Are NCAA Division 3 Qualifying Standards Too Strict?

It seems reasonable to assume that the NCAA Division 3 Championship should offer the highest level of competition in the division – serving as the ideal destination for all Division 3 swimmers . However, with such strict selection guidelines in place this is difficult to achieve.

Although each NCAA Championship meet tends to have swimmers that go slower than their qualifying time, it becomes a problem in Division 3 due to the fact that so few swimmers are selected in each event.

In a number of events at this year’s NCAA Division 3 Championships there are swimmers who did not qualify for the meet but whose best time would have made the B final. For example, in the men’s 400 IM it took 3:58.6 to qualify for the meet– but it took only 4:01.8 to make the B final and score points. Below is a table of other events where the same circumstance occurred.

Event Meet Qualify B Final Qualify
Women’s 400 IM 4:28.50 4:29.91
Men’s 100 Butterfly 48.95 49.20

It is also worth noting that in every other event the time to make B final was relatively close to the meet, and the times dropped off pretty quickly thereafter. Results in comparison to the meet qualifying times are displayed below.

Event Meet Qualify B Final Qualify Place where the time was slower than the time it took to qualify Place
Women’s 500 free 4:59.02 4:58.27 4:59.08 20th
Men’s 500 Free 4:31.03 4:30.94 4:31.45 17th
Women’s 200 IM 2:05.78 2:05.45 2:05.83 19th
Men’s 200 IM 1:50.28 1:50.20 1:50.39 17th
Women’s 50 Free 23.59 23.53 23.62 19th
Women’s 100 Fly 56.25 56.16 56.28 19th
Women’s 200 Free 1:51.62 1:51.12 1:51.71 20th
Men’s 200 Free 1:39.64 1:39.26 1:39.43 17th

The times tended to drop off pretty quickly after around 20th place, leaving a margin of swimmers that did not qualify for the meet but may have been able to get a second swim at NCAAs.

This is likely a result of how tight the selection process is, which you can read more about here. The majority of Division 3 swimmers have to fully taper at their conference meet to make nationals, leading to a slower championship meet.

All NCAA Championship meets should foster the highest level of competition that the division has to offer, and with the selection standards in place for Division 3 this is nearly impossible.

In most other championship meets of similar fashion the top swimmers are usually able to easily qualify for the meet without tapering. In addition, swimmers who have a shot at a second swim typically have no trouble making the meet.

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So it’s either the cap (260 less 24 divers on the men’s side) or the fact that the relays are selected first. It’s not fair that the top 16 times don’t get to compete for the top 16 places.

Ole 99

Its the prioritization of relays. D3 had to choose between having slower individual events or relays. They chose the former after years of having a team that qualifies only one relay (for example the 4 x 100 medley) swim the other relays with pretty horrendous times (i mean 1:10 100 br split bad) and end up scoring because the did not have enough relay entries. The argument is that the lesser of two evils is to have a b cut score but not necessarily invite b cuts that would be potentially score.

If someone wanys to endow D3 swimming in order to increase the cap, we could end the trade off altogether.

Ole 99

My example should have been a 4 x 200 free relay swimming all the other relays.


It would be great to have DIII have similar qualifications DI where more emphasis is on the individual vs the relays as changed in recent years. And if more swimmers could be invited to the meet. does any one know how much money the NCAA gives for the meet vs the individual colleges? It seems it is always the same teams at the top. Know in DI but a little more opportunity there is seems for other schools.


In short, yes. But we have to remember back when the selection process was the same as it is for division 1 swimming. There were a few problems with that on this level. The first was that A cut standards were often years behind the rapid improvement in D3 times, so you would have years where there would be 15 swimmers under the A cut. The second problem was that because of this, the really invite line was often 10 or 11 deep. This would mean that there were years where it took slower than the NCAA be cut to make it back for an evening swim in off relays. This all changed after 23 (?) A cuts were made… Read more »


The other consideration to keep in mind is the maximum number of swimmers a school is allowed to bring to the championships. Schools like Kenyon and Denison bring the maximum number (16?) meaning they could leave qualifying swimmers at home – especially when they have divers qualifying too.

The other thing to keep in mind is the difference in depth on the men’s side compared to the women’s side in DIII. This is a result of the large disparity in the number of DI programs for women compared to men – the unintended impact of Title IX.

Lastly, it is sad that the NCAA invites so many fewer swimmers to the DIII meet than DI.

About Rachel Harvill

Rachel Harvill

Rachel has been swimming ever since she can remember. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where she learned to love swimming with the Walnut Creek Aquabears. She took her passion for swimming to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon where she primarily competes in sprint freestyle events. In addition …

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