Will Arizona State & Regan Smith Decisions Cause Ripple Effect in NCAA Waters

Bob Bowman
Arizona State's Bob Bowman. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

When Arizona State head coach Bob Bowman announced the decision his entire team would redshirt for the upcoming season, it sent shockwaves throughout the United States. In a year that has seen so many major decisions from canceled NCAAs, to postponed Olympics, to canceled fall sports, redshirting an entire team due to the unknown nature of an upcoming swim season seems pretty in-line with what has gone on already this year with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last month, the Ivy League set the precedent that it wasn’t going to participate in any fall sports this coming semester, due to the growing number of cases of COVID and the lack of control that the U.S. has had on the virus. That decision sparked others to follow, while some remained cautious and decided to go forward with condensed schedules.

Arizona State was the first power five school to announce an entire redshirt for one of its winter sports teams, and perhaps that decision could start a dialogue amongst other schools that feel pessimistic that a swim season will happen. Mere days after Arizona State made this decision, Regan Smith, the top ranked recruit in the class of 2020 and the 2019 World Swimmer of the Year by this publication, announced she was going to defer her enrollment to Stanford and stay home in Minnesota to train with coach Mike Parratto in the lead up to what would be her first Olympic Games in Tokyo if she qualifies.

It was a huge blow to Stanford’s shot at a national title this upcoming season, as they were huge favorites to win their fourth straight (after the cancellation of the 2020 championships) had there been a season at all. But with the Pac 12’s Arizona State (the men were seeded to finish top ten at 2020 NCAAs) and top recruit Regan Smith taking this next school year off, will that be a trend other coaches and athletes follow in the coming months?

Incoming freshman Carson Foster, last year’s co-national high school swimmer of the year, has already enrolled in classes at the University of Texas. Georgia’s Luca Urlando, the other co-high school swimmer of the year, was the number one 200 butterflyer in the United States in 2019 as a high school junior. Will Smith’s decision to defer inspire him to do something similar so he can train with coach Billy Doughty in hopes of making his first Olympics?

Virginia’s Alex Walsh and Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon have also emerged as threats to make the Olympic team. Will they re-think the opportunity to stay home and train with their club teams? Perhaps it is too late for incoming freshmen to make that decision, but it may cause some to reassess.

Without Arizona State in the picture, will other Pac-12 schools like 2019 champs Stanford and Cal follow? Before the NCAA Championships were canceled, the ASU men were seeded to get seventh while the women were seeded 16th. Most college teams have been unable to hold organized practices all summer, as swimmers have been training at local club teams wherever they can find sustainable water time.

Colleges are mere weeks away from starting classes. Some schools will be entirely online. Some will close down at Thanksgiving. If students are not required to live on campus, that hinders the future of swimming and diving.

Some schools have already cut the sport this summer, including Division I schools East Carolina, Connecticut and Dartmouth. With a lot of fall sports canned throughout the country, the future of a winter sports season is looking more and more bleak as we inch closer to the start of the fall semester.

So with no guarantee on a swim season, will schools follow Arizona State’s lead and redshirt their entire team? Will that decision cause the NCAA to look at a nation-wide cancellation of the winter season, and thus allow an extra year of eligibility across the board? And with an impending Olympics, will other hopefuls follow Regan Smith’s lead and stay at home an extra year to prepare in a familiar territory


  1. Michael Hollowell

    It likely will. I think young Regan made a very mature decision considering her situation. Stanford will be there in the years to come, the Olympics may not.

  2. avatar
    Eddy Hascall

    College swimming/NCAA needs to take a serious look at shifting the swim season to a January-May schedule (conference champs in April, NCAAs in May). With schools ending the weekend before Thanksgiving and not restarting until mid-January the gap in training mid-season is not ideal. Additionally with some universities cancelling sports until January while others planning to move forward, it seems like an uneven season at best. Use the fall to rebuild a base/general conditioning, team building and adapting to the current situation. Just a thought.

  3. Sarah Smith

    Stanford may not. When she wins medals, gets endorsements, she won’t be allowed to compete at Stanford, or any other college. Right?

    • Michael Hollowell

      She would have to drop her sponsors and denounce her professional status should she choose to go that route. I don’t think she has at this point though. She is just a young woman training with her coach.

  4. Paul Hartigan

    What does Red shirting the team mean. Interested from South Africa