INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, February 5. LAST year, the NCAA made the move to drastically alter the way in which relays are chosen to compete at the NCAA Men's and Women's Division I Championships. With the college conference championship coming down the pipe, here's a quick primer on how it works.
First, with no regard to relays, the NCAA completely fills up its individual event qualification spots up to 270 (235 swimmers, 35 divers) for the men and 322 (281 swimmers, 41 divers) for the women.
Then, relays are qualified based on the following criteria, with the language being changed from an A cut and B cut relay standard to a Qualifying and a Provisional standard.
There are basically two ways to qualify relays for NCAAs now, and are beginning to be known as the 1+ and 4+ rules.
Under the 1+ standard, if a team has qualified at least one individual into the original 270 or 322 athlete caps, the team then can bring up to four relay alternates at the team's expense if the team has a relay Qualifying (or A cut) standard. These relay alternates are only allowed to swim relays, but are not required to swim. A team could conceivably bring four extra swimmers and not swim them all. Relay alternates also are NOT entered into the meet with any of their individual B cuts.
If a team qualifies four or more individuals to the meet, not only can it still bring up to four relay alternates at its own expense, it can also then compete in both its Qualifying (A cut) and Provisional (B cut) relay events. However, a team may not bring more than 18 competitors to the meet (including relay alternates) with divers counting as half a competitor.
The reasoning behind the change is still likely dependent on exactly who you ask, as everyone has a different opinion. Some believe that teams wanted the chance to bring more student-athletes to the meet. Others believe that the old relay-must rules were causing too many “administrative” disqualifications for the likes of Southern California and Texas.
However, once a compromise was struck where the NCAA could still firmly budget to pay for the expenses of a pre-determined amount of championship qualifiers (270 men, 322 women), teams were then granted the ability to bring more swimmers to the Big Dance.