The NCAA Division I championships are coming up next month. Women’s invites to the national championship meet go out in just a couple of weeks, so now seems like a good time for a brief refresher on the sometimes-complex process of obtaining NCAA invites.
The NCAA invites the same number of overall swimmers every year: 270 men and 322 women. Depending on how many of those 270/322 athletes qualify in multiple events, the numbers can range some as to how many entries in each event get invited. Last year, the first year under this selection system, roughly 29 men and 38 women were invited in each event.
The simple part: “A” qualifiers get in automatically. Hit an “A” cut, and you’re set. Then the NCAA fills in the remaining spots with the next-fastest “B” cuts. Check out our full list of the qualifying standards here.
Here’s a step-by-step process for how the NCAA selects the 270 men and 322 women for each year’s invite list:
1. 35 of the men’s spots and 41 of the women’s spots are set aside for divers, who qualify for the meet at zone competitions closer the NCAA Championships. That leaves 235 men’s spots and 281 for the women.
2. Every “A” cut put up this season is added.
3. The next fastest swimmers in each event are added until every event has the same number of entries. For example, if the 50 free were to have the most “A” cuts of any event with 10, then every other event would get swimmers with the top 10 fastest times in.
4. Finally, one entry is added to each event to keep the entries per event even. This process is repeated until all of the swimming spots (235 for men, 281 for women) are filled. Keep in mind that as more rows are added, swimmers will start to double and triple up. The #1 seed in the 200 back might be the #15 seed in the 100 back – as the 15th row of swimmers is added to each event, she’ll be added to the 100 back list, but won’t take up another one of the 281 invite spots, as she already has her official invite.
5. The final row of swimmers added won’t come out exactly even. In the final row, the swimmers with entry times closest to the NCAA record will get added first, and when the 235th man or 281st woman is added, the process stops. So the 100 fly could have 38 women and the 200 fly 39 women – that would mean the 39th 200 flyer was closer to the NCAA record than the 39th 100 flyer and therefore won the ‘tie-breaker’ for the final spot.
You can find the official wording of the selection process in the NCAA manual here, starting on page 12.
The last bit to note is that once you are officially invited, you can also swim other races in which you’ve hit a “B” cut, even if you weren’t invited in that race. For example, someone invited in the 100 breast but not the 200 breast could still enter and swim that 200 breast at NCAAs, provided he or she has a “B” cut. What’s needed is the official invite itself.
Last year, we compiled a list of what it took to get an NCAA invite in any given event, putting together a chart of the last time invited in every event. You can find that chart here, and as these things typically go, expect the last invite time this year to be slightly faster in every event.