London Roar General Manager Rob Woodhouse sat down with British swimming site Pullbuoy to discuss the recently-concluded season 2 of the International Swimming League as well as offer fans a preview of what they might expect in season 3 of the ISL. Woodhouse teases four primary changes that could come in season 3, including: changes to jackpot points; changes to recruiting or drafting swimmers; a mixed medley relay instead of the mixed freestyle relay; and “clusters” of meets for the regular season, similar to the way the FINA World Cup operates.
When asked about the jackpots, Woodhouse says he’s “not a huge fan of them,” though he says they could be “tweaked” in some way, and states that there’s talk of possibly making the jackpot margins higher in relays. That is in spite of jackpots not being very prevalent in relays in season 1.
Woodhouse notes among his observations that an athlete can break a World Record and only come away with one jackpot point while another can miss a World Record yet take all or nearly-all of the points. This scenario played out on day 2 of the ISL Final in the 100 breaststrokes where Adam Peaty broke the World Record in the men’s race yet only came away with 9 points, the standard for winning a race, while Lilly King missed the World Record in the women’s race yet came away with 15 points.
Jackpot points were introduced in season 2 as a means of making blowout victories more exciting by allowing swimmers to steal points if they won the race by a wide enough margin, sometimes allowing for one team to leave a race with all of the points such as Cali Condors Caeleb Dressel and Marcin Cieslak did in the 100 IM in both the semifinal 2 and the Grand Final. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Woodhouse states that he and the other GMs felt that jackpots happened too often, and depending on the race and the swimmers competing sometimes made for too drastic of point swings.
As professional sports leagues go, the ISL is unique in terms of drafting and recruiting athletes. In its two seasons, swimmers have not been drafted or traded and have had a great deal more autonomy in which team they represent. Though the framework for an athlete draft is not fully in place yet and the GMs have agreed not to actively recruit from other teams, Woodhouse acknowledges that he and other GMs had their eyes on athletes on other teams throughout the entire season.
Woodhouse admits that he asked the other GMs after the second match “how many people are making a list of athletes they want to try and poach from other teams,” to which nearly everyone replied in the affirmative. Conversely, Woodhouse acknowledges that athletes will try to migrate to stronger teams and therefore each team needs a way of protecting a certain number of its athletes in order to keep them on the roster. There will then likely be a draft for the athletes that are not held onto by their GMs and coaching staffs, thereby allowing them to get ‘drafted’ by other teams. This means swimmers will have less of a say on which team they compete for, and if a swimmer is unwilling to go to another team yet is not retained by the team they were on the previous season they would not be able to compete.
Speaking on the proposed draft structure, Woodhouse said: “There will be a process where teams do protect a certain number of athletes, and then every other athlete who’s not protected effectively nominates for what will effectively be a draft, so it becomes similar to many other professional sports and leagues where you don’t necessarily get a say where you go.” Woodhouse added that a draft will allow teams to become more even, “[a draft] will give all the teams a chance to, firstly, protect their stronger athletes and then build on [that] with, obviously, draft picks going to them, so the lower-ranked teams this year, in the first place,” meaning that the lower a team finished this season the higher priority they get during the draft in 2021.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, all of season 2 had to take place within a six-week time frame in Budapest, an experience that both had its positives and negatives. One thing the ISL could take from the experience going forward is to create clusters of meets all staged in the same location, possibly lasting four weeks at a time, to account for the regular season, as well as a post-season cluster for the league’s best teams in season 3. “Maybe two clusters of four weeks and then go into a final at the end of the year,” says Woodhouse. If clusters of meets do make up the 2021 ISL Season, Woodhouse expects there will be one in North America and one in Europe.
The event schedule is likely to remain largely the same for season three, though Woodhouse says that there is talk of swapping the mixed freestyle relay for a mixed medley relay.
London Roar finished 3rd in the 2020 ISL Grand Final in Budapest, defeating LA Current but falling to Energy Standard (2nd) and 2020 champions the Cali Condors. London also placed 2nd in the 2019 ISL Final in Las Vegas where Energy Standard were crowned champions and the Cali Condors the 3rd-place finishers.
You can listen to the full podcast below. Though the entire episode is 39 minutes, Woodhouse signs off right at 25:00. The rule changes are discussed from 8:55 onward.