In an answer to one of the most intriguing questions of this NCAA season, the NCAA has ruled that Hugo Gonzalez will not be able to compete for the California this spring, but will be eligible in the fall of 2019, according to Cal coach Dave Durden.
Gonzalez, a Spanish Olympian, initially came to the United States in the summer of 2017 to swim at Auburn, where Sergio Lopez, who won bronze in the 200 breaststroke representing Spain at the 1988 Olympic Games, was at that time the assistant coach. Gonzalez competed for the Tigers during the 2017-2018 season, and he had a memorable showing at the SEC championships, where he swam the 3rd-fastest 400 IM ever. His times from SECs would’ve made three A-finals at NCAAs, but he didn’t match those times in March, and ended up with a single B-final appearance.
After head coach Brett Hawke stepped down at Auburn and Gary Taylor was hired to fill that role, Lopez replaced Ned Skinner as the head coach at Virginia Tech, and Gonzalez announced that he would follow Lopez to Blacksburg.
Gonzalez competed at last summer’s World Championships, and it appears that he then headed to Virginia Tech, but after only a few weeks there, and apparently just before classes began, he made the decision to head home to Spain, rather than continue in Blacksburg.
After a couple months in Spain, Gonzalez disclosed plans to eventually return to the US and NCAA competition, and then later announced that he would transfer to Cal. However, it wasn’t clear at that time if or when Gonzalez would be ruled eligible to swim for Cal, with much of the issue hinging on whether or not he’d taken classes or trained at Virginia Tech.
In September, Lopez told SwimSwam’s Torrey Hart that Gonzalez had not trained with Virginia Tech, which would make it easier for Gonzalez to be immediately eligible to compete for Cal.
SwimSwam has been told that while this is true, NCAA rules state that if a student is enrolled full-time on the first day of classes, that is the same net-effect of attending class. While Gonzalez tried to unenroll from classes before the first day, because of safeguard systems in place at Virginia Tech designed to prevent students from unintentionally going below full-time enrollment, he was unable to unenroll before the first day of classes.
Evidence presented to the NCAA supports the claim that he never attended class, which apparently is part of the reason that the NCAA also ruled that he will eligible in the fall, rather than having to sit out until the spring of 2020.
The silver lining is that, according to Durden, Gonzalez’s brief stay at Virginia Tech will not cost him a year of eligibility, so he will be able to compete for three years at Cal, taking through him the 2022 season.
While in the long term, Cal will add another elite swimmer to their star-studded roster, in the short term having Gonzalez this season would’ve been a huge boost for Cal’s chances of ending Texas’s streak of four-consecutive titles. Anything close to his times at last year’ SECs could net Cal roughly 40 points, and this year is shaping up to be another tight battle at NCAAs, just as it was last year, when the Longhorns topped the Bears by only 11.5 points.
Cal’s championship season gets under way tomorrow, as the Pac 12 Championships begin in Federal Way, WA.