Commentary: Should Other Conference Meets Follow SEC Swimming and Diving Championships?

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Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

The Division I conference championships kick off this week with the SEC swimming and diving championships batting lead-off hitter on Tuesday night, followed by the ACC and Big Ten women’s meets on Wednesday. The SEC is the only conference meet that stretches across five days and is one of two conferences that has a co-ed meet, with the other being the Big 12.

Since every school in the SEC, with the exception of Florida and Texas A&M, is a co-ed program, the conference is swum with both men’s and women’s teams. To accommodate the large amount of swimmers in the meet, the competition has been stretched across five days, with the meet starting Tuesday night with the 200 medley and 800 free relays as well as the women’s 1m and men’s 3m diving events. The meet is one of the most exciting and exhilarating short course meets in the entire country, with many believing it is more exciting than the NCAA meet because of its atmosphere.

Is this the ideal format for a championship meet? Is it better or worse than having a four day single gender meet? Swimming World weighs the pros & cons of the five-day SEC Swimming and Diving Championships lineup.

Pro: Co-Ed Meet Makes For One Trip and Double the Excitement

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Texas A&M cheering at the 2018 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships. Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

There’s a lot of teams in the NCAA that have the same coaches for men’s and women’s programs. The ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 all have separate conference meets for men and women, which means that those coaching staffs are on the road for two straight weeks for their conference meets. And they have to repeat that process in a month at NCAAs.

It can be an exhausting time to be a coach, but the SEC (sort of) solves that problem by having the conference meet all at once. Of course, dealing with twice the amount of swimmers at one meet can be a negative in itself but the idea of having a co-ed NCAA meet has not been a foreign topic for coaches.

There are advantages to having separate NCAAs for men and women, but from a fan’s perspective, is the co-ed meet the best option for a product?

The SEC has generally been one of the most popular meets that Swimming World covers each year. Not only is that because of big names like Caeleb Dressel and Erika Brown putting up record swims, but because the presence of both the men and women’s teams makes for a crowded deck and an intense atmosphere.

For example, listen to the roar during the men’s 200 medley relay at SECs two years ago.

How could you not swim fast in that environment? As someone who swam in a men’s only meet, it was certainly a rush to swim in front of your brothers, but adding your sisters from the women’s team on deck would only double that excitement. It was what made swimming at the mid-season invite so fun, having your entire team cheering for you in a semi-rest meet.

Having a co-ed makes sense for the SEC because almost all of the schools are combined programs, so it’s easier and more cost efficient to swim everyone in the same meet. Of course that makes for a crowded deck, crowded warm-up pool, and crowded stands. But doesn’t that make it more fun as a spectator?

Con: Emotions Can Be Draining For NCAA

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Auburn celebrate winning the 400 free relay at the 2018 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships. Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

The SEC meet is definitely exciting, but it can almost be too exciting. Very frequently, SEC teams will not get much faster after the conference meet because it can be so draining emotionally. Even if a team is not fully rested for SECs, they often will swim quicker at conference than at NCAAs because they are more emotionally invested in the meet, causing them to swim faster even if they are not fully rested.

It is amazing how much power the brain can have sometimes.

The best example of this would perhaps be Missouri last season. The Tigers finished a historic second place at SECs last season, swimming lights out across the five days. They were seeded to finish ninth at NCAAs last year but they ended up finishing 12th and only one of their relays was able to go faster.

That seems to be a common theme for a lot of SEC teams and the coaches have to prioritize coming down emotionally from a long conference meet in order to swim even faster at NCAAs. It’s a difficult process and it has worked in the past – see Florida men in 2018 and Georgia women in 2016. But it is not all the time. Only an average of about two schools per relay last year improved on their SEC times at NCAAs, compared to nearly four of the Pac-12 schools that dropped from conference to nationals.

Pro: Five Days Spreads Out Many Common Doubles

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Sherridon Dressel will be able to swim the 100 fly and 100 back on separate days with the SEC schedule. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

One of the biggest advantages that the Southeastern Conference has is that the usual Friday schedule is split up among two days. At NCAAs, the 400 IM, 100 fly, 200 free, 100 breast and 100 back are all on that critical Friday, which many call “movement day,” because of how pivotal the sprint stroke events are to the team scores. The 100 fly – 100 back double is a common occurrence at any championship meet, but since the SEC has an extra day, they split up “movement day” across Thursday and Friday.

Thursday will have the 400 IM, 100 fly and 200 free, while Friday will have the 200 fly (moved up from Saturday), the 100 breast and the 100 back. That gives many sprinters a chance to swim both the 100 fly and 100 back without baggage carrying over from either event. A swimmer like Florida senior Sherridon Dressel will thrive in that schedule, because her two best events are the 100 fly and 100 back and she will only have to do one per day, rather than both on the same day.

It will take a lot of convincing to make the NCAA mirror the SEC schedule, but is this the ideal format? Would a longer meet ensure more quality swims? Sherridon’s older brother Caeleb mentioned at the 2018 NCAAs that he wished the NCAA meet would be four full days so he wouldn’t have to do so many swims in such a short period. That would also be solved by having only timed finals for relays at nationals, but that is a conversation for another day.

The SEC swimmers certainly have an advantage in this regard, especially if there is a swimmer in this conference on the bubble to try and qualify for NCAAs in the 100 back or 200 butterfly. In order to really make it fair for everyone in the nation, the NCAA would have to require every conference meet to be the exact same, but that is unlikely to happen. It is certainly an advantage though to be a 100 backstroker or flyer in the Southeastern Conference.

Con: Long Meet Can Cause Major Fatigue By Last Day

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Georgia’s Walker Higgins. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Spreading events out over a long week has its advantages, but it also has its disadvantages. Five straight days of racing at the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships can be extremely taxing on the body, causing some major fatigue by Saturday night. A lot of times, the results in the 200 back, 100 free and 200 breast can be affected because of how tired everyone is. If you can keep your emotions in check, which is challenging enough, then you may be able to hold on to your remaining taper cells on the last day of the meet, but that isn’t always the case.

Preparing for a five-day championship meet is difficult enough, and holding your emotions all the way to the last day is sometimes the hardest part. Especially if you are not fully rested, that final day of SECs can be a killer so it is imperative to really recover after each session ensure you are ready to go the next day. A lot of times coaches will have to remind their athletes after that first Tuesday night session that they still have eight more sessions of the meet, so they need to calm down after day one and realize they still have a long meet ahead of them.

5 comments

  1. avatar
    Superfan

    NO. Every conf should go to NCAA format. Texas AM is not coed. Tenn is only coed by title but not really What about the student part of student athlete? Missing a whole week of school. Big Ten doesn’t allow them to go so early to their conf meet. Good rule

  2. avatar
    Chris

    Part of what makes swimming special and unique is the camaraderie across genders from the very first summer league or age group meet. High school meets are coed, international meets are coed, only NCAA meets divide the genders. Add a day, give the swimmers fewer doubles and more rest between events to be at their best. Do it at NCAAs too, but that would then require it to be at Indianapolis every year for crowd purposes or go to a temporary arena. Maybe the NCAA should buy their own Myrtha OT style pool and pull it out once a year and sell out an 8000 seat arena for combined women’s and men’s NCAAs.

    • avatar
      Andy Ross

      I have also heard arguments that NCAAs should be a month later in April so it doesn’t interfere with basketball March Madness. At a lot of schools like Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana, no matter how well the swim team does, basketball will always take priority by the athletic department. Maybe pushing it back a couple weeks will help the sport grow in TV numbers and attention paid by athletic departments.

  3. avatar
    Anonymous

    MPSF is also coed

  4. avatar
    Chop

    Most swimmers year ends at conference. Why not make that meet larger, longer and more exciting for all involved. A financial savings for parents, officials and institutions. I would think other “big” conferences go this way soon.

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