Plight of an NCAA First Alternate: Anna Crandall

Feature by Jason Marsteller

PHOENIX, Arizona, June 1. TWO years ago, NCAA Division I first alternate Anna Crandall of Oregon State was left home after not making the NCAA draw her senior season. That's not a major deal, as it happens every year and in an invitation-only meet like NCAAs, someone is always the first out. The circumstances surrounding Crandall being left home, however, wound up being controversial in 2010 with new information compounding just how heartbreaking this situation proved to be.

In West Lafayette, Ind., in 2010, administrative controversy certainly reigned as coaches continued to confuse relay-must swimmer situations to the detriment of alternates left home. While many remember the more high profile issue with Texas' Kelsey Amundsen that led to an individual meet misconduct and the loss of two relays by the Lady Longhorns, Southern California did not emerge from the meet unscathed by administrative error.

As reported live by Swimming World from the deck at Purdue that year:

In a day ruled by controversy (likely due to how many teams had a legitimate chance to win the title in the third day), Southern California drew a disqualification of its 200 medley relay from last night after a report that the Trojans did not swim a required swimmer on the relay. USC's qualifying time for the 200 medley relay was posted at Pac 10s with a team of Presley Bard, Anna Kowalczyk, Lyndsay DePaul and Joan Christel Simms. Kowalczyk did not compete for USC during either the prelims or the finals yesterday, thus disqualifying the relay since it was Kowalcyzk's only invited event. More information has come to the forefront that Kowalczyk was sick and not brought to the meet. USC, however, failed to inform the NCAA of the issue and she remained on the official roster. If USC had informed the NCAA, Kowalczyk would have been taken off the roster, and the first alternate would have made the meet.

That first alternate, again, was Oregon State senior Anna Crandall. Initially, everyone moved on with their lives. USC has since continued its rise to the level of being a national title contender, and the NCAA has since awarded California a pair of NCAA titles in women's competition in 2011 and 2012 to set up a potential threepeat in 2013.

Someone was forgotten along the way — Oregon State senior Anna Crandall. The assumption being made that she knew the rules, understood that a first alternate is basically the first person in the Done Club for the season, and would be informed of the administrative error made by USC that falsely kept her from competing at NCAAs her final year as a Beaver. That assumption proved to be completely false.

“I found out via a rather circuitous and random event,” Crandall told Swimming World. “I start law school in the fall, and the interviews for summer positions start in the middle of our first semester. The Professional Development Office keeps warning us about the horror stories about social media ruining professional reputations. The same advice that the NCAA gives to the student-athletes, I wasn't worried about what my online presence was but I also had no idea what is was, so I literally Googled “Anna Crandall” to see what would come up. There was a bunch of swimming articles, and a lot of stuff for a Christian Women's Speaker in Kansas (not me).

The blurb underneath one result reading something like “leaving first alternate Anna Crandall at home when she should have been invited” caught my eye. I looked at the title and it said something like “NCAA 2010 Predictions Recap“, so I immediately thought “WHAT?!!” and clicked on the article to find out what it was talking about. ”

That's right. Crandall spent two years thinking she'd been the first alternate — the first one not to make it. No one told her she should have been at the meet, even though she continued to train and toil in hopes for a scratch.

“Ending up as first alternate was really hard,” Crandall told Swimming World. “It was my senior season, I so badly wanted to end my college career with a third performance at NCAA's. During Pac-10's that year I was checking the event ranking religiously and I was right on the “bubble”, the rankings that are just shy of definitely being invited, but still within range that an invite it possible.

“I kept time trialing the race throughout the meet to try and shave off more time and move myself up the roster, but I didn't improve my time. At conference, I swam the maximum amount of events, 4 relays, 4-5 individual, I usually finaled in the events that weren't exhibition so I would race around 10 times, add on the time trials, and I was getting worn down.

“When I received the official news that I was first alternate for the meet it was heartbreaking. I had swum my last race of my career without the knowledge that it was my last. Keep in mind that swimming is a sport you dedicate your entire adolescence to, everything about you is determined by your training and competition schedule, as a swimmer it's a huge and important part of your life. I never got that final meet.

“But I had to continue to prepare as if I did, just in case I got called up. I had to tell all my professors that I might be missing finals week for the NCAA Championships, but it wasn't confirmed. I had to continue training as if my career was not finished, and worst of all I ended my senior season knowing I was a few hundredths short of my goal, the very first person that year who didn't achieve that goal, and that there would be no opportunity to reach that goal again.

“At the same time I had so much hope, I kept thinking “just 1 girl in 1 event, I just need 1 person to scratch an event” (that was my understanding of the situation). Every day was a conflict of emotion, I felt so disappointed with the outcome, and so hopeful that it would change.”

Crandall is still processing some of the emotions and thoughts, finding out a full two years later that she was victimized by an administrative error, but is focusing on hoping for a change to alleviate this from happening again in the future.

“I was really upset,” Crandall told Swimming World of finding out from a Google search of the untimely ending of her career. “As I have already explained, the end to my career held a lot of anguish for me. I couldn't believe that I actually should have been there. I couldn't believe I hadn't been told that there was an error. After I processed this information from totally out of the blue, my next thought was “this isn't ok”. Whatever the reason is, administrative oversight, rule confusion… it's [not good] that a deserving athlete gets left out because someone else didn't do their due diligence.

“After researching this further and discovering similar situations, it really angered me that it's not what I first thought was a one- time misfortune I was the unlucky recipient of. Similar oversights have occurred before. It's easy when you're removed from the situation to brush it off and make excuses, and not really worry about the people who were unfairly affected. But when you are the one experiencing the disappointment, and you know how much following that one rule would have changed your career and your reflection on your career, it's pathetic that such a small snafu crushed that opportunity.

“And I kept going back to, “I can't believe no one ever contacted me, I can't believe this is how I found out”. Even if it was after the fact, I should have been notified, anyone in such a situation should be notified that someone else's error wrongly kept them home. I might not have been able to go to the meet, and have my final race, but I would have eased some of the disappointment about the way my career ended.”

This administrative error typically comes down to the discrepancy between club and college rules. In club swimming, the club owns the time — not the swimmers. So, if a club gets a particular relay cut, it can swim who it wants on the relay. In the NCAA at the championship meet level, it is different because the NCAA funds student-athletes and their various supporting casts to be at the championships. This includes a participant cap at times to eliminate the chance of expenses spinning out of control for any one sport. Therefore, swimmers have some MUST swims, including some relay swimmers who only make the team via a relay. If one of those must swimmers misses the race, the team loses the relay via a meet misconduct disqualification.

Sometimes this happens just due to forgetting to put a swimmer in town for the meet on a relay, but the most egregious offenses are those where someone is left home completely either by choice, injury or illness. In these cases, it would normally just be a standard scratch and the first alternate would be called up. But, forgetting to perform the scratch leaves someone home unfairly.

“If coaches really can't keep the two sets of rules (USA Swimming vs. NCAA) separate, then I think they should adopt one version for both bodies,” Crandall told Swimming World. “Especially when an athlete's entrance hinges on coaches following protocol.

“I also question why they don't have a few alternates at the meet in case someone can't swim an event after the meet has begun. NCAAs is such a difficult meet to qualify for, no one is going to complain if they are flown out to the meet “just in case”. Having the alternates there, would also make rectifying situations such as what happened to me so much simpler. If someone can't swim an event that they had to, the alternate(s) is there and ready. Oversight on relay rules isn't the only way people have been left home by mistake, but having alternates at the meet is one easy way to quickly fix any variety of situations that arise in which an invited swimmer can no longer compete.

And I think the athlete should always be contacted and notified if there was a blunder that cost them the opportunity. ”

Crandall isn't bitter about her time in the sport just because of a single issue. She recollected during her interview about the great times of breaking school records and making NCAAs her freshman year, ironically due to more rule confusion involving the Big 12 and ACC Championships in 2007, which led to the NCAA expanding its relay selections.

“My top athletic achievement at Oregon State is a draw between my school records at OSU, and the result of one of my NCAA performances,” Crandall said while reminiscing about positive times from her career. “As a freshman I was a member of the first women's 800 free relay to be invited to NCAAs. We ended up achieving All-American honors. Our relay was somewhat of a “Cinderella story”, due to the relay selection issues that created an abnormally-large pool of relays. OSU was the last to be invited.

“We showed up and raced well, we wanted to show that just because we were a smaller school with less of a history at the meet didn't mean we couldn't compete at that level. We finished in the top-16 and ended up with All-American honors. Earning All-American was the biggest goal I had set for my college career, achieving that my first collegiate season was an incredible and extremely rewarding experience.

“I also was invited to the meet my junior year in the 200 freestyle and had B cuts in the 100 free and fly. That was also a big achievement for me, making the meet based off an individual time seemed like more of a challenge. I can't remember what I placed, I didn't make it back to finals, but I was happy just being there. To even get invited to the meet places you with the most elite swimmers in Division I, as many of them are Olympian and National Team members, I could argue some of the most elite swimmers in the world! My goal every season was just to make it to the meet and race all those fast girls.”

Crandall has a bright future ahead of her, as hinted at before. She's moved back to her native state of Utah to go to law school at the University of Utah, and has already used her swimmer's work ethic to her advantage to earn her current job.

“I start law school this fall at the S.J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah,” Crandall said about the future. “My involvement in swimming gave me so many skills that will correlate to a career in law: competition, goal setting, dedication and work ethic. I think my swimming background is the only reason I have my current position, the CEO of the company said he knew I could get up early and work hard, next thing I knew I was hired! Frankly, I have been surprised by the amount of people in the legal profession who have told me how monumental the “swimming skill set” will be for success in the legal field. I think people associate a lot of traits important for career success as character traits that swimming develops in the athletes involved.

“My career as a student-athlete also piqued my interest in the legal field, because I think a lot of times student athletes are taken advantage of. They are young, they are grateful for the opportunity, they certainly haven't done any of this before, and all in all they are naive to the system. It's not exactly a developed specialty area in law yet, but I would like to see it get there. I think student-athletes also have rights to be advocated for. ”

Crandall also has remained active within the swimming community.

“This past season, I was a volunteer coach for my brother's high school team (Olympus High School),” Crandall said of her continued involvement in the sport she loves. “I really miss race day, I loved the competition, so I have considered joining the Masters…but sleeping in is a luxury I'm not quite ready to give up.”

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