What Does History Tell Us About Psych Sheet Scoring at NCAAs

Special Thanks to Price Fishback, who provided the data for this report.

With the Women’s NCAA Championship beginning tomorrow morning, we’re racing against the clock to make our final predictions. Earlier this week, we scored the psych sheet. What’s missing is context- what does that psych sheet scoring actually predict?

We got an e-mail from super swim nerd (and University of Arizona Economics professor) Price Fishback, showing how teams performed against their psych sheet scoring in the last five years. Here is the raw data in case you’re interested:


TEAM Diff 2015 diff 2014 Diff 2013 Diff 2012 Diff 2011 Diff 2010
Alabama -8 -15 1 -7 0
Arkansas -5 . 4 4 9 -17
Arizona State 15 8 12 56 24 17
Auburn -1 18 -12 38 -9 -2
Arizona 37.5 0 94 29 88 183.5
California 8 72 47 74.5 98 95
Denver 18 10 -3 11
Duke 1 39 8
Florida Gulf Coast 19.5 13
Florida -65 -32 -41 -16 17 98
Florida State 19 -8 -5 -5
Georgia 83 16 73 -12 71.5 -33.5
Illinois State 12 15
Indiana 3 -6 -8 11 -35.5 17
Iowa 5 9 13
Kansas -7 1 12
Kentucky 45 11 10 9
Louisville 37 -10 7 -1 1 5
LSU 7 11 3 -41 -46 5
Michigan -49 18 2 13 -18 37
Miami Florida 42 38 33 3 67
Minnesota 36 49.5 -51 18 62 2
Missouri 56 -20 28 -5 20 5
North Carolina 30.5 -32 59 -2 -39 -25
North Carolina State 16 12 2 12
Notre Dame 21 -5 16 20 -1
Ohio State -1 0 -3 19 12 28
Oregon State 2 -2 .
Princeton 8 -5 . 5
Penn State 25 -3 -15 -31 -2 -10
Purdue 17 33 44 -11 18 32
San Diego State -37 -26 3 5
SMU 3 18 2 -60 -4 13
Southern California 2 -6 9 68.5 45 53
South Carolina 33 0 -36
Stanford 53 83.5 8 52 29 -43.5
Texas A&M 11 -12 -47.5 98 -21 85
Tennessee -5 49 57.5 2 -55 -23.5
Texas 65 40 50 43 -18 -104.5
UCLA 11 28 38 0 10 19.5
Virginia -65 -73 -17 -2 -10 -67
Virginia Tech 20 27 11 35 -12
Wisconsin -26 18 40 -24 26 -18


Looking over the list, a couple themes emerge:

1. Virginia has a history of underperforming

The Cavaliers come into the meet seeded to score the third most points. If they did so, it would be the highest NCAA finish for any UVA squad, topping last year’s 5th place.

However, UVA has also lost 65 and 73 points versus seed the last two years. If they drop a similar margin this year, they could easily find themselves finishing even lower in 6th place.

One reason for the dramatic drops could be the price of Virginia’s massive NCAA improvement over the last couple years. They were just 18th in in 2013, then jumped to 11th in 2014 and 5th last year. This suggests that they had a lot of swimmers qualifying in scoring positions at the NCAAs for the first time. Perhaps this year, with more experience on their side, they won’t have a similar slide.

2. Cal does not

It’s interesting to see how the narrative of a meet differs from what actually happened. While 2014 can be seen as a year in which Georgia “knocked off” Cal, both teams performed well in regards to their seed at the meet.

However, Cal actually performed much better in 2014 versus seed than they did in 2015. The Bears were just 8 points better than seed in 2015, after 72 (!) points in 2014. In the past five years, Cal has never not improved against seed at the NCAA championships.

The primary reason for this is that Teri McKeever has consistently recruited a roster packed with swimmers that should qualify. Therefore, they don’t need to be at their absolute peak to qualify, and can focus solely on peaking at the meet.

3. Stanford could be the team of destiny

Stanford’s results at the NCAA championships have often grabbed headlines over the last few years, but never resulted in a championship. The Cardinal have lacked the whole team depth to overcome Cal and Georgia.

While Greg Meehan has downplayed expectations in the lead-up, the data suggests that Stanford has a strong chance to win this year. Their relays are as strong as ever, and they qualified three divers for the meet. Those divers could prove crucial in providing the individual depth for Stanford to take the title.

Meehan’s teams have performed really well versus seed at the last two championships. They are also the one team that could likely overcome Cal even if the Bears hold on to their seeds as they did a year ago.

A Stanford win would also keep up a 25 year streak of a Pac-12 or SEC team winning the NCAA Championship. The Mark Schubert coached Texas squad from 1991 was the last women’s team to top the podium outside of those two conferences. Texas, with seven titles, remains the only team from outside those two conference to have ever won a women’s NCAA championship.



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5 years ago

Again, no love for Georgia :0(

bobo gigi
5 years ago

As a recent college swimming observer, that’s what I’m gonna watch the most in the next NCAA championships.
Who will underperform? Who will outperform?
Who has inexplicably peaked too early at their conference meets?
Who has peaked at the right time when it counts the most?
I hate in track and field or in swimming, sports of numbers, when athletes don’t make their best times of the season at the most important meet.

5 years ago

It’s interesting to see all the PAC-12 schools (and Texas) scoring above seed while other conferences do not. To add more context, couldn’t that be due to the fact that some conferences just don’t place much, if any, importance on their conference meet while others have to swim fast in order to win theirs? I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about swimming, but that’s my take.

Reply to  Jeff
5 years ago

Jeff – I think in the case of Texas, that’s definitely a logical line to draw. Texas has nothing to shoot for at Big 12s aside from getting cuts. Different teams put different weights on conference meets, but nobody major has as little incentive to rest as Texas. And of course the psychological effect of a big meet – it’s not necessarily just a training plan. People tend to swim faster at big hyped-up meets, rest or not. You can see when A&M and Missouri were still in the conference, Texas didn’t improve as much (though that was also mostly with a different coach).

Pac-12s is a peculiar case, because it’s skewed by the fact that Cal and Stanford are… Read more »

5 years ago

Are some coaches’ contracts structured in a way that there’s a larger incentive for their team performing well at conference championships compared to ncaas? Like bobo I’m often puzzled how some teams peak 3 weeks before ncaas every year and the cynic in me wonders if this might be contract bonus related. Am I way out of line thinking this?

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at www.facebook.com/cdswimcoach. Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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