All of the 2018-2019 NCAA qualifying marks have been released and 26 of 52 individual A and B cuts are faster for division 3 than division 2. This despite the fact that division 2 is the faster division overall and has a faster championship meet. The comparison of the standards is in the tables below with the faster of the two standards marked in bold.
|D2 Women||D3 Women|
|A Cut||B Cut||A Cut||B Cut|
|200 Free Relay||1:34.42||1:35.63|
|400 Free Relay||3:26.67||3:29.97|
|800 Free Relay||7:30.17||7:39.30|
|200 Medley Relay||1:43.61||1:45.69|
|400 Medley Relay||3:47.77||3:51.41|
|D2 Men||D3 Men|
|A Cut||B Cut||A Cut||B Cut|
|200 Free Relay||1:21.25||1:22.54|
|400 Free Relay||2:59.79||3:03.50|
|800 Free Relay||6:37.76||6:47.15|
|200 Medley Relay||1:29.20||1:31.35|
|400 Medley Relay||3:16.66||3:21.32|
14 of 26 of the women’s standards were faster in D3 and 12 of 26 of the men’s standards were faster in D3. Unsurprisingly the majority of quicker D3 standards came from the A cuts. The D3 men’s cuts are faster in 8 of 13 events and the women’s D3 cuts are faster in 10 of 13 events. Because of the way A cuts are calculated in D3, the average of the last 3 winning times, they are closer to trivia than a meaningful part of the qualifying procedure.
This rather extreme method of calculating A cuts is pretty recent. When the NCAA changed the qualifying procedure to first take the top 16 relays in each event, the number of lines of individual qualifiers was reduced significantly. The cap was raised to partially alleviate this, but in the first few years of the change the cut line fell below 16 individuals pretty often. At the same time, there were events where more than 20 people achieved A cuts, making the already tight cut lines even tighter. This led to scenarios where some events had less than 2 heats of individual qualifiers and other events had nearly three.
To make sure that all events were capped by the cut line and not the number of A cuts, in 2014 the rules were changed to eliminate A cuts for all practical purposes. The new system of averaging the last 3 winning times means there are typically fewer than 10 A cuts a year in all of D3.
The current qualifying system has changed again. Now the top 16 men and 20 women in individuals events qualify before relays are added to the meet, but the strict A cuts remain in place.
The more interesting comparison between the divisions is the B cuts. These are mostly faster in D2, but every B cut in a freestyle event shorter than the 1000 is faster in D3.
Under the current system many more swimmer achieve B cuts than are invited to the meet. This means the primary function of B cuts in D3 is determining which individual events relay only swimmers can swim at the meet. (Relay only swimmers in D2 can’t swim individuals) D3 has a higher individual cap than D2 does (D3 is 260 men, 319 women, D2 is 157, 183), so it makes sense that D3 is stricter with fast B cuts to limit how many relay only swimmers (who are majority sprint or mid distance freestylers) can participate in individual events.