A Timeline of The NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship

The 2017 UCLA Bruins, NCAA champions. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

EDITOR’S NOTE: The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s water polo tournament will celebrate its golden anniversary this weekend, with the national championship being held at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center. Looking back at the history of the country’s most prestigious polo tournament, Swimming World contacted Dante Dettamanti, who is among the greatest coaches in the history of the sport.

1969 to 1994—Eight-team championship

1969 to 1975—Four teams selected from the California, two from outside California.

1976 to 1979—Four from California; four from outside California

1980 to 1994—Back to the six from California, two from outside California formula.

STANFORD, CA - DECEMBER 2: Brian Darrow, Jeff Guyman, Matt Moser, Todd Snider, head coach Dante Dettamanti, Mike Derse, Nick Ellis, assistant coach Ben Quittner, Tony Azevedo, Onno Koelman, Reed Gallogly, Mark Amott, Peter Hudnut, Jeff Nesmith, Pasi Dutton, Wolf Wigo, and Nathan Alldredge of the Stanford Cardinal after Stanford's 8-5 win over the UCLA Bruins for the NCAA water polo championship on December 12, 2001 at Deguerre Pool in Stanford, California.

Stanford 2001 champions. Photo Courtesy: David Gonzales

Dettamanti: During this time, it was easier to qualify because of the eight- team formula. There were no automatic qualifiers. It was based mostly on won-lost record, strength of schedule, and what league you were in. The top four were usually the top 4 teams with the best records, the next two usually came from teams outside the Pac-10 who won their league, and the final two were usually the top two from the east.

1995 to 2012—Only four teams invited

Dettamanti: It was very difficult to receive a bid. The MPSF winner, the team with the best record in the nation, one team from western schools outside the MPSF, and one team from the East.

2013 to 2015—Start of play-in system with six teams; four conference champions and two at-large bids

2016 to 2018—Play-in system expanded to eight schools; six conference champions and two at-large bids


Ted Newland, UC Irvine men’s water polo coach. Photo Courtesy: UC Irvine Athletics

NCAA Final Appearances:
Cal- 22 appearances
USC- 21 appearances
Stanford- 20 appearances
UCLA- 20 appearances
UCI- 9 appearances
Pepperdine- 1 appearance
Long Beach- 1 appearance
UOP- 1 appearance
San Jose State- 1 appearance
UCSD- 1 appearance (Only team to beat an original MPSF team in a semifinal game, 2000, against USC)

NCAA Titles:
Cal -14
Sanford – 10
USC – 9
UC Irvine – 3
Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara – 1 titles each
Only 3 teams outside of the original Pac-10 have ever won an NCAA Championships

Until 1994, the majority of the championships were held at Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach, CA


  1. avatar

    I do conseider all the concepts you have introduced to your post.
    They are reall colnvincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are ttoo
    brief for starters. May just you ploease extend them a bit
    from subsequent time? Thank yyou for the post.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo


      If I’m understanding your email, this is a first: you are asking if I can say MORE about polo?! I’d be happy to – though when it comes to the history of the NCAA men’s tournament I am not that knowledgeable (but I try!).

      Did you see what Dante Dettamanti had to say in the piece on 50 years of NCAA championships? If so, let me know where I could expand (one idea would be to have remembrances from past tournaments; I’ll keep that in mind).


      Thanks for your comments,

      Your correspondent