University of Colorado Swimming Team Disqualified From ASA Championships; “Inappropriate Behavior” Cited — Updated With Statement from CU

PHOENIX, Arizona, April 22. RECENTLY posted a press release issued by the American Swimming Association announcing the results of their University League's championship meet. The press release failed to mention that the association disqualified the entire University of Colorado's men's and women's swimming team on the final day and expunged all of CU results from the final results.

The ASA, founded in 2003 by current league president Dr. Keith Bell as a for-profit entity that conducts non-USA Swimming sanctioned and non-NCAA sanctioned events, cited "inappropriate behavior" displayed before and during the meet as the reason for the team disqualification.

The Colorado Daily first reported the news Monday that the University of Colorado team was asked to leave the competition before Sunday's finals, according to the story written by Whitney Bryen. As a result, CU lost the chance to win a fifth straight combined team league title, which was awarded to the University of Florida club team. CU officials are considering the option of breaking from the ASA, as well as pondering a course of legal action against the ASA.

The ASA has its own set of rules and regulations allowing for different racing strategies. Two of those strategies include allowing forward standing starts from the blocks in backstroke events and switching the order of swimmers in medley relay events. In addition, breaststrokers and butterflyers can perform flip turns instead of two handed touch turns.

Reports indicate that members of the Colorado team riled the association by sending a letter protesting the backstroke standing start and other rules prior to the championship meet. The Colorado team was threatened with a ban prior to the start of the meet for the letter, but was allowed to compete if they agreed to certain conditions.

As the meet moved into its final day, with some spectators reportedly confused by all the variations and unorthodox league rules, the association disqualified the entire team when CU staff informed the ASA they would not abide by the conditions they initially agreed on before the meet.

Reports indicated that in at least one backstroke race the entire heat started in the water to show support for CU. Reports also indicated that after the meet was rescored, some teams were requested to restage their podium photo shots, but it is unclear if any team complied.

Officials and swimmers from CU were immediately told to not comment on the situation, a decision that was re-stated at a team meeting Wednesday. Shortly after this article was posted, Cheryl Kent, director of recreation services for CU, provided the following statement via email:

"We at CU are very sorry that the CU collegiate sport club swimming and diving team was unable to continue in their bid for another national championship. My heart goes out to our swimmers, coaching staff, families and friends of our program. Our team is looking forward to next year and moving forward."

In extensive interviews with Swimming World, Keith Bell, verified that the issue between his organization and CU began with the student-written letter, and talked about the circumstances that led to CU's expulsion from the meet.

Bell said he spoke with CU coaches before the meet, saying the letter resulted in the ASA revoking the team's entries to the league's national meet in Atlanta. Bell said the coaches asked the ASA to not punish the entire team for the actions of a few athletes, and after consideration, Bell and ASA staff allowed CU to compete in the nationals, with the exception of the three swimmers who were responsible for writing the letter.

"We were really afraid of further damage," Bell said. "They (the CU team) had done irreparable harm to the organization, and we didn't want to give them a forum to further harm the organization or nationals in any way. We worked out a way to (allow them entry into the meet), but in hindsight I wish I hadn't."

Swimming World also learned from Bell of other conditions that the CU staff agreed to in order to compete that included a letter of apology written by CU staff and sent to member teams of the ASA, payment of meet fees, limiting public complaints to Bridger Bell (Keith's son and meet director) at the meet, building a positive atmosphere at the nationals by not disrupting the meet, and conforming to meet rules.

"They assured us of 100 percent compliance," Bell said.

Keith Bell did not attend the meet, but he received regular reports from his son that CU was not complying with any of the conditions they agreed to in Atlanta. The letter of apology, the Bells discovered through discussions with representatives from other teams, was not sincere and the check for meet fees was never sent.

Keith Bell spoke of one other instance that he said he had never heard about in more than 50 years in competitive swimming. "In the 400 IM, two of their swimmers were DQ'd (for unsportsmanlike conduct) for rolling over on their backs on freestyle and waving to everybody," Keith Bell said. "It's as if they were mocking the event. You don't see that kind of thing happening at (USA Swimming) nationals."

CU's announcement of non-compliance with the agreed-upon conditions was enough to warrant immediate removal from the meet, Keith Bell said.

"I didn't want them to continue messing up the meet, and I didn't want them taking spots (in the finals) away from kids who deserved it," Keith Bell said.

Bell said he doesn't plan on reinstating CU into the ASA University League based on their behavior at the meet. A link to the team's website can still be found on the ASA University League website.

Bell realizes the ASA and its University League are far from perfect and understands that members may have issues with how the organization runs its operations. He knows there are other schools that have issues with some of ASA's procedures, but last weekend's incident with CU was the first time he has heard of anyone making their complaints so public.

"There's always someone who wants your organization to be something different," he said. "Even if they are well-intentioned, they want it to be the way they want to run it. I wouldn't have any problem if they wanted to start a separate organization. They have a right to do that, but they don't have a right to interfere with our business."