NCAA Swimming in March is Madness; Why Compete With Basketball

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Commentary by George Block

AUSTIN, Texas, March 28. TWO of the most famous coaches in the New Testament, Matthew and Luke, both gave us nearly identical advice. Coach Matthew (5:15) reminded us that, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to the whole house.” Coach Luke (11:33) was a bit more incredulous… “No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in can see the light.”

The NCAA Championships are filled with world-class athletes who will graduate and go on to professional schools or positions of leadership in business or their community. The number of MDs, JDs and PhDs per capita is completely anomalous. Swimming is the sport of the student-athlete. Swimming should be the lamp being put on the NCAAs lampstand, but instead, we are hidden under the basket of March Madness.

Swimming and swimmers have a lot to offer. The Olympics have figured that out. The IOC and NBC have promoted swimming to the role of the lead dog in the Olympic sled. It is swimming that captures the attention of the world for each Olympiad. In today’s NCAA, swimming should be even more important.

Swimming is full of kids who inspire, but they can only inspire if their stories are told. This month, the stories are of “one and done” and bolting for the NBA. But that could all change and the swimming community could change it.

Everything we do in college swimming has to be done with the assumption that someday football and men’s basketball players will be paid. The mega schools can survive this, but 2/3 of the Division I swimming schools cannot. We need to be doing EVERYTHING we can to change the landscape and prioritization of collegiate swimming.

Step 1 was discussed yesterday. We have to endow scholarships – especially for men’s swimming – at “our” Division I schools. Step 2 is making the championships important and that means getting them back on live, network television. To do that, they have to be moved out of March.

I’ve heard arguments for moving them to the first two weekends after the NCAA Basketball tournament and for moving them to the last two weekends before the conference tournaments begin – basically the last two weekends in February. I find the February strategy more compelling than the April strategy, but I will try to summarize both.

MOVE NCAA SWIMMING FORWARD TO APRIL: If the Swimming championships were held immediately after the basketball championships, the basketball championships could be used to promote the swimming championships, which could drive a huge audience to the swimming broadcast. Some coaches felt that after mid-April, their kids are just getting ready for finals anyway, so that swimming until then would keep our best swimmers training well for the most critical time of the year.

MOVE NCAA SWIMMING BACK TO FEBRUARY: On the other hand, if the swimming championships were held in February, the NFL playoffs could be used to promote the swimming championships, driving an even bigger audience. The winter weather keeps more families in front of TV in February vs. April, so it is a more prime TV time.

Another group of coaches felt that if the NCAA season ended in February, they could start training the first day of school, which would help set the tone and culture of the school year much better. More important, they said, with top college swimmers training over Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacations, swimmers could suddenly get a real spring break, then come back and get started on long course immediately after. That group of coaches felt that a February meet would both promote collegiate swimming much better, as well as preparing international swimming much better.

Every four years, swimming leads all the summer sports and grabs an even bigger audience than basketball. I don’t know if we can top the NCAA Tournament, but there is no reason to hide our lamp under a basket. College swimming just became an endangered species. Holding our championships in March is Madness.

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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