Why College Swimming Is Worth Fighting For: A Parent’s Perspective

by SwimSwam Contributors 43

October 29th, 2020 College, Opinion

Courtesy: Jim Rees

My kids grew up swimming. As a result, I have suffered through more than my fair share of hours in the Texas heat, pool side, wading through thousands of swim races to watch the three participants I care about dive into the pool. During my extensive down time in the stands and on deck, I have listened to countless parents discuss aspirations in the water for their child while I harbored my own. At one large meet several years ago, attended by over 1,000 competitors, another father asked me how many Olympians I thought were on deck and was surprised by my blunt answer: “None”.

Swimming suffers the misfortune of being an Olympic sport, watched with passion once every four years, but otherwise shunned by the American spectator. Hence, most people know the names Franklin, Phelps, Lochte, and Coughlin but few others. The US Olympic Team takes two swimmers in each event with an age range that has spanned 16 (Ledecky) to 40 (Torres) in the last three Olympic Games. With some swimmers qualifying each year in multiple events (recall Michael Phelps 8 gold medal haul in Beijing 2012), the odds of making the games are infinitesimal and of monetizing the achievement even less.

That’s not to imply swimming is a fool’s errand for all but the select few. I often advise young people to “use swimming, don’t let swimming use you” and to “learn its life lessons to advance your own agenda”. Usually this is interpreted by an accomplished swimmer as a ticket to a better academic institution. In my local area I know young people whose swimming success has helped them garner spots at some the nation’s most elite academic institutions, Yale and Stanford among them. While those students are unlikely to swim in the Olympics they will have received a fine college degree in return for their dedication to the sport — which brings us to the Michigan State University decision to end it’s Swim & Dive program.

The Big Ten school joins a long list of institutions culling its swim program as a way to save money. In 2012, another Big 10 school, the University of Maryland, petitioned its swimmers to raise $11.5 million to save their program. Unfortunately, the team proved better swimmers than fund raisers and the program was disbanded.

Michigan State’s Athletic Department cited a $30-$60 million budget shortfall in a posted letter as the primary impetus to cut the Swim & Dive program. While the AD realizes “this is devastating to the student athletes” there was no other choice. The men’s and women’s swim programs cost MSU approximately $2 million/year according to an NCAA membership financial report in 2018/19. Umm, $500 million was paid to the victims of Larry Nasser in 2018 by Michigan State for his horrific conduct. On a smaller scale, in 2019 the head football coach and head men’s basketball coach were paid approximately $4.0 million each. The school had an endowment of $3 billion at year end 2018. But the school has no ability to keep student-athletes in the water?

And there is the sad truth, for the swimmers truly are student-athletes. No great riches await them at the end of their collegiate careers. They’ll get up early to stare at a black line and compete in front of the same people they’ve competed in front of all their lives without much fanfare. Upon graduation, they will join the game of life hopefully better prepared for it by the experience.

It is a sad statement that another high-profile university has decided a swimming team is not worth the cost or contributes to its educational mission. As a consolation, the kids recruited to the program are free to stay at MSU under existing scholarships or transfer to another school. The options seem hollow accountability for promises made, but not kept.

The only active swimmer left in my family is my youngest daughter, a high school freshman. She holds aspirations that I hope she will achieve, and I hope there are a multitude of programs available at the collegiate level for her to have the opportunity. Swimming is a great sport, but collegiate swimming, and particularly men’s swimming, is under siege. When a major state university uses its $2 million swim budget to close a $30 million-plus fiscal deficit it’s a warning worth heeding for those who care about the future of the sport. College swimming is the pinnacle of achievement for most kids, ensuring it has a vibrant future means being vocal today.

ABOUT JIM REES

Jim Rees is a swim parent who resides in The Woodlands, Texas. A graduate of Fairfield University and The Wharton School of Business, Jim is married with three children. 

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Yuh
1 month ago

Amen

QED
1 month ago

How does swimming contribute to educational mission? Why should young people be subjected to self promoting coaches and programs that are made up of marketing people and all to few people with an actual education and experience in a world based in evidence based work … critical thinking skills … and actual science. Today’s Coaches are not teachers. They propagate silly things such as cupping; an endless stream of nonsense. Yes I am saying something I know will make you angry. But if you want claim that swimming today is a positive on the educational goals I can make an argument that it has become a negative for educational goals. Perhaps we should actually look at it critically and see… Read more »

Time For Barta To Go
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

“I only regret that I have but one Down Vote to give this post.”
~ Nathan Hale redux

Hey QED, providing athletic opportunities to educate and promote a vigorous healthy lifestyle – varsity, intramural, club – IS one of the educational missions of institutions of higher learning. And yes, that means investing resources to provide those opportunities.

Every nickel doesn’t need to be spent on Erlenmeyer flasks.

QED
Reply to  Time For Barta To Go
1 month ago

So providing a pool and staff for 30 students out of 30,000 thousand for your “vigorous healthy lifestyle” is a per capita good use of $ how? What is actually gained? What actual data do you have … Zip … Nadda … Zilch. Waving your hands in the air and claiming benefits means … Nothing.

Swimforlife
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

LOL. And providing a field and staff for young men to head butt, setting up for a lifetime risk of concussion and Alzeimer’s is a better use of resources? Yep. THAT actually has data. The problem is the schools only value the cash cow from gladiator sports.

QED
Reply to  Swimforlife
1 month ago

I didn’t say anything about football … can you read?

Love2Swim
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

The educational goals (at least two of them) for any university should be to produce graduates who can be successful and make positive contributions to their communities. Swimming as a sport promotes a person who has strength in mind, body and character. There is no way that the amount of effort swimmers put into competing does not shape them to handle whatever adversity comes their way throughout their lives. If you just want to look at college sports as entertainment for you, you are missing the point of why colleges started to have sports to begin with. Swimmers want to get faster, swimmers love to compete, swimmers contribute to campus life in many ways outside of the pool. Coaches use… Read more »

QED
Reply to  Love2Swim
1 month ago

Coaches are scientifically illiterate and your claims that swimming makes a young person successful are based on?

Love2Swim
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Your claims that coaches are scientifically illiterate are based on?

QED
Reply to  Love2Swim
1 month ago

One … look at their education and resume … no actual education or experience in science.

Two … ask any one of them what have they measured between the walls and with what error.

Three …

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/cupping-olympic-pseudoscience/

Four … ask any one of them to give you a definition of a fluid …

Yes I am being hyperbolic on purpose. My point is … we could do better. Having ideas are wonderful … but not looking for actual proof based on measurement with understood error is not being done adequately. Lots of people marketing … few disciplined good teachers. Yes there are outstanding coaches/teachers. But to much garbage and endless superlatives.

Hoosier Eli
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Dr. James Counsilman “The Science of Swimming”

Also – “But to much garbage and endless superlatives.” I believe you meant to use the word “too”.

QED
Reply to  Hoosier Eli
1 month ago

So all you have is a grammatical correction?

The current college coaching crop should start with … SIr Isaac Newton “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” … Published in 1687.

Hoosier Eli
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Just pointing out the absurdity of your argument that coaches are scientifically illiterate. It’s a poor generalization. Building off of Doc Counsilman’s Science of Swimming there is an entire sub-department within Indiana University’s School of Health dedicated to the science of swimming. This program has developed many that have joined the collegiate coaching ranks (Dr. Kirk Grand quickly jumps to my mind).

Pointing out your grammatical error was just something fun to do, since you were attempting to put on an air of intellectual superiority.

QED
Reply to  Hoosier Eli
1 month ago

Can you refer to an actual contribution to science?

“Intellectual superiority” … that’s funny … sorry but when someone says the moon is made of cheese I am going to get a big smile on my face and ask them for proof. A 5 year old would do that. That is how any claim from a swim coach should be handled.

TPS
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

QED – I’m curious, don’t you find degrees in engineering, kinesiology, physiology, education and psychology worthy of meaningful knowledge obtained by the existing crop of coaches? Many are published authors or other credentials. What more are you looking for?

Last edited 1 month ago by TPS
QED
Reply to  TPS
1 month ago

Names, work in any of those fields and/or their research please.

F_J
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Why are you on a swimming website if you don’t like swimming?
An honest question, I don’t mean to offend

Last edited 1 month ago by F_J
QED
Reply to  F_J
1 month ago

Where did I say I do not like swimming?

F_J
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Sorry I assumed that from your other comments

SwimFan
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

So QED, as you don’t seem to like swimming much I am surprised you found this website at all. Below you discuss the expense of a pool and such at a university/college. I would argue that swimming is a life long sport. I know a few master’s swimmers well into their 80’s who were still attending meets pre-COVID days. It is also a “sport” that can save your life- fall off a boat or a dock and you can get yourself out. The main reason our family got into swimming was I was our family owned (and still owns a boat) and a family summer home on a lake (and yes, our kids fell off the dock) so it was… Read more »

Alllifecounter
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Competitive swimming is fun. That is reason enough to keep it at our colleges and higher institutions of learning. Can not believe you try to rile up good people on this site by making such attacks. It the famous words of many fellow Americans “Read my lips!”!

QED
Reply to  Alllifecounter
1 month ago

So now we give college degrees for anything that is fun … OK … you going to ask the tax payer, students and their parents, or the football and basketball programs to pay for that? In the words of this American … “pay your own way buttercup!”.

Alllifecounter
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Well what is wrong with having fun? It its better than being grumpy most of the time. Yes I vote for college age people to enjoy their hormonal, emotional and mental development. As a tax payer, I would much prefer my tax dollars to support college student athletes swimmin around in a pool than to support rioting, war and polluting our environment! In the words of a great American Patriot – “Never ruin a good story with truth!”

QED
Reply to  Alllifecounter
1 month ago

Word salad

Alllifecounter
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Some people are incapable of understanding the mix of greens

Bees
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

You clearly don’t like swimming because of a serious personal reason/experience. Keep it personal.

QED
Reply to  Bees
1 month ago

You must be a sport psychologist … yes I tortured mice when I was a fetus

Guerra
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

I couldn’t say this in the past, but the younger group of college coaches are doing a great job. They have combined training and conditioning, both in, and out of the water, science, mental training and talent development and the college coaches have never been better. In the 1990s and 2000s, with a few exceptions, it was often a horror show if your athlete made the wrong college choice. There used to be a lot of lazy, retired on the job coaches in college that were full of BS and didn’t know what they were doing. QED science is only one part of it. Not the whole thing. Give these men and women credit.

Alllifecounter
Reply to  Guerra
1 month ago

I agree! The older coaches like Reese, Troy, Marsh, Baurele and Urbanchek certainly fall short of the standard you suggest is the case of today’s “Yuths”. To quote Joe Pesci. Please name 5 Yuths who you will be more accomplished – No cheating only coaches who started after 2010.

QED
Reply to  Guerra
1 month ago

Honest question … do you actually know what these people are doing? Not what the marketing is … what is actually going on. I have been told many things and later when able to observe it was not accurate. How can we evaluate them? One great thing is that the first hand to the wall wins … however what happened in that swim is a wildfire of guesses and all around the deck are the self proclaimed experts self promoting. My best experience with a coach was one who would tell me what he thought and why. He did not try claim oracle status. It was an environment encouraging going after something … but with reality of checking it. Which… Read more »

Guerra
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

I know what they’re doing because I go and ask the athlete(s). There used to be so much BS out there, it was important to find out what was really going on and pass that info to the athlete and parents, before an they chose a school. Now some weren’t choosing a school for swimming and that’s OK. I still felt it was important to ask questions and pass it on. I’ve seen guys spout off science and analytical training programs and they had zero leadership skills, people skills, structure and discipline and their program was a disaster. On the other hand, there are those that could sell swampland for a premium price and didn’t have a clue on how… Read more »

Bill
Reply to  QED
1 month ago

Didn’t Mark Spitz drop out of and become a revered cardiologist with his swimming scholarship? Didn’t he show the world that the greatest Olympic athlete can be Jewish? As he was the most successful in an olympics that terrorists killed all the Israeli athletes? Swimming has a discipline and commitment level that is platitudes above others. Pretty sure it translates to graduation rates and stem graduates. Daughter doesn’t even know another grade but A. She’s in the pool 2 hours a day, 6 days a week. All her friendships are with her teammates. When she doesn’t go to practice, she is not happy. And all her team mates are tops in their classes. So I believe there is a high… Read more »

Christopher A. Lause
Reply to  Bill
1 month ago

My son was a very successful distance swimmer at The Woodlands (competing in the Junior Nationals mid way thru high school), formed close bonds with his teammates, and learned the values of hard work, dedication and overcoming adversity. Ultimately, he decided not to pursue swimming at the collegiate level – electing instead to attend an acting conservatory. But the same values that served him so well in his swimming career continued to serve him in conservatory (which is very demanding and stressful) and post-graduation. The bottom line is that he’s a very fine young man and swimming had something to do with that. Coaches motivated, but he developed his own character. I’m very thankful for his participation in the sport… Read more »

alec
1 month ago

Well written! Thank you!