With fall recruiting season wrapping up, it can be a challenge to put it into context. Who won the fall of 2015? Of course, only time will tell how these exciting prospects pan out. There is one indicator, however, that is worth following when you look at the NCAA title contenders: in-state recruiting.
In-state recruiting lays the groundwork for everything else a public university does in recruiting. The math is simple: while scholarships matter, most swimmers and parents do the simple math to come to a cost of attendance number. That number is often half for those residing in-state.
In some cases, it can be even less: when I coached at Georgia Tech most students also qualified for something called the Hope scholarship that carved an additional 20% off the total cost. This meant that prospects from the state of Georgia could effectively “start” with 70% of the out of state cost of attendance paid.
If you want to know how important it is for public universities to recruit in-state, just look at the last six years of Men’s NCAA Team Champions and runners up:
- 2010: Texas, California
- 2011, 2012: California, Texas
- 2013: Michigan, California
- 2014: California, Texas
- 2015: Texas, California
Notice a trend? The two flagship universities of the two best swimming states in the US are on a tear of national championships. The only interruption is by Michigan in 2013. The Wolverines are far from an anomaly. While Michigan is not a swimming state on par with California and Texas, it is still better than average.
Lest you think that the story is vastly different for the women, rest assured that California has also won three of the last six on that side, with another flagship school (Georgia) winning two. Florida was the other winner- a great argument can be had over whether Texas or the sunshine state is the true #2.
This trend runs counter to the argument that NCAA swimming is becoming increasingly about international swimmers. While national and international recruiting is essential to winning at the NCAA level, in-state recruiting is the foundation of championship teams.
In fact, international recruiting puts greater pressure on big public universities to dominate recruiting in their home state. International recruits almost always come with a hefty price tag, and as such programs need to find quality depth close to home.
In-state recruiting is the most cost efficient way to build a deep roster when you only have 14 or 9.9 scholarships. Roster sizes at the biggest public universities often double the 14 allotted scholarships, especially at the schools that contend for a National Championship.
What this means practically is that schools like California, Texas and Florida can build a championship team with a plurality of swimmers from their home state. For instance, Cal’s current men’s roster has 17 out of 30 swimmers from the state of California. The Longhorns have 14 out of 32 on their men’s roster from Texas.
Likewise, it means that schools from relatively lesser swimming state’s often need to use international recruiting to put them over the top. Look back a little further at Dave Marsh’s Auburn teams: you’ll find a lot of international talent. The state of Alabama is one of the worst (at swimming) in America, and had he relied on in-state recruiting Auburn likely wouldn’t have even been a top 25 team. The recently resurgent Alabama Crimson Tide have also relied heavily on swimmers from outside their home state.
The defending women’s NCAA Champ Georgia Bulldogs lie somewhere in between. Georgia is more like a Michigan- they can rely on the state of Georgia for some help but won’t break through the top ten without reaching far and wide. Their current roster has eight locals to go along with four foreign athletes. Their total roster has 27 swimmers and divers.
On the men’s side, Dave Durden of Cal successfully replicated the top-notch in-state recruiting of Eddie Reese at Texas to start their most recent run of success. This, in turn, has pushed Reese to break with tradition and add international athletes to his roster to counter Cal.
So as the fall commitments roll in, give a keen eye to which big schools are keeping their best talent close to home- it could pave the way to a future NCAA Championships.