Don’t Want To Swim NCAA? Plan B: The College Club Swimming Option

College Club Swimming
US Masters Is Now Supporting College Club Swimming

College Club Swimming, which is backed by U.S. Masters Swimming, has been offering more and more athletes the opportunity to continue participating in the sport they love.  In this two-part series, Swimming World explores some personal perspectives from swimmers pursuing their aquatic passion while enjoying a college experience unencumbered by the demands of a varsity athlete.

Shades of fast times at Buckeye High. At the end of March 2019, more than 1,860 swimmers from 119 teams took part in the Finis College Club Swimming National Championship; an event owned and supported by U. S Masters Swimming. In the process, the athletes broke 36 of 46 CCS records. The Georgia Tech Swim Club defended its 2018 crown, placing atop the podium in the women’s and combined race. Host Ohio State finished first among the men and second in the combined standings, while Club Swimming at the University of Virginia placed third.

2019 Nationals Meet Director Michael Cochenour of Ohio State was effusive in his praise for the level of excitement at this year’s championship:

“For some, College Club Swimming may be a backup plan. However, it is Plan A for countless others looking to focus more on academics and future careers in college while still participating in the sport they love. I am confident the increasing interest in CCS and the national championship will elevate this aquatic option for those considering college choices.” – Michael Cochenour

Present At The Creation

University of Pennsylvania’s George Kistler—America’s first college swimming instructor—organized the first intercollegiate meet in the fall of 1897, featuring his Penn swimmers against swimmers from the New York Athletic Club who attended Columbia University. One hundred six years later, Bridger Bell founded the first collegiate club swimming organization. He did so in 2003 as a male NCAA practice partner to the University of Houston’s women’s team.

For the next seven years, he led the group to where it consisted of 68 clubs with seven regional championships and a culminating national meet. His effort marked the first time student-run swim clubs had an organized competition under a national body. He also kept national records. College Club Swimming (CCS), as it is known today, has more than 160 participating member clubs.

After nearly a decade, Bell is back as a vice president of product development for Club Assistant, working to grow and improve the league’s digital infrastructure for U.S. Masters Swimming. His love for the sport remains undiminished. “There is a joy and passion in collegiate club swimming that’s organic and pure,” he says, “because the only motivation for participation is simply the love of swimming.”

A Helping Hand

Dan Wegner, CEO of Club Assistant, is Bell’s partner in crime. His firm provides the software services for collegiate club teams to manage their membership, meet entries, record databases and national championships, all with U.S. Masters Swimming support.

“I am a big proponent of College Club Swimming.” – Dan Wegner

After two years as a Texas scholarship swimmer, Wegner took a year off, transferred to Florida State, sat out a year, finished his eligibility, and found his way to an intramural program. “That program provided friends, workouts and social gatherings. However, I missed the chance to race more than just my teammates. Today, College Club Swimming is the opportunity I wanted in college.”

“Very simply, CCS supports camaraderie, sportsmanship and friendship within the swimming community,” says Wegner. “One goal is to keep swimmers in the water who might not have been able to make a varsity team, yet still love the sport. Swimming in high school is all about the team, forming relationships and learning to be competitive, yet being happy for your teammates who might be faster or just starting the sport.

“CCS offers both competition while fostering relationships with people they might not otherwise meet. Former high school superstars might join CCS as a way to stay in shape or maybe rekindle a drive to compete again or at least practice,” he says.

What Others Say

“There are numerous benefits that come with being a member of College Club Swimming. First and foremost, the organization provides opportunities for swimmers of all levels to create a community on campus. I know from personal experience that Club Swimming at Ohio State has become my family here on campus, and I have made my closest friends through this club. CCS also allows clubs the freedom to govern themselves in ways that best serve the clubs. I am on the CCS advisory board, have attended the annual CCS summit and have been privileged to observe different practices by other clubs around the nation.

“Clubs affiliated with CCS typically give their swimmers the freedom to choose how they practice and compete. For example, Club Swimming at Ohio State has 150 active members with other academic and extracurricular obligations. For this reason, all practices and meets are completely optional. Students even find time to swim or lift on their own outside of our practice time.

“CCS-affiliated clubs have the option to purchase a bridge membership that allows an easy transition into U.S. Masters Swimming. The CCS partnership with FINIS allows for individual and team outfitting discounts. Among other things, the USMS backing also gives members the ability to track their times throughout the season and easily see information on upcoming meets.

“One of the biggest benefits is the opportunity to travel and compete in meets across the nation. This past year, we conducted inaugural championships in the Southern and Eastern regions. Qualifying times were not required, and the meets served as a great stepping stone toward the national championship.

“Since CCS serves as a national governing body, its existence has removed a barrier that occasionally prevented students at certain colleges from forming a club swim team. The CCS advisory board grants its clubs autonomy in how they govern themselves and stands ready to assist. One current initiative focuses on fostering growth in the Western region in attempt to help these become more familiar with our services in hopes of interesting them in national championship participation.”Michael Cochenour (Ohio State University and 2019 National Championship Director)

“Prior to becoming the president, I was a regular athlete on the club for a semester-and-a-half. Each of my swimmers has his/her own personal stories for choosing college club swimming. I decided against swimming NCAA because of a surgically-repaired injury and had been swimming and coaching for seven-plus years and did not want to retire from the sport quite yet. I actually chose my college because of the club swim program. Other swimmers chose it because they did not want to lose the sport and felt incomplete without it.

“Just because one chooses to focus on a degree or doesn’t want the time commitment of a varsity team doesn’t mean they should lose the chance to swim. We have College Club Swimming as our league affiliate with a registration fee that is dependent on club size. The fee for up to 25 members is $250; 25 to 50 members raises it to $500. In addition, there are equipment, meet entry, travel and other expenses.

“Attracting swimmers is not a problem. We started with six athletes and now have 25. Our program is only three years old, so we are still growing. Organizing common practice times is difficult. We function mainly through Google. Swimmers sign up for meets, generally two home, two away and nationals. The nationals location can be a burden for a school in the South. This year, flying to Ohio was a major expense.

“Our swimmers pay a one-time charge of $150 for the entire season. This gets them a team suit, shirt, cap, Speedo bag with our logo on it, meet entries and travel accommodations. We also make money-hosting meets. Getting teams to these meets can be a challenge. Fewer teams means less revenue. The monetary struggles are real, but we do it for fun. Our swimmers enjoy the meets and team outings, which we promote as a competitive, fun resource for students to team build and enjoy the sport.”Olivia Williams (Club president at Nova Southeastern University, Davie, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale)

“Before Rutgers, I swam for 12 years on a club team, coached summer league for three years and captained my high school team. I was hesitant to join in college because growing up, swimming was pretty intense and competitive.

“College Club Swimming remains competitive, but I swam four years with Rutgers because of the team opportunities. The people I met were fun to be around, eventually becoming like a second family that gave me many memories traveling to meets. I felt less pressure because everyone was there for the same purpose—to continue doing something they once enjoyed.

 “Independently, I was able to set goals because I was motivated to qualify for regionals and the national meet. Swimming in college also allowed me to grow as a student. Going from just member to a leadership role allowed me to see how we can grow as a team, encourage members to keep returning and put changes into effect.

 “The Rutgers club team began in 2009, but barriers to participation are complicated by our five campuses, an unreliable transportation system, late-night practices and the pressures of studies. We try to go to nearby pools for weekend meets, but given travel, meet and meal times, swimmers can be gone an entire day. Also, when I talk to prospective members, they will bring up how ‘slow’ they are. I have to constantly remind them that no matter the skill level, everyone is welcome!”Patricia Kolesa (Club president at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, N.J.)

A swimmer since age 4, I was hoping to swim in college. As a master’s student involved in an intensive thesis track with classes and research, I found it hard to find the time to work out and stay in shape. However, club swimming practices at night worked perfectly without the hassle of what the NCAA represents.

“Being able to practice regularly, compete in meets and be a part of an amazing team led me to become head coach. Watching other swimmers better their technique and see them improve through practices and meets has become my aim. I’m very happy and proud of being part of this team.”Yvain Desplat (Nova Southeastern University student and coach)

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach whose Collegiate School (Richmond, Va.) teams won nine state high school championships. A member of that school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, he is also a recipient of NISCA’s Outstanding Service Award. This article first appeared in the June issue of Swimming World Magazine as the first of two parts. Part two will also be reprinted on in July.



  1. avatar
    Joe Hillstrom

    I HAVE BEEN A MEMBER OF THE AMAKHOSI MASTERS SWIMMING CLUB -SOUTH AFRICA for the last36 years . I like your Idea and would like TO start something similar here in South AFRICA.

  2. Anne Emaus

    It’s been a god send for my PhD candidate daughter