From The Archives: The Origins of Elite Swimmers

by Andrew Mering 3

November 14th, 2022 College, National

This article was originally written in 2017 and published in the 2017-18 College Preview Issue of SwimSwam Magazine.

When the University of Texas faces the University of California, it isn’t a face-off between the best swimmers in Texas and in California. Despite those school’s locations in two of the best recruiting states in the country, fewer than half the men’s teams from both those schools are composed of in-state athletes. Only 15 of the 36, or 42 percent, of athletes listed on Texas’ roster last season hailed from Texas, and 15 of 32, or 47 percent, of Cal’s roster are from California.

To get a look at where Division I swimmers and divers come from, I grabbed the rosters for every team for the 2016-17 season from their websites. Not every athlete has a home state or town listed, so those athletes were excluded from this analysis. That left 8,694 athletes — 5,214 women and 3,480 men.

It may seem like an advantage that Cal and Texas are able to recruit so heavily outside their home regions. According to Collegexpress.com, at 76 percent of US public universities, 80 percent or more of the student body is in-state.

However, those numbers don’t hold for swim teams. Only 29 percent of all DI swimmers and divers compete for a school in the state they are from — 33 percent at public schools and 21 percent at private schools — and only 3 percent of DI teams are composed of 80 percent or more in-state athletes. The over 40 percent of home-state athletes at both Cal and Texas places each well above average for a DI team.

Does that mean it’s an advantage to have a higher percentage of in-state recruits? Actually, no. It turns out there’s no correlation between a team’s quality and its number of in state athletes. I arranged schools by their proportion of in-state swimmers and divers versus their Swimulator Power Score* and, as shown in Figure 1, there is no obvious link.

While Cal and Texas succeeded with higher in-state numbers, the men’s teams at NC State (21 percent), Indiana (22 percent), and Louisville (14 percent) were all ranked in the top 10 with lower in-state numbers. It’s worth noting that no elite team has more than 65 percent in-state athletes.

If we limit the data to Power Five conferences (Big 10, Big 12, ACC, SEC, Pac-12), the same thing remains true. The plot looks about the same as if everything below 400 power points in Figure 1 were cut off, so this isn’t a case of lesser teams muddying the stories of top teams.

Among top-20 teams, the highest in-state percentages belonged to the Georgia men, with 60 percent, and the Cal women, with 54 percent. The lowest in-state percentages among top-20 teams belonged to the Missouri women, with 4 percent, and the Notre Dame men, with no in-state swimmers.

Figure 1

Eleven percent of DI swimmers and divers hail from 88 foreign countries. By far, the most came from Canada, with 139 athletes. The next four were the United Kingdom (76), Australia (51), Germany (49), and Sweden (37). Twenty-four foreign countries had at least 10 athletes, and 27 countries had only one athlete.

The remaining 89 percent of DI swimmers are from the USA. Of those, 32 percent compete in their home state, 21 percent compete for a school that neighbors the state they’re from, and 47 percent travel across more than one state to go to school.

Swimmers and divers from the Lower 48 go to school an average of 611 miles, or 9.2 driving hours, from their hometowns. Elite-academic private schools and Western schools tended to have athletes from farthest away. The top seven schools by average distance from their athletes’ hometowns (men and women) were private. Stanford’s swimmers and divers were from farthest away — an average of 1,577 miles from home, or 23 driving hours. Next were Dartmouth, with 1,292 miles (19.6 hours), and Yale, with 1,256 miles (18.6 hours). The top public school was Arizona, with an average of 1,173 miles (17.5 hours).

The schools with the most local athletes were mostly smaller schools in states east of the Mississippi River. The lowest average distance from home belonged to Central Connecticut State, with an average of 105 miles (1.7 hours).

Figure 2

Origins of Pac-12 Swimmers and Divers (Who Are from the Lower 48)

More athletes came from California (839) than any other state. The closest were New York (487), Illinois and Pennsylvania (452 each), and Texas (395). Mississippi had the fewest D1 athletes, with six. The next schools with the fewest were West Virginia and Montana, each with 11.

With only 53 percent of American swimmers and divers going to school in their home state or a neighboring state, it’s clear that recruiting is national for pretty much everyone in Division I. So the next time that big local recruit turns down your favorite state school for another program halfway across the country, don’t be surprised — that’s the typical outcome. Instead, be happy that swimming and diving allows athletes a much wider choice of schools than is available to most people.

DI Men Power Five Conferences

Roster Size % In-State Swimmers % Foreign Swimmers Avg. Miles from Home Power Score
Texas Big 12 36 42% 6% 818 671
Florida SEC 35 34% 23% 738 652
NC State ACC 29 21% 21% 682 642
California Pac-12 32 47% 16% 1774 636
Indiana Big 10 32 22% 19% 471 628
Stanford Pac-12 26 38% 4% 1446 616
Michigan Big 10 33 21% 9% 769 604
Louisville ACC 64 14% 17% 635 601
USC Pac-12 29 45% 7% 1038 583
Ohio State Big 10 51 39% 6% 495 579
Alabama SEC 33 27% 30% 557 570
Georgia SEC 30 60% 10% 378 570
Auburn SEC 34 9% 26% 788 569
Missouri SEC 31 10% 16% 539 554
Arizona Pac 12 26 12% 15% 1172 554
Arizona State Pac-12 32 13% 22% 1049 554
Notre Dame ACC 32 0% 9% 853 538
Virginia ACC 27 33% 7% 446 527
Wisconsin Big 10 27 7% 19% 942 526
South Carolina SEC 25 20% 16% 644 511
Minnesota Big 10 33 15% 18% 783 507
Tennessee SEC 27 26% 26% 452 507
Virginia Tech ACC 27 56% 11% 446 499
North Carolina ACC 30 27% 13% 588 490
Texas A&M SEC 27 59% 26% 544 475
Florida State ACC 26 38% 31% 787 471
Kentucky SEC 30 7% 13% 703 470
Duke ACC 28 0% 18% 1521 465
LSU SEC 25 4% 28% 918 461
Georgia Tech ACC 31 26% 19% 564 457
Utah Pac-12 32 6% 25% 790 448
Purdue Big 10 38 42% 8% 592 446
Penn State Big 10 24 38% 21% 424 432
Iowa Big 10 30 33% 10% 441 404
Pitt ACC 24 38% 17% 567 401
Michigan State Big 10 27 22% 7% 456 353
Northwestern Big 10 17 6% 6% 1126 339
West Virginia Big 12 31 16% 6% 522 331
TCU Big 12 31 45% 10% 691 310
Boston College ACC 45 4% 4% 1062 222
Miami (Florida) (divers-only team) ACC 2 0% 50% 1166 0

DI Women Power 5 Conferences

Roster Size % In-State Swimmers % Foreign Swimmers Avg. Miles from Home Power Score
Stanford Pac-12 25 28% 0% 1702 750
California Pac-12 26 54% 12% 1924 723
Georgia SEC 31 35% 16% 488 670
Texas A&M SEC 35 37% 26% 797 664
Texas Big 12 27 30% 4% 988 655
USC Pac-12 29 45% 7% 944 652
NC State ACC 29 34% 17% 496 646
Michigan Big 10 29 24% 28% 892 640
Virginia ACC 30 13% 7% 485 624
Louisville ACC 34 18% 12% 494 620
North Carolina ACC 30 10% 0% 581 602
Wisconsin Big 10 27 30% 4% 744 600
Arizona Pac-12 27 7% 15% 1175 596
Indiana Big 10 20 20% 15% 750 589
Kentucky SEC 32 22% 0% 353 587
Minnesota Big 10 38 42% 8% 544 586
Tennessee SEC 29 10% 10% 656 584
UCLA Pac-12 38 53% 13% 883 560
Missouri SEC 27 4% 11% 650 559
Auburn SEC 30 7% 27% 757 552
Ohio State Big 10 31 39% 26% 372 543
Notre Dame ACC 29 3% 3% 719 518
Florida SEC 28 50% 29% 484 515
Virginia Tech ACC 31 39% 19% 400 515
Purdue Big 10 37 59% 8% 226 500
Duke ACC 31 13% 6% 907 498
Alabama SEC 33 0% 12% 677 497
Florida State ACC 28 39% 21% 676 487
LSU SEC 32 19% 16% 1139 479
Arizona State Pac-12 21 14% 24% 863 461
Penn State Big 10 27 44% 0% 377 460
Northwestern Big 10 32 6% 6% 1051 454
Arkansas SEC 28 11% 21% 623 454
South Carolina SEC 41 5% 7% 704 448
Georgia Tech ACC 33 42% 15% 552 433
Pitt ACC 29 31% 14% 425 425
Nebraska Big 10 27 26% 7% 503 424
Utah Pac-12 34 24% 9% 789 419
Kansas Big 12 30 13% 7% 563 412
Iowa Big 10 30 27% 7% 302 405
Rutgers Big 10 24 21% 29% 422 376
Washington State Pac-12 19 21% 11% 852 375
Miami (Florida) ACC 21 29% 38% 884 351
West Virginia Big 12 23 13% 22% 482 338
Iowa State Big 12 29 28% 17% 291 338
Illinois Big 10 29 52% 10% 378 332
Vanderbilt SEC 24 0% 0% 767 309
TCU Big 12 31 32% 0% 720 308
Michigan State Big 10 30 43% 0% 440 302
Oregon State Pac-12 22 45% 18% 491 253
Boston College ACC 47 9% 0% 725 172

*Swimulator Power Scores are SwimSwam’s data-based team ranking system. The scores are calculated by looking at the top 17 swimmers on each team and giving them points based on the quality of their times in their best three events. These rankings do a pretty good job of mirroring the actual finish order at championship meets. Their biggest flaw is that they don’t include diving.

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jablo
2 months ago

It’s certainly a telling story that my team went from 75% in-state to less than 50% in about 5 years… and also started breaking a bunch of school records in the process.

Admin
Reply to  jablo
2 months ago

Swimming is truly a national sport in recruiting.

Part of that, I think, is driven by the fact that many of the really good swimming programs are not located in the states with the most/best swimmers, and many states with lots of really good young swimmers don’t have big POwer 5 swim programs to pull in those swimmers.

Colorado is a good example. Tons of really good junior swimmers, and some solid mid-major programs, but the state’s flagship institution, University of Colorado, doesn’t have swimming. Denver and Colorado State and a few others are doing good things, but Missy Franklin was never going to stay in-state to go to those programs.

It’s even bleaker on the men’s side. Texas,… Read more »

Tim H
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

including international athletes… since 1936? I might consider taking the over, especially including some old programs no longer in existence.