NCAA Addresses Wearable Technology in Latest Swim/Dive Rulebook Update

The NCAA has released its swimming and diving rulebook for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons, including a few notable changes. Perhaps most notably, the NCAA addressed rules surrounded wearable technology; there’s been an increase in devices targetted at swimmers over the past year or so, including watches, smart goggles, and more, prompting questions over what;’s legal for racing.

Below, we’ve outlined the biggest updates to the new book. Changes to rules are bolded.

  • The NCAA has deemed wearable technology for “data collection” appropriate, but nothing else. This seems to rule out wearing any device with a screen, or that might emit sound. It could, however, open up a new era of extreme analytics for college programs.
    • “The use of technology and automated data collection devices is permissible for the sole purpose of collecting data. Automated devices shall not be utilized to transmit data, sounds, or signals to the athlete and may not be utilized to effect pace or tempo. The device(s) may be worn in any fashion, including on the wrist.”  
  • It appears the NCAA no longer mandates the use of counters in races 16 lengths or longer. The rules regarding counting have been updated to say that “A visual count of the lengths completed by each swimmer may be given above and/or below the water every two lengths in freestyle races 16 lengths or longer.” Additionally, counting from the side of the pool is now permissible.
    • “If visual counters are used, they may be stationed at the end or either side of the pool, beyond the halfway point toward the end of the course opposite the starting end. Counters may only be presented below the water, when utilized at the end of the pool, and not on the side of the pool,” the updated rule reads.
  • Another notable update comes in Rule 2, section 5, which addresses fouls. The rule has been updated, perhaps in response to Daniel Carr‘s 100 back re-swim last season to put in writing that swimmers can be granted re-swims for pool equipment interference.
    • “If a swimmer is fouled by another swimmer, including interference by an outside entity, or due to facility equipment failure during a preliminary heat of an event, the referee may allow that swimmer to repeat the race at a time not later than 30 minutes after the last heat of the last event in which the swimmer is competing during that session of the meet,” the updated rule reads. It is up to the referee’s discretion to decide if a final race merits a re-swim.
  • Rule 3, section 1, outlaws the use of kinesiology tape without a documented medical reason, and adds compression sleeves as permissible in competition if a referee approves based on the recommendation of a health official.
    • “No swimmer or diver is permitted to wear or use any device or foreign substances, including kinesiology tape, to help his or her speed, pace, buoyancy or body compression in competition. … The use of tape and compression sleeves are permitted to treat a documented medical condition to allow a student-athlete to compete, but not gain an advantage over the remainder of the field. … The referee must be presented with documentation from a designated health official before certifying the student-athlete eligible to compete with tape or compression sleeves.”
  • Rule 4, section 1, has been updated to require a minimum of two officials at dual, double-duals, quad and tri meets, and four at invites and championship meets. The rule recommends having more than the minimum required number, however.
    • “For dual, double-dual, triangular and quadrangular meet competition, a minimum of two (2) officials must be used; however, the use of three or four officials is recommended to properly observe all competitors equally and enforce the playing rules. For championship and invitational competition, a minimum of four (4) officials must be used; however, the use of six (6) officials is recommended to properly observe all competitors equally and enforce the playing rules.”
  • In Rule 4, section 6, of the updated book states that the public address announcer at a championship meet will announce disqualifications prior to the start of the following heat, and that can serve as the official notification to the disqualified swimmer.
    • “In the case of a rules infraction resulting in disqualification, the meet referee will inform a swimmer and/or coach of a disqualification prior to the beginning of the next heat. The referee shall report the disqualification and the nature of the infraction to the head judge and/or to the head recorder and have the public address announcer announce the disqualification prior to the meet resuming to ensure no misunderstanding of the status of the heat and event. In championship meets, the announcement may serve as the official notification to the swimmer and/or coach, at the discretion of the referee.
  • Rule 4, section 10, addresses the use of video review for 15-meter violation disqualifications. The rule notes that all 15-meter DQs will be reviewed if a video system in use.
    • To determine if an official’s call of a 15-meter violation is accurate, video review may be utilized at championship or invitational competitions, governed by a meet or games committee composed of representatives of multiple institutions. Prior to the beginning of the competition, a decision should be made by the meet committee as to when video reviews will be conducted, and all participants should be informed. (e.g., after each heat where review is needed or after the final heat of a multiple heat event). All reviews must be conducted before qualifiers/results are announced. If video review is in place for the championships, all disqualifications must be reviewed to evaluate if the 15-meter violation should be upheld. The referee shall review the video to determine if clear video evidence exists to overturn the call. The referee has sole jurisdiction over the review and their decision is a judgment call not subject to further review or appeal. Only the referee and a conference or NCAA meet committee representative – with no participating institutional affiliation may view the video that is being used for review. Challenges by coaches are not permitted as part of this rule, and coaches are not permitted to view the video being used at any time. To use such equipment, the meet committee (in consultation with the meet referee) must confirm the video equipment is in place, before the respective event, and it must be aligned with a direct side view(s) of the 15-meter mark, and maintain a speed of at least 25 frames/ second. The result of the video review is merely to determine if the infraction is confirmed. The video shall not be used to detect any other rule infractions. If conclusive video evidence exists that the swimmer did not cross the 15-meter mark, the referee may overturn the disqualification. Any obstruction to the view of the 15-meter mark is sufficient to void the video from evidence.”
  • Mixing genders in any heat of any race, as has often been done at small meets when there too few entrants in an event (usually a distance event) of a single gender to require a heat of their own, is now prohibited.
    • “Note: It is not permissible to mix genders in any heat or event, in non-championships or non-NCAA championships, including time trials and/or time standard trials.”
  • Along the same lines, it is now explicitly prohibited to leave lanes empty between swimmers when seeding events.
    • “Note: When eight lanes are available, all eight lanes should be used in seeding preliminary heats, finals and time standard trials. When seeding the swimmers, intentionally leaving empty lanes between them is not permitted.”
  • Rule 9, note 4, explicitly gives the NCAA Championship Committee the discretion to decide if times swum in long course can count toward qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Notably, December’s 2019 US Open (formerly Winter Nationals) will be long course, but it had already been established the LCM swims would not count this year.
    • “Time standards, consideration standards and optional-entry standards may be achieved only in 25-yard, 25-meter, and 50-meter racing courses , and may be limited to 25-yard and 25-meter racing courses, at the discretion of the Championships Committee.” 

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1 year ago


Marc Knoflook
1 year ago

Looks like systems such as Swimtraxx will become applicable during races as well!

Mark Rauterkus
1 year ago

Put on your blue suede shoes before you dive into that in that NCAA competition pool. WEARABLE devices are going to be a good thing with tech advancement, science, coaching and the overall industry.

1 year ago

Wait, so we can have women identifying as guys and guys identifying as women and that’s fine according to NCAA, but don’t you dare combine heats of different genders during a distance event! And you especially can’t combine heats and leave an empty lane between them! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria! YGBFKM

1 year ago

I remember when swimming used to be fun and nobody had to worry about a mountain of “rules”…. 🥴🤦🏻‍♂️

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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