How Much Did 5th Years Impact the 2022 NCAA Championships?

The 2022 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships were unlike any other for a lot of reasons. One glaring reason, and one that might have contributed to the unbelievable depth that was present, is that for the first time, swimmers had the option to receive a 5th season of eligibility.

The waiver was granted by the NCAA for athletes who participated in the 2020-2021 COVID-19-ravaged season as a carrot to keep schools from canceling their seasons in order to avoid the disruptions and preserve eligibility.

Athletes at schools like Arizona State or the Ivy Leagues will only receive their four years of eligibility (though the year they skipped won’t count as a year of eligibility; swimmers who were on the team and competed at schools like Cal, Texas, Florida, and Virginia will have their eligibility extended by one year, if they choose).

While this year saw quite a few big-name swimmers, that will taper off in future years for two primary reasons:

  1. Scholarships for 5th years didn’t count against teams’ totals this year if the athlete stayed at the same school. In future years, scholarships will count against teams’ totals. That means coaches have to weigh the benefits of attracting a freshman recruit for the next four years with that money, or keeping a senior for another year. At a program like Minnesota, where NCAA Champion Max McHugh has already announced that he’ll return, it makes sense, because he has high prominence among other swimmers on the team’s roster. For a team like Cal or NC State or Texas or Virginia, fighting for the top recruits in the country, it might make sense to use that money to improve offers to future freshmen. The same story is true, but replace scholarships with “roster spots,” as many schools have a very narrow range of roster spots that they are instructed to maintain by their athletics directors.
  2. The further away from the height of the pandemic that we get, the less motivation swimmers will have to stick around an extra year. After last year, a lot of swimmers didn’t feel like they had closure (especially after missing 2020 NCAAs). By the time last year’s freshmen become seniors, however, more are likely to be ready to move on with their lives and go pro in something other than swimming, because it won’t feel as much to them as though they were short-changed.

We wanted to look at some of the ways that these 5th year’s impacted last week’s NCAA Championships. Below is data and discussion of those 5th years and the ways they impacted the meet.

Women’s Meet

Points By Class

Note: Penn and Arizona State both listed their seniors as 5th years, even though they didn’t compete last year. For the purpose of this analysis, we have relisted them as seniors because it is their fourth season of eligibility. Arizona lists Aria Bernal (5 points) as a 5th year, but as far as we can tell, this was only her 4th year of eligibility. We have moved her to the senior grouping as well.

Class Points
Fr 476.5
So 531
Jr 627
Sr 718.5
5Y 127

Points By Swimmer

TEAM POINTS – 2021 POINTS – 2022 Difference in Scoring EVENT PLACE TIME EVENT PLACE TIME EVENT PLACE TIME
Forde, Brooke Staford 40 44 4 500 Free 4 4:36.18 400 IM 2 4:00.41 200 Breast 7 2:06.98
Pfeifer, Evie Texas 48 29 -19 500 Free 5 4:37.29 400 IM 19 4:08.76 1650 Free 4 15:48.34
Bonnett, Bailey Kentucky 7 19 12 200 IM 14 1:56.4 400 IM 7 4:07.09 200 Breast 13 2:08.15
Romano, Kristen Ohio State 20 18 -2 200 IM 9 1:54.31 400 IM 9 4:02.13 200 Fly 19 1:55.12
Moore, Kate NC State 27 7 -20 200 IM 23 1:56.61 400 IM 18 4:08.59 200 Back 10 1:51.61
Gyorgy, Reka Virginia Tech 16 7 -9 500 Free 17 4:41.06 400 IM 10 4:04.95 200 Fly 27 1:55.72
Yager, Alexis Tennessee 5 3 -2 200 IM 20 1:56.36 400 IM 14 4:07.9 200 Breast 19 2:08.2
Poole, Julia NC State 13 0 -13 200 IM 17 1:56.13 100 Breast 27 59.83 200 Breast 25 2:08.97
Friesen, Morgan Louisville 0 0 0 100 Breast 36 1:00.47 200 Breast 27 2:09.16
Trace, Katie Ohio State 13 0 -13 200 IM 63 1:59.47 400 IM 21 4:09.26 200 Fly 40 1:57.05
Pintar, Tjasa Tennessee 2 0 -2 50 Free 60 22.74 200 Free 42 1:46.57 100 Free 23 48.32
Palsha, Peyton Georgia 5 0 -5 500 Free 51 4:47.59 400 IM 38 4:15.00 1650 Free 40 16:28.77
Dellatorre, Danielle Georgia 3 0 -3 200 IM 50 1:58.49 100 Breast 39 1:00.61 200 Breast 37 2:10.27
Fa’Amausili, Gabi Georgia 0 0 0 50 Free 47 22.51 100 Back DFS DFS 100 Free DFS DFS
Sheridan, Calypso USC 0 0 0 200 IM 30 1:57.04 100 Back 19 52 200 Breast 41 2:10.63
Smith, Maddie Northwestern 18 0 -18 50 Free 23 22.11 100 Free 24 48.35
Thompson, Sarah Missouri 23 0 -23 50 Free 22 22.1 100 Fly 22 52.06 100 Back 26 52.24
Larson, Chloe Washington State 0 0 0 50 Free 49 22.53 100 Free 45 49.18
Leehy, Mykenzie Auburn 6 0 -6 50 Free 61 22.75 200 Free 50 1:47.75 100 Free 53 49.42
Cummings, Carly Auburn 0 0 0 100 Breast 34 1:00.19 200 Breast 35 2:10.19
Haebig, Autumn Nebraska 11 0 -11 500 Free 28 4:43.46 200 Free 23 1:45.69 100 Free 55 49.62

The picture is clear on the women’s side of the pool: the 5th year experiment was not overall a successful one. Out of 22 5th years who we identified that swam individual events, only two scored more points than they did last season: Stanford’s Brooke Forde (40 points to 44 points) and Kentucky’s Bailey Bonnett (7 to 19).

In total, this group of women scored 130 fewer individual points than they did last year at the NCAA Championships.

The top performer of the group was Forde as part of Stanford’s 3rd place team finish. She finished 4th in the 500 free, 2nd in the 400 IM, and 4th in the 200 breast. Texas’ Evie Pfiefer scored 29 points, led by a 5th-place finish in the 500 free: a race that she was 2nd in last year. She was about two seconds better in that race last year than she was this year.

Part of this was probably influenced by a monster freshman class nation-wide, but seniors in general did well too. At the end of the day, only 8 swimmers using their 5th year of eligibility scored at the NCAA Championships, so their impact wasn’t completely for naught, but it wasn’t gigantic either. Crucially was this: without Pfeiffer’s 29 points, Texas doesn’t finish 6.5 points ahead of Stanford for 2nd place.

Virginia didn’t bring back any 5th years (men or women) this season and still managed to win the women’s title. They also had the most freshman points of any team (123) and the fewest senior points among the top 5 (26), which means they’re going to be very hard to beat again next season.

Men’s Meet

Points By Class:

Texas lists Cameron Auchinachie as a 5th year, except he didn’t actually race last season at Denver. We’re not sure if there’s a wrinkle that meant he burned a year of eligibility at Denver anyway, but for the purposes of this analysis, we’re treating him as a senior.

Class Points Scored
FR 371
SO 590
JR 623.5
SR 637.5
5Y 247

Points By Swimmer:

Team 2021 Points 2022 POINTS Difference EVENT PLACE TIME EVENT PLACE TIME EVENT PLACE TIME
Albiero, Nicolas Louisville 51 42 -9 100 Fly 6 44.61 100 Back 6 44.6 200 Fly 3 1:38.88
Julian, Trenton Cal 48 39 -9 200 IM 7 1:40.47 200 Free 7 1:31.8 200 Fly 4 1:39.00
Fail, Brooks Arizona 42 39 -3 500 Free 5 4:10.05 400 IM 6 3:38.55 1650 Free 7 14:35.33
Carr, Daniel Cal 25 20.5 -4.5 100 Back 12 44.98 200 Back 3 1:39.06 200 IM 22 1:43.03
Pumputis, Caio Georgia Tech 25 18 -7 200 IM 16 1:43.37 100 Breast 14 51.82 200 Breast 5 1:50.61
Mefford, Bryce Cal 36 15 -21 100 Back 14 45.03 200 Back 7 1:40.31 200 IM 19 1:38.94
Shoults, Grant Stanford 11 14 3 500 Free 12 4:12.79 1650 Free 9 14:38.18 100 Back 21 45.57
Ferraro, Christian Georgia Tech 6 14 8 200 Fly 5 1:40.09 50 Free 32 19.44 100 Fly 18 45.24
Pellini, Trent USC 2 14 12 100 Breast 5 50.93 200 IM 32 1:43.78 200 Breast 25 1:53.70
Grieshop, Sean Cal 31 11 -20 400 IM 8 3:40.12 1650 Free 24 15:00.65 500 Free 19 4:14.38
Fantoni, Gabriel Indiana 4 7 3 100 Back 10 44.7 100 Fly 20 45.33 200 Back 17 1:40.39
Blaskovic, Bruno Indiana 0 6 6 50 Free 13 19.14 100 Free 15 42.1 100 Fly 19 45.25
Tornqvist, Samuel Virginia Tech 5 4 -1 200 Back 13 1:39.7 200 IM 33 1:43.80 100 Back 26 45.74
Jiang, Alvin Texas 31 1.5 -29.5 100 Fly 15 45.64 100 Back Scratch Finals Scratch Finals
Steele, Jacob Indiana 3 1 -2 200 Back 16 1:41.11 200 IM 54 1:46.29 100 Back 21 45.57
Somov, Evgenii Louisville 15 1 -14 100 Breast 16 52.15 200 Breast DFS DFS
Knowles, Eric NC State 0 0 0 1650 Free 19 14:56.86 500 Free 33 4:17.77 400 IM 26 3:45.21
David Dixon West Virginia 5 0 -5 200 IM 52 1:45.73 100 Fly 40 46.83 200 Fly 28 1:43.22
Nikola Miljenic USC 3 0 -3 50 Free 32 19.44 100 Fly 27 45.56 100 Free 25 42.26
Daniel Namir Arizona 0 0 0 50 Free 43 19.63 200 Free 34 1:33.69 100 Free 47 43.45
Corey Gambardella Indiana 0 0 0 100 Fly 39 46.77 200 Fly 20 1:42.29
Caleb Rhodenbaugh SMU 0 0 0 100 Breast 32 52.69 200 Breast 17 1:52.73

The men’s meet saw a significantly-bigger impact from 5th year seniors, though the same downward trend emerged.

There were four 5th year swimmers who scored at least 20 points at this year’s meet: Nicolas Albiero, Trenton Julian, Brooks Fail, and Daniel Carr. All scored fewer points this season than they did last season at NCAAs.

On net, 22 men that we registered as 5th years moved down 96 points from last year to this year.

A lot of them were concentrated in a couple of events, so those events were definitely impacted. The 100 backstroke, for example, had four 5th-year seniors in the B Final, and the 3rd-4th-5th place finishers in the 200 fly were also 5th year seniors.

In some races, they definitely shaped the results and the cut lines. For example, that 3:39 from Wisconsin’s Caleb Aman that infamously finished 9th would have been 7th if it weren’t for 5th year seniors. A 3:40.15 would have been the first time out of the A Final – still historically fast, but without the same pop as a “3:39 misses A final” headline.

But in other races they mattered less, at least directly.

There were a few odd circumstances in play here though: one of the 5th year seniors, Bruno Blaskovic, suffered a serious back injury that kept him out of most of last season. It’s possible that he would have been granted an eligibility extension by the NCAA anyway.

Conclusions

One of two things must be true: either the COVID year impacted seniors (broad strokes) less than other classes last year, so their relative finishes were higher, or the more likely explanation that the 5th year wasn’t as electric as it was expected to be.

Sometimes we ignore the human element of this all, the mentality of an athlete who has gone through four years with a plan and a class, and then trying to stretch that out one more year doesn’t necessarily mean a progression forward.

I think back to my high school or college years, blasting nostalgic John Mayer songs, soaking up those last few moments before moving forward to the next part of our lives. I think that if I had stuck around for a 5th year, that sort of “senioritis,” with all of its goods and bads, would have faded, and I might have been left feeling a little emptier, a little less motivated, ready to move on.

I think that’s why so many of the American swimmers who skipped college and tried to go pro straight out of high school have been a bust to. It breaks the natural cultural cycle that is so ingrained into the American educational system. The group of athletes that you came up with, that you arrived with and were bonded with through shared experience, move on, and you stay. That bond can’t really be recreated given the intensity of the collegiate athletics experience.

I think my ultimate conclusion is that four years of collegiate eligibility is the right number, and I’ll be glad when this waiver expires and no longer clogs the pipes of the NCAA.

In This Story

34
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
34 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Wave 1.5 Qualifier
3 months ago

Nice analysis and commentary.

Graduate studies may also be more likely to have atypical / non-traditional “class” schedules than the 17 available time slots for Differential Equations, Public Speaking, and/or Physics II. As in… here’s your one time slot for the mandatory recitation at 6:30pm on Mondays and Thursday, take it or leave it. I specifically remember each year of college swimming practice schedules for me and my peers getting progressively more painful as the number of alternate / conflict workouts seemed to increase when your advanced classes had fewer time options and painfully ran into traditional swim practice time blocks. Training with 8 exhausted teammates instead of 40 a few mornings per week can start to take a toll… Read more »

Guplop
3 months ago

Brooke Forde isn’t the only female to score more points this year, you forgot Bailey Bonnett.

Go Cats
Reply to  Guplop
3 months ago

Also Sophie Angus from Northwestern

wolfensf
3 months ago

And 5yrs had impact on some relay finishes as well…

GatorGuy
3 months ago

I think another approach that I would love to see is how it impacts team scores. i.e CAL had several scoring 5th years (4 total), does that change the final score to Texas’ only 1?
Essentially rescoring the meet removing 5th years and assuming the prelims times are repeating for B finals and B final swims are repeated if moved up to A finals.

James
3 months ago

Let’s face it, no one swims to get rich. If you were top 16 in the nation in Basketball or Football, you will most likely be making a million dollars within a year of getting out of college. For swimming, it’s likely maybe 3 of the top 16 at NCAAs will ever be able to earn a “living” on swimming alone, and perhaps one in that group has a shot of getting mainstream recognition if they perform at the Olympics.

Any 5th year is most likely staying for love of their team, and the realization that it’s one year of time for a lifetime of memories

Last edited 3 months ago by James
Noah
3 months ago

Alvin Jiang with 1.5 points 😭

USA
3 months ago

I believe Aria Bernal has only used 4 (straight) years of eligibility, why was she counted as a 5th year?

Guy
3 months ago

Cameron Auchinachie is left off the list

oxyswim
Reply to  Guy
3 months ago

It explains why if you read it.

1650 Onetrick
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

I’m so sorry about people like this, but I promise there’s at least some of us who care to read all the details

CACRUSHERS
Reply to  Guy
3 months ago

Really stoked for him with his breakthrough season. I always thought it was cool that a mid major school has such a fast 1-2 punch with him and Sid Farber. But does anyone know why he didn’t swim that fourth year at Denver, or when he entered the transfer portal, etc.?

mens ncaa> every other sport
Reply to  CACRUSHERS
3 months ago

I think there was something on SwimSwam where the Denver team had huge covid violations because of a party and the most of the team got suspended (which brought the start of the season to Jan 2021). Ig he just never swam after that.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

Read More »