It’s official: the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships are canceled for 2020. While we’re all still dealing with the shock and disappointment, conversation is already turning to the logistical fallout: how do we best handle such a major wrinkle?
Much of this discussion is still forming, and there isn’t much precedent to fall back on in a situation like this. But we’re compiling some of our ‘pros & cons’ as a staff about potential solutions for a host of wrinkles associated with the meet cancellation.
Collegiate Eligibility Extensions
Of course, the most gut-wrenching piece of this are the seniors, who will likely miss out on what would have been their final college meet. There’s been plenty of chatter among commenters about eligibility extensions for athletes who weren’t able to compete at NCAAs this season.
Pros: there’s a fairness element – extending eligibility would allow everyone a chance to compete at four NCAA Championships in their career, even if their career spanned this shortened season.
Cons: the logistics of this scenario are a nightmare. First of all, a good portion of athletes will graduate after four years, and sticking around school to swim for another year instead of moving into the job market isn’t realistic for a lot of athletes. There are issues with scholarship limits – if outgoing seniors are given an extra year, what happens to freshmen who were promised scholarships coming in next fall? If schools are given flexibility on scholarship limits, how many schools will be willing to take them, spending even more money on a non-revenue sport to pay scholarships above the typical NCAA cap? And from a fairness perspective, that would heavily slant the competitive field toward teams that had a big senior class with lots of scholarship money this year – those programs would have had a lot of scholarship money freed up to promise to 2020 freshmen, and would get to ‘double-dip’ on scholarships much more than a program with a small senior class and/or a small class of freshmen coming in.
The verdict: As popular as it would be with fans, it’s hard to see this one working out logistically. More likely is that the NCAA simply moves on to next season, counting the 90% of this season that did take place as enough to use a year of everyone’s eligiblity, even if the most important meet for the top athletes didn’t happen.
If there is no NCAA Championship, how in the world will we all know who was right and who was wrong in NCAA predictions all year? The uncertainty might just kill us. So of course we’d all love a ‘virtual championship,’ with teams swimming in their own pools and combining times to create a virtual meet to declare a virtual national champion.
Pros: This would be much more satisfying to fans than simply ending the season with a press release. There would be closure for athletes, who would at least get a tapered and shaved time, even if the environment wasn’t quite the same as an NCAA Championship.
Con: the issue for many programs will be the ability to not just compete, but train at all. Many schools have shut down their campuses, and we’re hearing programs may have to figure out if and how they can continue to train their athletes leading up to this summer’s Olympic Trials or other meets. (The ACC has shut down all athletic activities – competition, practice, even recruiting). A virtual championship wouldn’t bring together as many people as an NCAA Championship meet, but some schools may still frown upon a gathering of a full team of swimmers. Then there’s the question of fairness – are some pools faster than others? Could some teams build in extra rest in various sessions, or push relay exchanges for faster times? Just how many comments would we get about the Texas pool being 24 yards long?
The verdict: it sounds like at least a few programs will try to hold a time trial meet of sorts, to give athletes a chance to achieve their goal times. Maybe combining them (and getting widespread participation) will be difficult, but we’d love the chance at closure on the season for athletes, coaches, and fans – if it can be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize anyone’s health or safety.
Should the NCAA hand out its yearly All-America awards based on seed times? Typically, the top 8 in each event are first team All-Americans, while 9th-through-16th are honorable mention All-Americans.
Pro: giving out the awards would at least allow athletes with outstanding in-season accomplishments to get recognition.
Con: it would hardly be a comprehensive award, given many of the nation’s top swimmers were likely saving their full taper and shave for the NCAA Championships.
The verdict: something seems better than nothing here. Though it’s a downer for the athletes who saved rest and perhaps would have moved into the top 8, it’s worth recognizing the athletes who had already proven something. There will be no perfect solutions this year, but this solution is more good than it is bad.