Two top-tier Division II swimming and diving programs start their transition to Division I this year, leaving behind what should be a vastly different national championship meet at the DII level. The new-look field will create new advantages and new challenges for Drury University as it attempts to repeat as both men’s and women’s national champions.
Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona and the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio Texas have started the 4-year transition to the Division I level. Those two programs represent two of the top 4 teams at last year’s Division II NCAAs on the men’s side and won a combined 9 events over the course of the meet.
During the transition period, teams aren’t yet allowed to compete at the Division I NCAA Championships, but also lose their eligibility at the Division II meet. The University of Nebraska at Omaha is also making the transition with its women’s team (the school does not have a men’s program).
It’s difficult to predict exactly how the change will affect the overall outcome of the NCAA Championships this coming winter. On the one hand, defending men’s and women’s champion Drury has lost two of its biggest challengers for the team title (Incarnate Word’s women finished 4th and its men 3rd, while Grand Canyon’s men were 4th and women 11th), leaving a much more wide open path to more national titles, plus the Drury men extending their streak of 9 straight national titles.
But the shakeup also means more points up for grabs and available to Drury’s remaining threats like Florida Southern, Wayne State and UCSD. One way to look at it: the Drury men won 6 NCAA titles last year. Taking away all of Grand Canyon and Incarnate Word’s swimmers from those events doesn’t help Drury much points-wise, but it does move swimmers from every Drury rival up several spots. Drury still has to be considered the odds-on favorite, but the meet looks like it will reward depth much more than it has in previous seasons, which is a development to keep in mind come March.
The absence of GCU and UIW also open up some individual events to fresh faces. Though most of the 2013 NCAA champions on these teams have graduated anyway (like GCU’s breaststroking beast Eetu Karvonen and Word’s speedy sprinter Tamiris Nascimento), a few underclassmen won’t be able to return to defend their titles, notably Word diver and national record-holder Kali Lents or Grand Canyon’s 50 free champion Michael Branning.
Also making a class change is Centenary College of Louisiana, which is transitioning from Division I to the Division III level. Centenary is one of the smallest Division I schools, known mostly for its basketball program, which produced NBA Hall of Famer Robert Parish in the 1970s. Centenary’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will transition to compete at the Division III level in future years.