How Adding a Draft Would Boost International Swimming League

International Swimming League ISL

How Adding a Draft Would Boost International Swimming League

From football to hockey, hearing your name on draft night is something that every young athlete dreams of, and for good reason. Sitting in a giant arena dressed to the nines, surrounded by your closest friends and family, waiting for the commissioner to announce your name is a huge event in an athlete’s life, to the point that many who are lucky enough to get picked are brought to tears by the ensuing surge of emotions. As the International Swimming League gains more and more traction, having now finished its sophomore season, the question shouldn’t be if it will ever hold a televised draft. It should be when.

How it Works

Currently, the ISL teams sign members in a fashion similar to how many other professional sports teams sign athletes. They make a base salary of $15,000 per season and then can earn reward money based on their performance, which is where the real dough comes in – $300 per point scored each round, and $1,000 for each point scored in the final. Similarly, other sports offer an incentive clause where a player can earn additional money by achieving certain benchmarks. For instance, a pitcher in the MLB can earn additional money by reaching a certain amount of innings pitched or games won.

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Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

The topic of money itself opens a lot of doors, a lot more than can be explored in this article. If teams were opened to being purchased by independent figures, imagine the waves that could be caused (no pun intended) by millions of people around the United States getting a notification by ESPN saying something like “Caeleb Dressel signs 5-year, $80 million contract extension with Cali Condors.” As swimming becomes a more lucrative business due to the rising popularity of the TYR Swim Series, and swimming careers extend in length, this could become a possibility. You could even have fantasy swimming. (I don’t see this working if I’m being honest but it would be a fun experiment).

Merchandising

 It’s pretty common knowledge that all professional sports leagues have some sort of garb ready for athletes that get selected. Even during a pandemic, they find a way to make players feel as though they’re already a member of the organization. Take, for example, the NBA. In the past, players were often given a team hat (usually one made specifically for the draft) and usually presented with a jersey with their last name on it upon reaching the stage. Because the 2020 Draft was done over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic, every top prospect was provided with an in-home locker containing an official draft hat along with gifts such as Beats headphones, an Oculus 2 headset, and a personalized Spalding basketball.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that an ISL draft would have something for each swimmer drafted, although it likely wouldn’t be something conventional. The ISL Draft would be unique in that it would feature both men and women being drafted, and if you’ve ever accidentally stumbled upon the criminally underpublicized WNBA Draft on ESPN while channel surfing you’ve seen that unlike other sports leagues (this changed in 2020 like most other things as the draft was not in person), each player is presented with a jersey rather than a hat. Because the ISL itself is unconventional, I could see any of the following things being presented on draft night:

  •  A framed cap: yes, framed. Worst case scenario, the ISL folds within the next 10 years, and the framed cap becomes a relic of a bygone era. Best case, it rises to become the next great sports league and the framed cap winds up on a wall somewhere. Most draft jerseys wind up framed and hung on a wall in an office, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the same would happen with the cap. You also have to consider the draft photo itself-I know from experience that unless you’re also wearing goggles and a suit, a cap just looks dorky and I feel like someone who spent a good hour or two getting their hair done probably won’t want to risk ruining it just to put a cap on for a minute.
  • A swim parka: this would be the equivalent of an MLB player putting on a jersey after getting drafted. You wouldn’t need a name, just the team logo on the back, and the somewhat bulky nature of the parka means that it wouldn’t look too ridiculous being put on over a suit jacket. The only downside is that it would probably be a little warm to say the least, but when you’re wearing a giant fuzzy jacket that looks like a cape over a suit/dress it’s hard to not look cool.
  • A team jacket: if I’m, 100% honest, this would be a better choice than a parka. They look super nice, and the bulky suit jackets that I have in my mind are moreso a relic of a bygone era (and by a bygone era, I mean whatever the 2004 NBA Draft Class was wearing). Something such as what Kyler Murray wore to go first overall at the 2019 NFL Draft probably wouldn’t be terrible as long as you ignore that annoying feeling of your sleeves bunching up when you put a jacket on. Do you think it’s annoying putting a hoodie on over a long sleeve shirt? Try putting on a warmup jacket over a dress shirt AND a suit jacket.

All of these could theoretically be made available for purchase. The shop for my hometown team, the D.C. Trident, has several items for sale, including practice suits and some very cool looking hoodies. The parka might be a little difficult, but you could definitely put a cool special edition draft cap and a draft jacket on there.

Publicity

Adam Peaty sets world record 100 breaststroke ISL final Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS

Currently, swimming is aired on a few different networks: NBC and the Olympic Channel for most international championship meets along with the long course national championships in late July, CBS Sports and CBS Television for the ISL (I found this out by accident during that weird period on a fall Saturday afternoon when every college football game on is at halftime), and ACC/SEC/NCAA Championships on ESPN. I would aim for a theoretical ISL Draft to be shown on CBS. I would say ESPN, but the timeframe (after NCAAs but before the ISL season starts) during which the draft could be held is so jam-packed with content that unless you were to hold it within the 13 days between NCAAs and the beginning of the NBA Playoffs (if we go off of 2019 due to the total crapshoot that was 2020, the NCAA championships ended on March 31 and the NBA Playoffs began on April 13), it would be hard to find a time slot between the playoffs, weeknight MLB games, and college baseball/softball. I’m all for taking out one of the five or so Red Sox-Yankees games on ESPN in favor of an ISL Draft, but it really does come down to money.

CBS would be the ideal channel for many reasons.  For one, it’s the main channel for the league itself, so it makes sense. Putting it on a night early in the week also makes sense; the other major drafts are on weeknights, and The Masters is later in the week. If it follows the usual schedule of the tournament and begins on a Thursday, what better idea than to hold the draft on a Wednesday night and get five days of nonstop action? The only better idea that I can think of is holding it as part of the Golden Goggle Awards.

Promoting it is another fun challenge. Anybody who’s ever watched a professional sports telecast on a major network can relate to having a banner come up announcing the next season of Insert crime show here while the main cast glares at you like you’re the one who just got arrested for kidnapping an A-list actress. Imagine watching said show when a banner pops up with Regan Smith and Kieran Smith announcing the inaugural ISL Draft. I don’t know about you, but I would probably notice.

How A (Theoretical) Draft Could Work

This is where the fun stuff starts. I would see the inaugural ISL Draft as functioning similar to an expansion draft. The most recent expansion draft took place in 2018 with the introduction of the Vegas Golden Knights to the NHL, so we’ll go off of that for a rough outline.  A major component of the draft was that of protected players, wherein teams could either protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or one goaltender and eight skaters regardless of position. For a swimming draft, I could see teams being allowed to protect three to four swimmers in each stroke, or three for each stroke and three depending on what type of race they specialize in (sprint, middle distance, distance, and individual medley). As unprotected swimmers begin to have to compete with not only college athletes looking to turn professional but also people from other countries, this could greatly increase the degree of competition not only in professional events but also in collegiate events.

The draft would also be unique in that unlike other leagues (this could change in the future thanks to the efforts of athletes such as Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller), an International Swimming League Draft would involve both men and women. This, along with a limited number of protected swimmers per team, would very likely lead to more intense and competitive meets. This could, on the contrary, also lead to people going pro before they graduate. Having a great freshman year and the plateauing is, as much as we wish it wasn’t a thing, unfortunately common. One-and-dones probably won’t be the problem that they are in college basketball (*ahem, Duke and Kentucky*), but it might be good to instill a rule similar to college baseball that requires you to complete three years of eligibility unless you turn 21 before you start your third year – the Michael Phelps rule, in honor of the most famous swimmer to turn pro rather than go to school. Have a great freshman season? Great, keep up the good work. With each roster having 32 athletes and the league having 10 teams,  we can reasonably estimate that each team will protect around eight people.

Make Your Pick

In conclusion (this is going to sound like the last paragraph of a high school persuasive essay, so bear with me), we’ve seen ample reason for the International Swim League to hold a televised draft. You’ve got CBS, known for presenting some of the greatest events in sports -the Super Bowl, the Iron Bowl, Army vs Navy, the Masters, March Madness (the first two days are on par with Christmas Eve/Day as the greatest of the year, end of discussion), and last but certainly not least, the International Swim League. Sure, ESPN is the de facto sports network, but 90% of their content revolves around the NFL and whatever LeBron had for breakfast that morning and that DOES get old after a while.

The International Swimming League would also benefit from increasing the variety of merchandise available. Sure, you can’t sell an official draft hat, but what about an official draft jacket? You can’t really do jerseys, so why not hoodies with last names on the back? With a greater variety of things to choose from, they might spend more time browsing, and be more likely to buy something, even if it’s small like a laptop sticker or a phone case. The Tokyo Frog Kings already have an incredibly cool name and logo; if they put out a hoodie giving a retro ‘90s vibe to the logo I might be quicker to buy that than I would a reboot of the NCAA Football series. If the ISL wants to gain publicity, one of the better ways to do that is by holding a draft, and what better way to do gain publicity for the draft than by making the draft gear available for purchase?

ISL… You’re on the clock.

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