The NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving Championships will not allow relay-only swimmers this year as part of an effort to reduce the number of participants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Historically, teams were able to bring up to 4 relay-only swimmers, at their own cost, to swim relays with provisional cuts, presuming they had at least one individual athlete qualified for the meet.
After reducing the fields of individual qualifiers from 175 and 205 for the men’s and women’s fields respectively to 146 for each gender, the NCAA has further reduced the number of student-athletes who will be competing with the latest decision.
The NCAA previously cited costs (including costs related to new safety protocols like COVID-19 testing) as a reason for the reduction in field sizes for winter and spring championships. In announcing this decision, they cited “health and safety and venue capacity reasons.”
These two reductions in combination will likely result in less-than-full relay heats at the NCAA National Championship meet.
Last season, even with a larger field, only 16 women’s teams and 17 men’s teams women’s teams had 4 or more individual invited swimmers. Many of those teams had swimmers in events that would not lend themselves well to relay swims – so we may also see a scenario where milers or 400 IMers are stuck into sprint free relays, for example. We might even see a scenario where a diver is pressed into relay duties.
With many teams opting not to compete, however, we could also see larger qualifier numbers from the relatively-fewer participating teams. NCAA Division II schools have not announced cancellation of swimming & diving seasons at a rate as high as their counterparts in Division III.
The NCAA has also passed legislation reducing the number of required meets for a team to be eligible for the NCAA Division II Championships from 8 to 5. To count as a meet, a team must send at least 11 athletes. This became relevant last year, with teams that may have had invited athletes not hitting that threshold, even without the impacts of COVID-19.