In high school swimming, there are 2 different qualifying procedures that are used by different state associations. Some use the tried-and-true swimming method of qualifying times, which varies between just a straight qualifying system and an automatic/provisional system like the NCAA uses, and some use an advancement based on rankings. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, but I think that for high school swimming, the latter method is the way to go.
In high school sports, I think that every advantage should be given to the competitors: not just the participants, the competitors. The competitor is the one who runs out on the field, takes the court, jumps in the pool, etc. and will beat the person next to him or her. If the person next to him swims the 50 free in 24.14, the competitor will swim a 24.08. If the person next to him goes a 23.18, he’ll go a 23. 12. The placing system benefits those kids.
There are certain variations to how these systems are implemented, but I’ll describe how it works here in Texas. First, there is a District meet. Each team can enter 4 individuals and 1 relay into each event. Top 8 go to district finals. Top 6 advance to one of 8 regional meets, with 4 districts to a region. At the regional meet, 8 swimmers final again. In the finals, the Region Champion automatically qualifies for state, and then the next best 8 times from any region (with a limit on the number of qualifiers per region) go to state. At state, there’s prelims, top 8 go to championship final, next 8 go to consolation final. Basically, all states that use the placing procedure have some variation of this method.
The biggest advantage, to me, is that all of the swimmers have to qualify for state at the same time. Under a time-standards method, some states require swimmers to get the qualifying time at a regional/sectional meet, whereas in other states the swimmers can qualify whenever they want. Under either system, swimmers who know for a fact that they can make the qualifying times don’t have to compete at their district or sectional meet. By compete, I don’t mean that they don’t have to swim, rather they don’t have to worry about putting their all into the race, getting themselves psyched up, etc. They don’t have to taper. They don’t have to get in the pool, and know that it comes down to them and the 2 or 3 people next to them, and see who wants it more. After all, these are not swimming exhibitions, they’re athletic competitions.
Furthermore, it guarantees spots to kids out in the middle of nowhere who might not have the same training opportunities as those in the big cities. In Houston, there’s a pool on every street corner. In the oil fields of West Texas, they might be lucky if there’s a town with a competition pool within 20 miles. In Dallas, the swimmers can afford the latest high-tech suit, but in the rural communities of NE Texas, those suits represent a months worth of groceries. But those kids still line up next to other swimmers in their area, and beat the guy next to them. And that’s what high school athletics are all about-beating the guy next to you.
Of course, the argument can be made for the time standards system, that it makes sure that the best swimmers are the ones go to state. Often times in Texas, swimmers from tough regions get frustrated that their times are faster than kids who go to state via winning a weak region. But those swimmers had their opportunity to get in the pool and beat the swimmer next to them, just like everyone else.
I think the time standards system is great for USA-Swimming, and NCAA Swimming, where there is more choice about where you swim. It would be tough to keep a logical regional system at those levels, because swimmers would simply choose teams from weaker regions to give themselves a better shot at making it.
In almost every high school sport, you’ve gotta beat the team you’re playing on the field. In football, there are tough districts and not so tough districts, just as there is in swimming. In Katy ISD, a district in the suburbs of Houston, there were 2 teams that went to the State finals. In other districts, they might not have a single team get past the second round of the playoffs. But the third team in Katy didn’t get an automatic pass, because they played in a tough district. There’s no rushing yards, or points allowed on defense standard that automatically advances a team to the state level. obviously, the situation isn’t exactly the same, but swimming should be no different.
So what do you guys think? Do you like the time standards system or the placing system at the High School Level? And what is used in your state?