NCAA Swimming Transfers Down Significantly Over Last Decade

The NCAA has published a large set of data on student-athlete transfers, with total swimming & diving transfers dropping by about a third since the year 2004 for both men and women.

The NCAA has formatted the data into a really cool Tableau Viz (essentially a set of interactive charts from data) which you can find on the NCAA website here. Here are a couple key takeaways from a glance at the swimming & diving data:

Total transfers in swimming & diving have dropped from 7.3% among men and 6.4% among women to just 4.7% among men and 4.2% among women.

That includes parallel transfers from one four-year school to another, as well as transfers from a two-year school to a four-year school – most often, from a junior college to the NCAA level. The numbers are pretty similar when excluding those 2-year-to-4-year transfers. Check out the full data below:

Men Women
2004 2016 2004 2016
2-4 1.4% 1.0% 0.9% 0.4%
4-4 6.0% 3.7% 5.5% 3.8%
Total 7.3% 4.7% 6.4% 4.2%

In general, transfers in swimming & diving are below average compared to other NCAA sports.

For all sports, average transfer levels (4-year-to-4-year) are 6% for both men and women. Those numbers have seen a very slow decline on the men’s side and have remained pretty stable on the women’s side since 2004. The swimming & diving numbers listed above fall well under that.

The highest 4-4 transfers for the year 2016 came from men’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s beach volleyball and men’s and women’s tennis. Swimming is closer to the lower end, but the sports with the lowest transfer levels are men’s baseball, women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse.

Junior College transfers make up a very small percentage of NCAA swimmers & divers.

The numbers in the table above don’t lie. Swimming & diving is one of the lower sports in junior college (2-4) transfers, and well below the national averages of 4% for men and 2% for women. Men’s baseball and basketball drag up those averages considerably, with 19% and 15% figures, respectively.

In general, all-sport NCAA transfers have dropped slowly over the past decade.

Men’s transfers (for 2-2 and 4-2 in all sports) were at 16% in 2004, but have declined moderately to 13.6% in 2016. Women’s transfers went from 10.4% to 9.2%. In general, male transfers are far more common – even after 12 years of decline, men’s transfers are still higher than women’s transfers were back in 2004.

Men’s Swim & Dive transfers jumped up from 2015 to 2016.

It’s hard to put too much stock in one year’s worth of data, especially when the overall trend shows men’s transfers dropping steadily. But men’s transfers did increase in 2016, from 4.2% to 4.7%. That’s the first year that transfers have increased in men’s swimming & diving since 2012.

Men’s 4-4 transfers have dipped below women’s 4-4 transfers

That’s actually true as of 2014 in swimming & diving, and became very pronounced in 2015, with women’s 4-4 transfers sitting almost a full percentage point (3.9%) above men’s (3.0%). Men’s 4-4s rose in 2016, but still sit below women’s, 3.7% to 3.8%. That comes after the entire 2004-2013 period showed higher transfer levels among men than women for the 4-4 bracket. Overall transfers still skew towards the men’s side because 2-4 transfers have historically been much higher among men.


One piece not included in this set of data was touted by the NCAA on Twitter: student-athletes verbally committing to a school earlier are more likely to end up switching schools down the road:

You can see our full discussion of that issue here.

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5 years ago

There are fewer programs to transfer too.

5 years ago

Transfers, Divorcees and used cars

5 years ago

I’m curious if there’s any data on how many NCAA swimmers swim for all four years of their eligibility vs. leaving early, and how that compares to other sports. Seems like at many schools, less than 50% of the freshman class swim through their senior year.

5 years ago

Some swimmers may want to transfer, especially if the coaches are the reason for a desired transfer. However, the NCAA rules make it very difficult and problematic to transfer and it affects scholarship money. For example, swimmers should not have to red shirt. Some college swim coaches, when they find out that a swimmer desires to transfer, use tactics that make transferring difficult or impossible for the student. There is an underbelly that most people don’t know or think about.

Current Transfer
Reply to  swammerjammer
5 years ago

Swimmers don’t have to redshirt, the only thing that coaches can do is prohibit money from being given

Reply to  Current Transfer
5 years ago

Wrong with respect to money being the only thing. There is ALOT more to it. From one whose gone through it.

5 years ago

Would be interesting to see this data for all students, not just student athletes. I imagine that the transfer rates among all students is far higher than the rates for student athletes.

Mark Rauterkus
5 years ago

Good to know how many non-athletes transfer?
How about transfers among coaching staffs?
And, are graduation rates a thing of the past?
Finally, is a transfer from a 2-year school (junior college) to a 4-year school really a “transfer?” Isn’t that matriculation? Same too with the movement of a GRADUATE into another college with eligibility remaining who can suit up as a graduate student. That might be a new trend as some kids are able to enter college with credits from IB and AP courses.

Reply to  Mark Rauterkus
5 years ago

Moving from a two year college to a four year college the student is considered a transfer student as they have earned credits elsewhere that will go towards a degree. Matriculation is when anyone starts at a college or university- first year or transfer. Grad students aren’t transfers and wouldn’t be count as a transfer student in the university head count.

Reply to  Mark Rauterkus
5 years ago

Graduation rates aren’t a thing of the past and are fairly easy to look up. 59% graduation success rate (GSR) is considered good. Among Div. 1 athletes the rate was 83% (2015 stat) while swimming and diving graduated 90% in 6 years

Reply to  Mark Rauterkus
5 years ago

Yes, transferring from a two-year school to a four-year school is a transfer. Not all such transfers are just from a junior college to a four-year school. Case in point is the NCAA’s 4-2-4 transfer rule. An athlete has to request a release to named schools (no such thing as a general release). The coach has the power to grant or deny any school on the list. In addition, there may be a written policy of denying releases to certain schools. Florida State, for example, has a written policy that no release will ever be granted to the University of Florida. When an athlete has been prevented from even talking to schools they are interested in, the only recourse is… Read more »

5 years ago

I suspect swimming transfers are lower than other sports because in team sports, it’s easier to lose your “spot” to someone else and never get playing time. In swimming, there are typically 4 spots in every event at a duel meet and multiple events, as well as invite where everyone typically gets to swim their best events. If someone knew comes in and takes your relay spot, you still have a chance to earn it back by competing head to head for it in the individual race. In, say, football, if a new quarterback takes your spot and performs well, you may never see another snap during which you can prove yourself better. In other sports, if someone better comes… Read more »

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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