The NCAA confirmed in an email this week that ‘virtual swim meets,’ which have become a hot topic of discussion for a workaround to more normal swimming competition in the coronavirus era, will not be considered bona fide events under NCAA rules.
Under swimming & diving sport rule 9, the definition of a bona fide meet is as follows:
“Competition is between two or more teams of the same gender at the same time and site, from different collegiate institutions;”
Because the teams must compete at the same time and the same site, these competitions could not be allowed as bona fide under NCAA rules.
The NCAA does say that it would count toward individual and team dates of competition for NCAA Bylaw 17 regarding competition dates, but does not satisfy NCAA Bylaw 20 regarding sport sponsorship.
This is significant for a number of reasons, the first of which has to do with NCAA qualifying standards – which must be set in bona fide competition. This has become an issue in prior years, most notably at the 2018 Liberty University-hosted Last Chance meet, where it was determined that the men’s meet was not bona fide because East Carolina was the only men’s team there. This negated some NCAA Championship qualifying times.
Times from these virtual meets also wouldn’t count for NCAA Records, though if otherwise approved they could be considered for U.S. Open or American Records.
While teams usually target 2 or 3 meets in a season for swimmers to hit qualifying times, divers could be more dramatically impacted as their zone qualifying marks could come from any number of different meets.
The bigger, and possibly more concerning issue, surrounds how this would impact NCAA Bylaws 17 and 20.
Bylaw 17 relates to both ‘athletically countable’ activities as well as competition maximums. In swimming & diving, teams face a maximum of 20 dates of competition in a season, and the NCAA says that virtual meets would count against this total.
Bylaw 20 includes, among other things, minimum division scheduling requirement:
If an institution fails to meet the division scheduling requirement in a sport shall be placed in the restricted membership category in that sport, with men’s and women’s teams in the same sport treated separately. The sport shall be in the restricted membership category for no longer than a three-year period.
In Division I swimming & diving, teams must have a minimum of 10 contests with a minimum of 11 participants to remain in good standing. While not usually a problem at the Division I level, we did see this rule enforced more strictly last season at the Division II level.
Why These Rules Exist
Much like accounting rules in the post-Enron era, the crux of these bona fide rules is that the more people that need to become involved in a fraud for it to work, the more likely it is that the fraud will be uncovered.
By-and-large, we like to view collegiate coaches as ‘good people,’ and most of them probably are. But, as is obvious by a perusal of the NCAA major infractions database, temptation and good intentions can lead people down a path of deceit.
- A swimmer is a tenth of a second or two from locking up an NCAA invite. A coach tightens the lane ropes just a few inches, because that swimmer ‘worked hard all year’ and ‘deserves it.’
- Same scenario as above, but a swimmer gets 5 or 6 reswims, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be allowed, to try and hit the cut they need.
- An official, who is somehow connected to the team, turns a blind eye to an illegal suit
- A team arranges the pool to minimize wake for a swimmer trying to hit a cut, such as putting 4 lanelines on each side of lane 4.
In a sport where tenths of even hundredths can be the difference between everything or nothing, these sorts of things matter.
Waivers & Workarounds
While a change of the rules is unlikely before the start of this NCAA season, the NCAA does have a process to issue waivers to workaround rules in extraordinary circumstances.
The NCAA says that waivers have been put in place to allow for a reduction of the minimum number of required competitions for some divisions, though did not specify if this would reduce required dates for swimming & diving. It’s likely that, at a minimum, schools would have to apply for those waivers, which adds a crucial administrative step.
Schools could also apply for waivers allowing virtual meet results to be allowed, but that would kick it to the NCAA to approve those waivers.
A few other possible workarounds that teams might employ could be to combine results from multiple in-person dual meets to create a sort of ‘virtual invite.’
As proposed by University of Virginia associate head coach Tyler Fenwick on the SwimSwam Podcast episode released today, teams could hold a ‘virtual quad’ meet. In this scenario, there could be two sites with two teams each. For example, Virginia and Liberty (70 miles apart) could have a dual meet in Charlottesville while the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech (70 miles apart) held a dual meet in Athens.
This would reduce the risk that longer travel would have toward spreading the coronavirus since there wouldn’t have to be any stops or overnights, and could also reduce the costs associated with longer trips. Then the quad could compare results.
While the ‘team scoring’ is not really a concern for most teams for most meets, this strategy could be employed in a larger conference like the SEC to divide up into a multi-site conference championship meet, reducing total travel costs across the conference, as well as reducing the number of teams jammed onto one deck.