ACC-B1G Challenge Pros and Cons: Could This Become a Thing?

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Andy Ross.

Yes it’s fun. It’s low pressure. It’s a good way to get to meet other people. But can the ACC/B1G Challenge actually last?

The best of the best from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten Conference joined forces this weekend in West Lafayette, Indiana and put up some pretty quick times on the campus of Purdue University as the Big Ten came home with two wins.

This is the first year the ACC-B1G Challenge has come to the pool as it has been an annual addition to the basketball schedule since 1999. The Big Ten came together as one team in 2016 to take on the USA National Team in Indianapolis in November. The next year, the USA National Team took on the Pac-12 all-stars in Los Angeles in October.

The ACC-B1G Challenge makes more sense and feels right in terms of an “all-star meet.” But can it last? It has already been confirmed for November 2019 where Georgia Tech will play host on ACC turf. We laid out some pros and cons of adding the meet as a regular part of the season schedule.

samy-helmbacher-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Pros:

Less pressureThere is really nothing on the line at a meet like this. Almost every swimmer that talked to us after the meet said they just “wanted to see where they were at” this weekend before they go to their mid-season invites. A lot of swimmers also swam really really fast.

Almost every single event had the fastest time in the nation this year even though none of the swimmers were rested. And the meet wasn’t just “fast” because no one else has put suits on. Mallory Comerford swam a 46.96 in the 100 free, just seven tenths off her best time. Coleman Stewart swam a 45.04 in the 100 back, just half a second off his time to win NCAA’s last year.

There was a lot of chatter on the pool deck from various coaches and media members about how fast the meet was. Yes there was a team score, but there was nothing really on the line. It’s sort of like the Major League Baseball or NBA All-Star Game. It was just a showcase for the best in each conference to flaunt their talents for bragging rights. Every swimmer is “resting” in some shape or form for the mid-season invites, so this wasn’t a make or break type meet so to speak. The competition level was high, and the pressure was low, and that generally spells out fast swimming.

Early Exposure to the nation’s best: Other than the mid-season invites, the Big Ten and ACC teams generally would not see each other until the NCAA Championships in March. So giving Comerford and Siobhan Haughey the chance to match up in November is great for the swimmers to gauge where they are in the season against the competition they will see in March at NCAA’s.

Michigan and Louisville do see each other in the regular season, but NC State and Indiana usually don’t (NC State is going to the Indiana Invite this season), so giving two of the best teams in the nation a chance at seeing each other this early gives them a chance

Even Max McHugh, who is just in his freshman year, said he liked getting the chance to race against people he will be competing against at NCAAs.

Free AdmissionHave you ever looked at tickets for the NBA All-Star Game? They are usually more expensive than the tickets to the NBA Finals, even though the players don’t really try in the All-Star Game. But when you have the 12 best basketball players in the world in the building, the demand for tickets is greater, so it makes sense to jack up the prices.

This meet didn’t quite have the 12 best swimmers in the world, or the country for that matter, but it did have a strong roster on deck with NCAA Champions Lilly KingIan FinnertyAndreas Vazaios and Coleman Stewart. Add in a long list of All-Americans and Olympians, it is a great ticket for anyone interested in swimming or diving.

And tickets were free! What a steal!

Who knows if next year’s tickets for the B1G-ACC Challenge in Atlanta will be free, but if they are, it will be a steal for the swimming and diving fans in the state of Georgia to get a chance to see the best swimmers and divers in the country compete.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Cons:

TravelA lot of teams will be swimming at invitationals next week. Then after that is Thanksgiving. Not to mention a couple of the national team members will be attending Golden Goggles next Monday. Then right after that is final exams for the students.

The semester is winding down and it is getting hectic for the student athletes. So the weekend before the November invite is usually viewed as a recovery weekend and a time to get some rest and recuperate. Traveling for a swim meet during that intended rest weekend might add a bit more stress to the student athletes. It didn’t seem to negatively impact anyone this weekend, but if this becomes a regular part of the schedule for the next few years, the coaches might think twice about sending people to swim.

Two years ago, the Big Ten teamed up to swim against the USA National Team in Indianapolis a week before the pre-Thanksgiving midseason invites. Last year, the Pac-12 replaced the Big Ten in the College Challenge and swam the meet in mid-October, a less ideal time to put suits on and swim fast.

So if this meet did catch on, would this week be the ideal place to put it? Would October work better? Putting it in the second semester would be too late, so the all-star meet would have to be done in the fall. When is the perfect date for it? Is there one?

National Team still without a meet in the fall: There are not a lot of opportunities for the US National team to race against some solid competition after the international meets in the summer. The World Cups are great, but not a lot of Americans have taken advantage of that circuit. Kelsi DahliaKathleen Baker and other members of the national team took a trip to Italy this fall to compete against some of Europe’s best in short course meters.

But taking away the USA College Challenge left a lot of pro swimmers in the US without a chance to suit up in the fall. For the most part, there are no domestic meets for national team members from August until about December when Winter Nationals roll around.

Perhaps USA Swimming could incorporate an All-Star meet that the fans can look forward to in the fall. The NBA All-Star Game is in the middle of the season, so why can’t swimming have one? Could Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel have a draft for an All-Star meet with the national team like they do in the NBA?

Maybe an All-Star meet could be the subject of another debate someday, but removing the College Challenge removes an opportunity for the National Team to get some racing in with a suit on. The Pro Series is great, but that doesn’t start until January, leaving the fall wide open. Obviously one would have to poll the swimmers to see if they want a meet in the fall, but it almost seems unfair they don’t have the college challenge anymore.

3 Comments

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Superfan

    Con. Only big ten network had rights so majority of country had access to the meet.
    Con. Some Schools got token swimmers in the meet so not really all stars. Should earn a spot on all star team and not everyone gets a trophy approach!
    It bumped more worthy out of spots.

    • avatar
      Andy Ross

      That is a good point about the Big Ten Network that I did not really think of.

  2. avatar
    justAswimdad

    Tip my hat to the two conferences for trying something new and looking to generate some additional enthusiasm for the college sport. On paper it seemed like the meet would be a lot of fun. In practice not so much so. As a fan it really wasn’t as exciting as I thought it might be. I think it was a real strain on the swimmers, some of whom left Sunday evening only to have to travel again Wednesday for meets next weekend that are more important. ACC fans who couldn’t attend but wanted to watch the Saturday session had no option but to sign up for Big Ten plus network for a fee. So the TV coverage that was promised when the meet was announced did not fullfil expectations. It didn’t bother me, but I heard some ACC fans complain that the house announcer had an obvious bias toward the B1G. It was a B1G house, but an all-star meet should try to provide balance regardless. Maybe because B1G won more events it just seemed that way.

    I’m glad they’re going to give it another shot next year and hope they can schedule it to be less strain on the swimmers. I also hope they can make TV coverage available to all as I won’t be making a road trip for the meet again.

Author: Andy Ross

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Andy Ross is the new man on board at Swimming World. He is based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He is a 2017 graduate of Southern Illinois University where he graduated cum laude.

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