USA Swimming To Vote On Reducing 120-Day Transfer Rule In Club Swimming

At its upcoming Annual Business Meeting in Colorado Springs, USA Swimming will vote on drastically reducing the transfer rule that requires athletes to wait four months before officially changing clubs.

Currently, USA Swimming requires athletes to wait 120 days before they’re able to represent a new club after changing teams, having to swim as unattached until the waiting period is over.

But later this month, the organization will vote on reducing that period to 30 days, which in one aspect of the sport, appears to make justifiable sense, but perhaps not in another.

From the club swimming perspective, amending the rule to 30 days could cause some issues. Swimmers could conceivably change teams multiple times per season, potentially creating hostility between clubs, swimmers, parents and coaches who are in close geographical proximity to one another. It could also lead to clubs recruiting swimmers away from nearby teams.

On the other hand, looking at this rule from the professional side of things, swimmers racing unattached at meets like USA Swimming’s Pro Swim Series hurts the marketability of the sport at the senior level—an argument in favor of the change.

USA Swimming’s Athletes’ Executive Committee (AEC) has laid out their reasoning for putting the proposal forward, with the reduction to 30 days based on the goal of empowering “an athlete’s ability to choose the club environment in which they can feel safe, perform their best, and enjoy the sport, without fear of penalty.”

“We believe 30 days is an ample administrative period, as confirmed by the Registration Committee, while also reducing the penalty for athletes who chose to transfer for good reason,” an AEC representative told SwimSwam.

The AEC listed three reasons why it believes a change needs to be made:

  1. Athletes often transfer clubs for reasons outside of their control, such as club folding, uncomfortable environments, military transfers, and parents making club choices.
  2. Athletes are being penalized when they move clubs for the reasons listed above. The AEC belives it should be an athlete’s right to choose and fully participate in their ideal club environment without penalty.
  3. A swimmer officially being “unattached” further alienates them as they try to acclimatize to a new team environment, keeping them from scoring points and preventing them from participating in relays.

Why 30 days?

The AEC released a survey at USA Swimming’s April Workshop, where an overwhelming majority (72%) selected the option of reducing the penalty to 30 days. The responses were spread evenly between athletes, coaches, officials and other LSC leaders.

The AEC also said that 30 days is a feasible time period for registrars to process transfers, while not being too great of a penalty on the athletes.

The International Swim Coaches Association (ISCA) has sent out a blog post sharing its opinion regarding this proposal—they are strongly against reducing it to 30 days.

The ISCA says that swimmers who are forced to move because a family member is in the military should be automatically allowed to represent a team, but otherwise, the 120-day rule should stay intact.

“ISCA strongly recommends that we NOT pass the 30-day period and stay with the 120 days,” the organization said in its post.

“Also, if it was not a pass/ fail amendment we would recommend keeping the 120 day period but allowing Military Families who move greater than 100 miles to automatically be allowed to represent a new team. The reason: Those athletes and families are being moved, not by choice, but by government action.”

The ISCA notes that swimmers can still train and compete with their new team when unattached, that the majority of transfers aren’t due to moving but are primarily from swimmers changing teams in the same area where they live, and also mention the potential hostility between clubs that could arise if the rule is reduced to 30 days.

Regarding changing clubs or “club hopping,” the AEC noted that the original 120-day rule was adopted by USA Swimming from the AAU back in 1978, and that the rule isn’t in place to deal with illegal recruiting—that’s addressed in Section 304.2.11 of the USA Swimming Rulebook.

“Club hopping happens now, even with the 120-day rule in place,” the AEC said. “It is more so a negative for athletes who need to transfer out of their current environment, than it is for athletes who are just looking to club hop.”

You can find a full list of the proposals up for vote at USA Swimming’s Annual Business Meeting here.

The meeting will take place September 22-24 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. You can find more information on it here.

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Sandy Augustine
2 months ago

When will they vote on this? We recently changed clubs.

Admin
Reply to  Sandy Augustine
2 months ago

Later this month at the House of Delegates. Even if passed, there is no guarantee that the rule will immediately go int effect.

Rswim919
2 months ago

Allow clubs to release transfer athletes after 30 days. If not released….maintain the 120 day rule. This allows for clubs to work with families moving out of their areas.

H L
2 months ago

With a shorter unattached period, you could create a really strong team or relay for a particular meet and then let everyone return to their original team.

JMack
Reply to  H L
2 months ago

You can do the same with the 120-day rule. Just do it earlier.

JMack
Reply to  H L
2 months ago

The 120-day rule has nothing to do with recruiting. That’s not the intent of it.

P K
2 months ago

Couple points to clarify:

  1. The 120 day rule starts from the date of last attached open COMPETITION. (Generally, league restricted competition, Y only competition, etc., is closed competition and doesn’t reset the 120 day limit. Intrasquad meets are also closed competition.) 203.3, glossary.
  2. Historically (although I can’t find the rule), swimmers can be entered into meets by their coaches unattached if they know they are planning a move. This might be awkward if a swimmer is switching to a local club, although I hope that most coaches would be receptive. (I remember a teammate doing this when I was growing up, but she was also moving to a city half an hour away, and no one would have expected
… Read more »

P K
Reply to  P K
2 months ago

Also as a comparison, Masters swimming has a 60 day transfer period (201.3.5), except that members may transfer without a waiting period when renewing their membership. Relays and scoring can be quite unusual due to the proliferation of workout groups, but there’s one extra caveat: FINA does not allow unattached competition at Masters world championships (MGR 3)–you must represent a club.

Admin
Reply to  P K
2 months ago

The ‘when renewing membership’ is a good caveat in my opinion. You finished a season, you finished your commitment.

I don’t think we can immediately eliminate it in the sporting culture that we currently live in, where people are ‘too good at hacking the rules.’ I guarantee you that in month one, you’d see the four best swimmers in a city change teams, shatter all of the NAG relay records, and immediately change back.

Maybe there could be different periods for different purposes. X days for relay swims, Y days for team scoring?

P K
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

That would seem like something that should be handled with the NAG record rules. As the rules exist today, any club with an intersquad meet sanction could pull this kind of shenanigan. The swimmers could wait until the end of summer championship season for 120 days, switch to the desired team, break all the records in the intersquad meet, and then immediately switch back since intersquad meets (where all of the swimmers are the same team) are not open* competition and don’t reset the 120 day transfer clock. Someone who is really motivated could go a step further and form their own club (somewhat difficult but not impossible), get an intersquad meet sanction, and then really go crazy. The rules… Read more »

Swimmax90
2 months ago

As a coach in a metro area with 30+ team options. Bring it on. There are already kids who do the whole metro tour as we coaches call it. This will only help quickly identify exactly what families to avoid even faster! I am a fan.

IGotItRight
2 months ago

18&U: stays at 120 days
19&O: 30 days seems fair.

Jamie Starr
2 months ago

What is the difference between ISCA and ASCA? Are both coaches groups in agreement with this?

Why would anyone care though. Swimmers can still move clubs whenever they want….. this rule seems to be an administrative rule only

maximum mchuge
Reply to  Jamie Starr
2 months ago

Isca is international and asca is American, otherwise both are pretty much trade groups for coaches with opportunities to connect with other coaches and do continuing education

Bill Price
2 months ago

The documentation says the purpose is to “reduce the penalty” on athletes who transfer. Swimming unattached is not really a penalty. The only restriction on transfer athletes is relay participation. And using “the athlete’s right to choose” phrasing implies that USA Swimming is preventing athlete transfers. This is obviously incorrect. There are reasons this rule exists. Fiddle with it and we will have to re-learn why it was adopted in the first place.

swim coach
Reply to  Bill Price
2 months ago

the rule was upped to 120 days. my understanding, the primary reason it was upped was to deter/prevent recruiting athletes for the sake of championship meet points, power relays, etc.

imo, keep the 120 rule, but allow military exception for PCS’ed families and those families who move greater than 75 miles from the mailing zip code of their current team.

Admin
Reply to  swim coach
2 months ago

Any memory as to when the rule was increased?

P K
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

It dates back to the AAU rulebook. The 1981 USS rulebook (the oldest one on the website) has the 120 day rule, 342.3 (https://www.usaswimming.org/docs/default-source/rules-regulations/1981-rulebook.pdf).

Bill Price
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

I’m curious to know what the impetus was to change it now. The phrasing in a lot of these responses indicates that many just don’t understand the current rule. It’s an administrative rule, it doesn’t prevent athletes from swimming or transferring. It limits representation in relays and that’s all. It eliminates the motive for recruiting athletes from other clubs for immediate competitive success of a club. THAT’s what it’s for.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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