Anyone who has ever tried to work their way through the NCAA selection policies know that they’re brutal. They’re nearly incomprehensible even for those who are paid to know them – the coaches – which from time-to-time even leads to painful mistakes.
Some may have thought there was a mistake when the men’s psych sheets came out and the Cal men’s 200 medley relay didn’t receive an invite tot he big meet, despite being the 4th-best in the country this year. But this was actually a perfectly-calculated move by Cal men’s coach Dave Durden.
Superstar Tom Shields, one of the leading candidates for NCAA Swimmer of the Year, is at the heart of this. He wasn’t on Cal’s A 200 free relay at Pac-12’s, but after a time-trial later in the meet, he ended up on the Golden Bears’ fastest 200 free reason of the season, which did earn an invite.
But that left Cal in a position, without the same depth as they had last year, where Shields was on the fastest relay for Cal in each of the 5 relay events. According to NCAA rules, if he’s used to enter five relays into NCAA’s, then he can only be entered in two individual events, which obviously wouldn’t make sense for Cal (he could win three National Titles individually).
So that forced Cal to use their best relay time that didn’t include Shields – which incidentally was their B-relay from the Georgia Invite in December.
Cal will still be allowed to enter an optional relay by combining four of their 18 invited swimmers. That relay will be seeded with the school’s best time, but will still be entered behind the 13 invited relays – which is to say that they will be the 14th seed.
With so many swimmers invited, it’s not going to be difficult for Cal to put their 5 best relays together. They easily qualified everyone that they needed to qualify. This is where Durden makes his money though: figuring out which 4 are the best use of the superstar Shields to maximize his team’s outcome.
There’s no easy answer to the question, but it seems as though they’d want to leave him off of one of the day two relays, where he’ll already have two individual events. He certainly can’t be taken off of the 800 free relay, as that relay would probably add about 3 seconds – which could drop them 6 or 7 spots in the rankings. Therefore, the session-ending 200 medley relay is the choice where Shields will likely sit out (though, it’s not a necessity just because that was the relay not entered).
As a result, Cal probably slides Marcin Tarczynski into the backstroke leg, and shifts Mathias Gydesen from backstroke to fly, which is the spot that Shields previously occupied.