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

200 free – there’s no way Franklin was a better freestyler short or long course than Haughey or Sjostrom.

Yeah kinda laughable.

Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

That 1:39.10 from Franklin was the performance of a lifetime that beats any person besides Comerford by over a second. That includes beating Haughey’s own personal SCY time by over a second and a half, so I don’t think it’s a stretch that it converts to faster than Haughey’s SCM time.

King’s SCY time is also like a full second faster than anyone else has gone. I don’t think her PB converting to half a second faster than the WR is too much of a stretch either – that would put the actual WR at the equivalent of a 56 low which is already so fast in and of itself. 55.73 was a superhuman swim

Stewie Griffin
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

Commerford has 1:39 yards PB and yet her LCM is more than 3 seconds slower than Haughey.

It’s beyond stretch.

Reply to  Stewie Griffin
1 month ago

umm no one mentioned LCM here. You are ignoring how much faster Franklin’s 200 SCY record is than other very accomplished 200 freestylers – she was over a second faster than Ruck, Ledecky, Schmitt’s personal bests, among other swimmers. Of course when you convert it to SCM, it’s going to be ridiculously fast – it was an absolute bombshell of a swim.

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
Stewie Griffin
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

Commerford has 1:39 SCY

Commerford is more than 3 seconds slower than Haughey and 4 seconds slower than MOC

Enough said.

200 SCY is closely correlated to 100 LCM than 200 LCM.

And Haughey and Sjostrom destroy Franklin in 100 LCM

Reply to  Stewie Griffin
1 month ago

Enough said for what? Obviously there isn’t a 1 to 1 correlation between the 100 LCM and 200 SCY, or else Manuel would be by far the fastest so far and not 1.25 seconds behind Franklin. What exactly are you trying to claim here? It would be nice if you laid out your statements in a logical order instead of jumping all over the place while bringing up LCM in this article about SCY vs SCM.

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
Reply to  Stewie Griffin
1 month ago

Here’s mine, I’m expecting the same from you:
(1) SCY and SCM are pretty closely related and the problem here is not whether or not the times can convert, but how they convert at all.
(2) Franklin is considerably faster than anyone else has been in the SCY 200
(3) Franklin’s time currently converts to 0.4 faster than Haughey’s; lets say that it instead gets pushed back to 0.2 slower than Haughey’s for 0.6 seconds slowed down overall.
(4) If Franklin’s converted time becomes 0.6 seconds slower, every other women’s 200 free SCY converted time also becomes at least 0.6 seconds slower, since for 2 swims of equal caliber, the gap between them widens as the… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

like here, maybe looking at some of the other top times converted for each event makes it more apparent just how fast Franklin and King’s swims were:

1- Franklin at 1:49.90
2- Comerford at 1:50.77
3- Ledecky at 1:51.39
4/5- Manuel/Ruck at 1:51.41
6- Schmitt at 1:51.68
7- McIntosh at 1:51.69
8- Haughey at 1:51.76

1- King at 1:01.86
2- Hannis at 1:02.87
3- Hansson at 1:02.95
4- Wenger at 1:03.00
5- McSharry at 1:03.12
6- Elendt at 1:03.13
7- Dobler at 1:03.19
8- Jacoby at 1:03.30

Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

Belmonte was an absolute beast in SCM

Stewie Griffin
1 month ago

Gretchen Walsh 100 free SCY is deemed more superior to Emma McKeon’s 100 SCM


Ok, I’ve seen enough 🤡

Last edited 1 month ago by Stewie Griffin
Reply to  Stewie Griffin
1 month ago

And her 100 back lol. 2 seconds faster than McKeown. I can’t believe this is serious.

5th stroke
1 month ago

Should move to meters …like track and field and the rest off the world

Free Thinker
Reply to  5th stroke
1 month ago

You want to tell countless schools that in order to compete they have to spend money to convert current pools or (gasp!) build new facilities? That gasp will be the death knell for 95% of the NCAA programs.

Reply to  Free Thinker
1 month ago

It would be interesting to see how many DI schools have SCM pools. I bet it is over 60%. No reason for DII or DIII to switch.

Nick the biased Aussie
Reply to  Free Thinker
1 month ago

They can move all the major champs to SCM without having to convert pools. What it would do is encourage programs to find a way to convert scy pools to SCM.

Reply to  Free Thinker
1 month ago

All new pools for decades should’ve been built so they can be converted between SCM and SCY.

1 month ago

I know SwimSwam used their own Time Converter for this, but I still have yet to get an explanation why the NCAA has published conversions that are different for D1 vs D2?

Then again, there has yet to be an explanation as to how the altitude adjustment times are/were determined, too, but that’s for another time/thread/story.

1 month ago

Would be interesting to see measures of depth, e.g., the 8th and 16 place times. After all, part of the fun of a meet is how close the races are, not necessarily the winning times.

Last edited 1 month ago by Oldmanswimmer
1 month ago

I think it’s about time that the NCAA switches to short course meters, it makes perfect sense. NCAA track and field switched to meters over 50 years ago and there has never been a problem. JMHO.

M d e
Reply to  Billy
1 month ago

Who is rebuilding all the pools?

Reply to  M d e
1 month ago

You don’t need to. Just hold championship meets in 50 meter pools that have a moveable bulkheads for 25 meters. There are lots of them in the USA. You could have NCAA qualifying standards for both yards and meters. A 25 meter SC is only 7 feet longer that a 25 yard course, not a big difference…..

1 month ago

I would love to see how 8th and 16th place compare. I’m guessing top 8 at NCAAs is more competitive

Reply to  JimSwim22
1 month ago

A hated opinion. Anyone got the motivation to look it all up and convert?