Could UCLA’s Move to Big Ten Spark Return of Men’s Swimming and Diving Program?

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Photo Courtesy: McKenna Ehrmantraut

Could UCLA’s Move to Big Ten Spark Return of Men’s Swimming and Diving?

With UCLA moving to the Big Ten Conference, the possibility of the Bruins reinstating men’s swimming and diving is as real as it has been since the program was cut. UCLA eliminated the men’s swimming and diving program in 1994, along with men’s and women’s gymnastics, though the women’s gymnastics program was reinstated a few years later.

Could the men’s swimming and diving team could be next? With the Big Ten featuring more schools than not with men’s swim teams, maybe a discussion will take place.

The UCLA program wasn’t cut because of a lack of success in the water. The men’s swimming and diving team had won 41 individual national championships, thanks to standouts such as Brian Goodell, Tom Jager and Mike Burton. The Bruins won the NCAA championship in 1982, one year after a runnerup finish. The men’s program also sent 16 Bruins to the Olympics.

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The move to the Big Ten will add significant revenue that will help all of the Olympic sports.

“If you love Olympic sports, you should be a fan of this move,” UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond told The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “When your program is in significant debt, it’s difficult just to maintain, never mind to invest. This not only preserves the programs now — which was not a given — but also will allow us to invest in them. This move allows us to reimagine what UCLA athletics can be with more strategic investment and resources.”

According to the L.A. Times report, UCLA’s athletic department had run up a $102.8-million deficit the past three years. With the move, it’s conceivable that the Bruins could receive $100 million from the Big Ten per year if the expanded conference can snag the projected $1-billion media rights deal that’s set to begin in 2024.

For swimming, there is so much high school talent in California, it shouldn’t be difficult for the Bruins to put together a competitive program quickly should the team be reinstated.

More than 30 colleges nationwide have shed sports in the last couple of years because of financial issues, especially during the pandemic, including the University of Iowa men’s swimming and diving program.

The benefit of having women’s and men’s sports is huge.

“When we had a men’s team, we were always in the top 10,” UCLA coach Cyndi Gallagher told the Daily Bruin in 2004. “Swimming is a community sport. You swim together growing up and there’s a visibility factor whether you train together or not.”

Two years ago, UCLA was reported by USA Today to have the 25th-most lucrative athletics department — again all schools ahead of it have men’s swimming and diving.

With the right push, the move to the Big Ten could be the first big step for UCLA to bring back men’s swimming.

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