Is It Time For NCAA To Revise Rules On Swimming Disqualifications?

Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona

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Currently the NCAA Championship Rules do not allow for an appeal, peer confirmation, or review process on disqualifications that are classified as “judgement calls”.

Judgement calls are rulings where an official has the authority to disqualify a swimmer or relay for any number of stroke infractions. For instance, a regional official can unilaterally disqualify an elite swimmer for taking an extra dolphin kick in breaststroke off the wall, or a freestyler turning past vertical on one’s back after a turn.

A stroke disqualification is considered a “judgement call” by the NCAA. There is no appeal or confirmation process. This type of disqualification is based only on one person’s visual evidence that can often be impacted by poor visibility due to the rush of turbulent water and pool clarity. More often, the visual lines are complicated by the reflective glare of powerful television lights illuminating each lane.

Given the failings of the human eye, for one official to have supreme influence over a championship performance, based on singular visual evidence, is just wrong.

Case in point. Two disqualifications took place during the 2019 Women’s NCAA DI Swimming and Diving Championships in which unofficial video evidence seems to show that the infractions did not take place. Both of these could have been overturned if there was a dual confirmation or video review process in place by the NCAA.

In Thursday’s 200 IM prelims, Michigan senior Siobhan Haughey, one of the NCAA’s top swimmers, swimming in lane five (middle lane on video), was disqualified for taking a second butterfly kick on the pullout of her breaststroke leg.

Unofficial video seems to show that there was a second butterfly kick during that race, but that was was the swimmer in lane six.

But once the decision was made, there was nothing that could be done to review or possibly overrule the call from the on-deck official.

“About the disqualification, it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I don’t really think it was a fair judgment, but I can’t really control that,” Haughey said. “I know our coaches really tried to argue against it. But it is what it is.”

Haughey’s time would have placed her in the final of the event, but the disqualification took those possible points away from Michigan.

Meanwhile, the other swimmer qualified for the consolation final and won the race, finishing ninth, earning nine points for her team.

The other disqualification was Texas A&M’s 400 medley relay in which the fourth swimmer for the Aggies, Claire Rasmus, was disqualified for a stroke infraction, turning on her back. The Aggies were in lane three (from top of video) of the consolation finals.

USA Swimming and FINA have implemented video reviews and dual confirmation procedures in national meets since 2007 to ensure that any disqualification is verified — and it was pivotal at the 2016 Olympic trials. In the 200 fly, top-seeded Cammile Adams was disqualified for turning on her back. But in this case, officials went right to video review with Adams and her coach David Marsh and the call was overturned. Adams was the top qualifier into the semifinals and eventually made the Olympic team.

“When I saw, obviously a little bit of panic. A lot of panic,” Adams said at the time. “But just really thankful for the systems we have. Got to go back to the head official and just look at the underwater camera. With it being overturned, I’m obviously very thankful.”

According to USA Swimming officials, camera review has been used at every national championship meets since 2007, and have “saved a number of athletes.” According to USA Swimming, a call is made on the deck, it is radioed in to the review room with USA Swimming officials and technicians. They will confirm the call, overturn the call or let it stand if there is not enough video evidence to overturn. They can’t initiate calls. The Pan Pacific Championships have also used the technology since 2010. FINA and the Olympics do not currently use it.

This year, the NCAA has the opportunity to revise its rules to improve on the process for improving the process for confirming disqualification.

“The process begins with an invitation to all coaches and conference commissioners for input for rules changes. That information is compiled into a survey, which has been sent out to the membership and is coming back to us now. Once the survey results are compiled a couple of things happen,” NCAA Swimming and Diving Secretary-Rules Editor Greg Lockard said.

“First, members of the committee present the results to the coaches that attend the CSCAA Convention, for discussion. At the end of May, the Rules Committee meets to review all of the input, and make rules change recommendations. The recommendations are then sent to the coaches and conference commissioners for feedback, and then are sent to PROP (Playing Rules Oversight Panel), which is the ultimate group for the adoption of rules.”

Is it time For NCAA to revise rules on swimming disqualifications?


  1. Tammy Arbogast

    No. There was nothing wrong with the 200im DQ of the UM swimmer. Dolphin kick, arm pull, dolphin kick. The lane 6 swimmer also DQed, but wasn’t called. It shouldn’t matter if they are “a top qualifier”. Cheating is cheating.

    • Andrea McHugh

      Tammy Arbogast the UM swimmer did NO extra dolphin kicks off the wall, the swimmer from Cal did. The wrong swimmer was clearly DQ’d here

    • Tammy Arbogast

      Many congrats to your daughter? Sister? So very happy for her!

    • Andrea McHugh

      Tammy Arbogast thank you, my daughter

    • Andrea McHugh

      Tammy Arbogast we are badger fans as well…lol

    • Tammy Arbogast

      Yes! Looking forward to meeting you sometime next year.

    • avatar
      Jennifer Parks

      I agree, that now that it is possible, DQs should be reviewed, in NCAAs. Thank you for your consideration, ASAP.
      Jennifer Parks, former MSU Women’s Swim Coach

    • avatar

      While it may be appropriate to DQ someone, it’s in appropriate to call it “cheating”. The swimmer made an error.

  2. Dan Ohm

    I think so..if I were an official I would appreciate the back a coach I would like the ability to have a dq reviewed.

  3. Scott Tyacke

    The problem here is 2 fold

    1. It opens Pandora’s box with video replay…where do we stop?…other sports have abused this ‘luxury’

    2. Referees Whether they admit it or not get lulled into this false sense of security “ well I can be lazy because there’s always the video”

    This is a VERY slippery slope

    Athletes make mistakes and don’t get ‘mulligans’. Referees are also imperfect and should be treated the same…IMO

    • Oline Stehr

      NCAA Bball tournament is going on right now and there seems to be no abuse of video replay and it’s used very rarely. Refs are still completely doing their job and able to make calls and not be challenged every time! It would be a very useful tool at such an important meet!!

    • Matt Ponds

      Scott Tyacke These officials are paid to judge meets at that level, unlike club level. It will separate the lazy and the good. Reputations would be in question. It is a slippery slope that could be abused both ways.

      • avatar

        Officials are not paid to officiate those meets in strike and turns positions. Their most important rule that benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer, so they call what they see only. Athletes even the best of them make mistakes and live with them.

    • Jana Ellis Vincent

      An athlete trains with heart and soul for this one moment. A referee makes the mistake of disqualifying the wrong person (per the article) and does not get the chance to have it reviewed. For a swimmer this is devastating. If a swimmer did make the mistake then its on them and they should be called out on it. But this is heartbreaking for the athlete.

      • avatar
        Gary Sanderson

        I am a NCAA and USA Official. At this level of meet you have one turn judge per lane. The judge can only call what is seen in their lane. The turn judge jurisdiction is usually from the last stroke into the wall to the head breaking the surface leaving the wall. The rule in the IM is that the 4th swimmer can do anything except the other 3 previously swam strokes. The freestyle turn the swimmer may leave the wall past vertical to the back, but must be past vertical to the breast prior to any propulsion of the arms or legs.

        Swimmers (Freestyle spend a lot of time on their turns and do leave the wall kicking underwater past vertical to their backs as they turn to their breast before breaking the surface of the water) They have developed kinesthetic memory of this. They practice the freestyle for the IM or MR less. This is where a swimmer mistake can happen. It is unfortunate but the rules are the rules. If you make a mistake and violate a rule and it is seen then it can result in a DQ.

        Now a Judge raises their hand to signal that they have a potential disqualification. The Chef Judge, CJ, comes over and investigates the potential call. The job of the CJ is to then contact the Referee and report their findings and make a recommendation to accept or not accept. Now it is in the Referee hands. Referee has the option to accept or ask more questions. Referee can also choose to not allow the DQ. A coach then has the option to challenge the call with the Referee 1st, who then may ask CJ and Judge more questions about the call. If the coach does not like the result of the challenge he may go to the Meet Referee and it starts over again. If a coach does not ask questions about a call that could cause great changes (unless they saw the DQ event), they should not be a coach. I welcome all coaches to come to me with questions about a call accepted, but come respectfully.

        At a NCAA D1 / USA Swimming Nationals the use of video may be a standard one day, but currently it is not. This is a sport of Humans and they all can make mistakes. Yes an official can make a mistake, but in the same turn the swimmer can make a mistake (not saying cheating, as most swimmers are not that way). Would it not be unfair to another swimmer if that mistake was allowed to pass when a rule was violated.

        When I do any training or working with younger officials, I remind them of the golden rule “the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer”

  4. Thomas Richner

    Absolutely should be allowed to challenge. And blocks should have the top pads set up so relay starts are checked too- no reason someone should be judging that when we have electronic timing that shows for sure whether someone jumped or not. Should be standard equipment.

    • Scott Tyacke

      I love the block idea for relays

      • avatar

        This is already in place! At D2 Nationals every relay that was reviewed was as a result of the block timing device, not an eyes on false start being called. That being said, USA Swimming officials standards are the highest in the land and should become the NCAA standard. Or for these strokes they should be required to pay for and provide one official per lane, they should not be having to watch more than one swimmer.

    • Jim Bowser

      Thomas Richner
      good idea, the time has come for innovation.

    • avatar

      The block system is great. This is only used when there has been a dual confirmed early takeoff by a swimmer. It is not a stand alone judge for relay take offs. So if two officals see it and the system says no then it is dropped. If the officals see it and the system sees it then that is three way confirmation.

  5. Suzanne Maranto Baker

    My daughter has been falsely DQ many times while other swimmers she knows have bragged about not getting DQ’d and laughing about it know they should have. I believe having a camera on all swimmers should be mandatory so a coach and swimmer could legally fight a DQ! Football does replays and can overturn an officials call! Especially with every time drop could be the difference between a National cut and a Junior cut! These swimmers work so hard and every legal swim should be valid and not just based on the eye of an official. This invites fraud onto the pool deck.

  6. Stephanie Erickson Coons

    Absolutely allowed to challenge, if you can review tape and challenge in football, you should be allowed to do it in swimming. One person should not have that much power, especially if they are wrong.

  7. avatar
    M Bway

    Remember, when we train S&T officials, we pound it into their heads that they are to call ONLY what they see, not what that think they see. Any doubt whatsoever goes to the benefit of the swimmers. Meets of this caliber are usually staffed by higher level officials only. Rules are in place for all swimmers at all levels. It’s unfortunate, but if these calls were made, then the judge saw the infraction.

  8. Matt Ponds

    I’m a S/T official on the local club level. We go by the rules of USA Swimming. If I point out an infraction and call it in, the deck referee will come over and confirm or overrule. The benefit of the doubt is given to the swimmer. The DQ can be reversed after the fact. There might be another reason that swimmer was DQ’d than the infraction showed. If you start going by video evidence it will open Pandora’s box. Because they are elite swimmers, that doesn’t mean special treatment.

  9. Miranda Emaus

    Anne Emaus Here’s the answer. You can’t appeal in the NCAA.

  10. Kurt Litchfield

    When someone dedicates their life to a sport where success or failure comes down to one defining moment, where untold hours of work have been done and untold numbers of people have contributed their efforts and insights, the fact that one person in one snap decision can destroy it all is not fair. And before some genius says life isn’t fair, I’d say it should be as fair as we can make it. These athletes sacrifice so much for a dream. We owe them every avenue we can conceive of to keep from crushing that dream. My son has had a couple bad DQ’s, and we all survived, but an Open meet for a 13 year old is a lot different than NCAA’s. Maybe have a process for NCAA’s, and USA swimming meets at the National/Junior National level and above. Just a thought. Rant over!! 🙂

  11. Mike Mcgowan

    Since my swimming years NCAA is always the last to change. Been that way forever.

  12. Drew Wilson

    Absolutely. I was swimming the 200 Breast at a meet in December and I was disqualified for taking more dolphin kicks than allowed, I knew I didn’t take more than was allowed and my coaches watched and saw that I was ok, I ended up going the state cut but low and behold I get DQed and I was pissed

  13. Leslie Cichocki

    Yes all disqualifications should be tested.

  14. Troy Nissen

    I see 2 dolphins from both the navy blue cap and the gold cap on the pulldown video

  15. Michael Groves

    The easy solution to the fly kick on breaststroke pulldown issue is to go back to the rule that says that the fly kick can only be at the end of the arm pulldown. They added the “one fly kick is okay” rule because it was to hard for officials to tell if a swimmer just had a little undulation of the hips caused by the arm pulldown, or if it was a deliberate kick. Before this, there were NO fly kicks allowed. Saying a fly kick at the end of the arm pulldown is okay eliminates this judgement call. Saying that kick can come anytime, even before the arm pulldown opens the door to people taking two kicks. One before, and one right after the arm pulldown. Watch the underwater stuff from the 2016 Olympics. The breaststrokers were VERY careful to keep their legs still at the end of the arm pull if they’d already done a fly kick off the dive. The IM’ers were NOT. A lot of them, Lochte included, were getting away with double kicks. Not surprised this call came on an IM. Clarify the rule to the way it was and you eliminate the problem again. One fly kick and ONLY immediately following the arm pulldown.

    • Tammy Arbogast

      I agree. I think that swimmers may have ordered the kick after initiation of the pull since starting swim. Then they want to take the kick in streamline, and the kick after pull happens due to a long time habit perhaps.

    • avatar
      Pamela Starr

      It should state that it is a full body undulation while pulling out no other movement allowed. I agree with you when they changed the wording everything got messed up. You use the word kick and here we go everyone is actually just doing a kick. If it is not a whole body movement we should not be allowing them to do it.

  16. avatar
    Chris Boudreau

    Every official I have met in the 10+ years of officiating swim meets wants to get the call right for the swimmer. If video helps to make correct calls then the help is welcomed.