ISL Releases Format For 2021 Swimmer Draft, Including Protections & Fan Vote

The International Swimming League (ISL) will hold a draft to establish its 2021 rosters. Teams can retain up to 16 athletes from 2020, including one athlete per team retained via a fan vote.

The ISL announced the news this morning. The upstart professional swimming league is in its third season. Over the first two seasons, teams competed to sign athletes individually, without many rules defined clearly to fans or media. In season 3, the league has laid out a set of rules allowing teams to retain up to 16 members from their 2020 rosters, while sending unretained athletes into a league draft pool.

The ISL will draft during the week of June 21, 2021.

Here’s how the process works, according to the ISL press release:

#1: Five ‘Protected’ Athletes Per Team

One week before the ISL draft, each GM will publicly announce five athletes that their team will retain from its 2020 roster.

#2: Ten More Retained Athletes Per Team

After that, each team can retain up to ten more athletes from its 2020 roster. We’ve asked about the difference between step #1 and step #2, but have not yet received a response. So far, it appears that five can be announced ahead of time, with ten more being retained in the week leading up to the draft.

#3: Fan Vote Retains One More Athlete Per Team

Step #3 brings a major twist: fans will get to vote on retaining one more member of each team. It’s not clear yet how exactly that process will work, how fans declare their fandom for a specific team, or if fans will be allowed to vote on one retained swimmer for every team. But each team’s fan vote will allow that team to hang onto one more athlete, bringing the total retained athletes from 2020 rosters up to 16 if a team uses all three steps completely.

#4: Dispersal Draft For Unretained Swimmers

Everyone outside of those 16 athletes (or less for teams that don’t retain the maximum number) will be entered into the ISL Draft Pool. Each team can select up to 11 swimmers from the draft pool, with the lowest-ranked club from 2020 will get the first pick. That would appear to set the draft order as follows for 2021:

  1. Aqua Centurions
  2. DC Trident
  3. New York Breakers
  4. Toronto Titans
  5. Tokyo Frog Kings
  6. Iron
  7. LA Current
  8. London Roar
  9. Energy Standard
  10. Cali Condors

The draft should take place the week of June 21.

#5: Free Agency From Draft Pool

After that, teams can fill out the remainder of their rosters. Rosters will be capped at 36 total athletes per team. One wrinkle: the ISL release says teams can only fill their rosters out using the remaining swimmers in the ISL Draft Pool.

Other Details

  • The ISL will launch a registration form on its website (here) for swimmers interested in joining the ISL Draft Pool. The form is expected on April 19.
  • Details for the fan vote will come via the ISL’s social media channels and website a week before the ISL draft – that should be mid-June.
  • Last season, teams typically carried 16 men and 16 women, so the current plan would have about half of each roster retained and the other half sent to the league draft.

Further Questions

With the new wrinkles to the league just announced, there are still plenty of details to clarify. We’ve asked about athletes who don’t enter the 2021 ISL Draft Pool and whether they’ll be eligible to compete and sign as free agents later on. We also asked if athletes have any option to decline competing for a team they are drafted to.

The other big question revolves around how 2020 rosters are defined. A number of top stars (particularly Australians on the London Roar) were named to ISL rosters in 2020, but didn’t make the trip to Budapest to compete. We’ve asked whether a team can retain athletes it had signed, but who didn’t compete for that team in 2020, or whether teams can only retain athletes who competed in the 2020 season.

As of publication, we haven’t received answers to the questions above, but we will update if we receive further info.

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5 months ago

I am fairly sure the difference between #1 and #2 is that protected swimmers under #1 have no other team choice – they either stay or don’t swim the league. In #2 a swimmer could opt to go into the draft instead (but of course then probably has no say over where they would end up)

5 months ago

I want to see big draft players like Hoffer treating it like the NFL/NBA draft, turning up in an aquamarine velvet suit, entrance music, the works.

Reply to  Togger
5 months ago

comment image

Reply to  Deee
5 months ago

They should do the whole boat thing like what the NFL was gunna do in 2020.

5 months ago

OK. My first thought is that 16 is too many as I think it’s enough for a team like Energy Standard and Cali Condors to retain their depth. Having said that, I do think the idea is a step in the right direction and will hopefully make teams somewhat more balanced across the League.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  Jeff
5 months ago

My first thought is the same. Let’s hope there will be more high level swimmers who didn’t participate in ISL last year (like Australians and former NCAA swimmers who recently turned pro) entering the draft pool.

Reply to  Jeff
5 months ago

My thoughts were that short term, Cali, LR and ES will retain enough strength in depth, but a team that’s a little more forward thinking could look to recruit a younger team and retain that each year and hope they develop. It’ll take a few years to evolve, but it’s a step in the righ direction and offers opportunities across the board.

5 months ago

This is more likely to hurt Roar who had quite a balanced team than Energy or Condors who had their points concentrated in a small number of team members. Those two will be left mostly intact.

So I could see this balancing things out for most teams but leaving 2 dominant teams at the top.

Last edited 5 months ago by Troyy
Reply to  Troyy
5 months ago

That was my hunch too, but Roar will probably keep most of the Aussies they were supposed to have in 2020 due to Woodhouse being at the top of Roar, and more general ties between GB & Aussie swimmers.

Reply to  Dee
5 months ago

I hope so. I like having a hybrid Brit & Aussie team but it seems like if they have a draft each year that might gradually erode.

Reply to  Troyy
5 months ago

It probably will over time, but I’ll be surprised if it happens this year.

5 months ago

I personally agree with maintaining 16 members. For continuity and people having “favourite teams” you need the bulk of the teams to stay the same in order for people to connect with their favourites, this allows that.

For the argument that says Energy and Cali have 16 people that are so much better than say DCs best, the way this article reads it could suggest that Aqua and DC always pick first in each draft round. If at school or swimming you ever remember picking relays or teams, *unless you invert the order teams pick between rounds*, you will all know that the team who picks first comes away with significantly the best team. This should threfore counter the… Read more »

Reply to  Jack
5 months ago

Iron missed Milak last year because he had covid, but looking at his times from this years Hungarian Championship, he would have been a huge boost for them.

5 months ago

Will the “bonus” year of eligibility affect the draft? When do these have to declare what they are doing?
Did the athletes ever get paid by the ISL what they were due from the two completed seasons? If they aren’t paid, it isn’t a pro league!
How many studs retire after Tokyo? The draft is before US a trials and Olympics! Teams willl have to do their homework!

Reply to  Ghost
5 months ago

I think part of this will depend on if the swimmers get paid what they are supposed to get paid and if there is enough money in total between different events/meets.
I don’t know if it would be financially beneficial for swimmers if the FINA World Cup and the ISL are running concurrently to spread some more money around?
Compared to some other sports I am not sure if swimming is big enough to support multiple leagues like this running concurrently and could hurt the level of results. I know this is done in other sports with the results being that events are most often won fairly easily by a few athletes who are the mainly competing against… Read more »

5 months ago

Do we know if those who signed up but couldn’t swim last year (I.e Aussies for London) will be classed as “retained”?

5 months ago

I’m excited for some new world records and happy swimming!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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