When the men’s NCAA psych sheets came out two weeks ago, the buzz was all about how low the cut line was. The initial reaction was anger and frustration, as coaches expected that the line would be drawn similar to the 22-23 that it was last season, and this year it was after only 17 athletes.
This brough a ton of disappointment to athletes around the country who were counting on an NCAA bid.
There are a lot of factors that play into where this cutline falls, including the number of relay-only swimmers on invited relays (more relay-only lowers the cutline), the versatility of swimmers (swimmers ranked in the top 20 in only one event lowers the cutline), and the number of different teams who earned invited relays (there seemed to be more mid-major relay invites this year, a versatility that lowers the cutline).
But whatever the reason, the situation has both pros and cons.
The big con is that it sways advantages even greater in the favor of major programs, and limits parity. The major programs (Cal, Texas, Stanford, Michigan, etc.) have the depth of talent to line-up relays better to qualify everyone they want to qualify for NCAA’s. Smaller programs, however, often depend on those individual invites if they have a single start, but not enough to carry a relay (that cutline is always difficult too at top 12).
But there’s a silver lining. Every swimmer who earned an invite to this meet has an edge, because every swimmer has at least one opportunity where moving up a single spot puts them in the points. Nobody at this meet is more than a tenth or two away from earning All-American status.
It’s not something that we’d want to see every year, but it does give the meet a certain edge. Nobody can walk into this meet just happy to be there (whether they admit it or not, it’s sometimes true at the women’s meet, where the cutline is around 30 per event). There’s a whole-new competitiveness because everyone knows that they can take it to the next level, and move that NCAA qualification to an All-American award, an evening swim, and a place in the team standings.
If this were to happen again for a second-straight year, it wouldn’t be good for the sport, though it’s a bit of a catch-22 because as mid-major powers rise up, it’s nearly a zero-sum game as other mid-majors are kept out of the meet. But once in a decade or so, it’s not the worst thing that could happen.