A College Swimming Playoff? What About This Approach For the Future?


A College Swimming Playoff? What About This Approach For the Future?

With the College Football Playoff Committee releasing their final rankings of the season last month, four teams were identified as the best in the land and given the opportunity to contend for the national championship. It got the mind wondering: If swimming adopted a similar approach, what would a College Swimming Playoff look like?

What is the College Football Playoff?

Developed in 2014, the College Football Playoff is an annual knockout invitational tournament to determine the national champion in the Football Bowl Subdivision. A committee of 13 members selects the top 25 teams in the nation, with the top four selected to compete in the College Football Playoff semifinals. The top-ranked team plays the fourth-seeded team, and the second- and third-ranked teams play each other, with the winners advancing to the title game.

Teams that rank fifth through 12th are selected to make a News Years Six/BCS Bowl Game, which could be the Peach Bowl, the Cotton Bowl Classic, the Orange Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. On a rotating, three-year basis, two of these Bowls are used for the CFP semifinals and four are used for the fifth through 12th teams. 

How Would a College Swimming Playoff Work?

To create an effective College Swimming Playoff, the NCAA would have to rewrite how college swimming currently works. There are many factors that make the college football work, and many of these factors would apply to a swimming playoff as well. 

Dual Meets Only

In college football, each team plays once a week. The days vary can vary, but most are on Saturday and all end by that night. To create an effective College Swimming Playoff, swim seasons would start to follow a similar format. Each week, teams would face off in dual-meet competitions. As a team starts to rack up wins and losses, separation in records would be evident. The season schedule would like this:

Weeks 1-6: Dual Meets

Week 7: Bye Week

Weeks 8-13-Dual Meets

Week 14: Conference Championships

In a dual-meet only format, championship meets (as they are now) would no longer be held. A conference championship would work by having the two best teams in the conference face off, once again in a dual-meet setup, with the winner declared the conference champion. This format would lead to a more conference-focused, dual-meet season. Each team would be required to meet conference foes for at least 8 of the 12 meets, with the other four meets set aside for out-of-conference matchups.

With the requirement of conference matchups, this leads to the possibility of schools becoming independent, such as Notre Dame in football. Being an Independent, or not in a power conference, would not affect a team’s standing in the polls.

The Polls

In many sports, polls are used to rank teams, polls generally don’t matter in any sport except football, and in this new swimming format, polls would become the center of attention. All meets in college swimming would be completed by Saturday evening, leaving a committee of members to vote for the best 25 teams. 

Polls would be released each Monday night, in a special poll release show on a network such as ESPN. The polls would then help decide how meets will be looked at for the week ahead, such as if two top 25 teams are meeting.

Criteria for being ranked in the polls include, total wins and losses, wins over top 25 teams, and best overall performances. If a team is able to present a well rounded dual meet no matter conference affiliation it will be taken into consideration before voting for the top 25.

The Committee

Much like in the College Football Playoff, there would be a committee of members that vote each week for the top 25 swim teams in the nation. This committee would be made up of some of the best former College Swimming Coaches, and current Division 1 University Athletic Directors. Names such as Frank Busch, Jon Urbanchek, and David Marsh are all people who could make up the committee..

The committee would additionally meet every week to watch the meets, and vote based on the criteria given for ranking in the polls. The members on this committee would be responsible for maintaining fairness in the rankings by not holding teams from moving up or down based upon personal bias. In this committee a Coach or Athletic Director associated with a certain school would not be able to give input on where the school they are representing or represented should be in the polls.

The Bowl Meets

The top twelve after the final poll is released will be assigned to a Bowl Meet, each bowl will be assigned to some of the best pools in the nation. These pools include the Avery Aquatic Center at Stanford University for the Goggle Bowl. The Freeman Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota for the Chlorine Bowl. The Greensboro Aquatic Center for the SpeedBowl. The Lee and Joe Jamil Texas Swimming Center, at the University of Texas for the Texan Bowl. The Martin Aquatic Center, at Auburn University for the Gainz Bowl. Rounding out the six bowl meets will be the H2O Bowl at the Gabrielsen Natatorium, at the University of Georgia. Additionally two of these bowl meets will host the national semifinals for the top 4 College Swim Teams in the nation. Each bowl meet will be on a three year rotation like the College Football Playoffs, so that each bowl will host a national semifinal.

Although the top twelve teams will compete in the premiere six bowls, other teams outside of the top twelve will also have an opportunity to compete in a bowl meet. If a college team ammases at least 6 wins per season they will be bowl eligible. They won’t be able to compete in a premiere bowl, but they will have the opportunity to compete at a lesser bowl meet.

The National Championship

In an event which would be viewed as the biggest stage in college swimming, the College Swimming National Championship would bring together the winners of the national semifinals into the swimming capital of the United States: Indianapolis. Each National Championship Meet will be held at the IUPUI Natatorium, due to the fact that Indiana has such a rich history in swimming and is centrally located in the country. It would be the best place to welcome teams and fans for the best swim meet of the year. 

What will differ about this meet, from the other regular-season dual meets, is that a prelims/finals format will be used. Each team will be allowed to enter up to four swimmers per event, with the top six after prelims making it back to finals. The same criteria would apply to relays. For individual events, scoring would look like this:

First Place-8 Points

Second Place-5 Points

Third Place-4 Points

Fourth Place-3 Points

Fifth Place-2 Points

Sixth Place 1 Point

For relay events, scoring will be doubled. The meet would start on Friday and conclude on Saturday afternoon, the team with the most points named the national champion.

The Possibilities

Creating a new competitive approach for college swimming opens up doors for a sport that is usually only watched every four years by the general public. This idea makes college swimming much more marketable. College football in America is a tradition, and swimming could start to see the same reality. Due to the fact that swimming becomes more marketable in this new format, we could see the birth of new media ventures that will help present the sport to the general public. The television sports network ESPN sees great ratings every Saturday for its flagship show, College Gameday. With this new format of swimming, we could see the birth of swimming-related pre-meet shows, such as College Meet Day

Most importantly, this new format of swimming will help create a closer relationship for athletes with their teams. Due to the fact that more emotion will be placed on dual meets, in the fight to make the playoffs, it will help build stronger bonds between teammates because they have to help each other to bring home wins at every meet. 

Would Texas remain atop the men’s heap, as it has in the current format? Could a regular-season upset derail a program’s title hopes, such as when Appalachian State knocked off Michigan on the football field years ago. Nothing is off the table in the College Swimming Playoff.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Jean Yelovich
1 year ago

That is a great perspective. You hit right on.

Paula Neidlinger
1 year ago

Always tough to change a mindset- lots of strategic thinking in this article. Keep up the good work !

Beverly Gould
1 year ago

Something to think about! Well written, Cooper!