By John Leonard
Saving college swimming programs in the USA should be the top domestic priority of every swimming organization. College swimming provides incentive for young swimmers in YMCA, USA Swimming and High School Swimming to continue their sport. Swimming in college is the “holy grail” for a large percentage of swimmers in the USA. College Swimming is critical to the health of our entire sport domestically.
Anyone paying even a modicum of attention, knows that college programs for both men, and also for women, are being eliminated at a disturbing rate. It is not the intent of this paper to review the history of the problem, but rather, to provide specific actions that should be undertaken immediately to address solutions.
First, Preserving and Protecting A Program from Its Own Campus Base.
Number One. UNDERTAKE AN IMMEDIATE AUDIT and interview, of every Division I Program in the USA. This should be done in person, on site at the university. The audit evaluate at least the following KNOWN PROGRAM PRESERVERS and find out if the program has any additional actions in place which can educate and inform other programs of a positive action.
- 1A. “Do you have a program in place to endow your sport scholarships? If so, what is it, how much is in it, and what are the limitations you have experienced?
- 1B. ” Same question….do you endow your coaching positions? (similar detail)
- 1C. If you are NOT doing an endowment program now, why not? Educate the coach as to methods and means.
- 1D. Do you have a complete or partial alumnI list?
- 1E. Are you in constant communication with your alumnI base? If so, how often, if not, why not?
- 1F. Is your alumnI base active in fund raising for your program? If so, to what extent? If not, educate as to method and means.
- 1G. Is your alumnI base active in providing gifts to the University?
- 1H. Is your alumnI base active in writing letters to the AD and President/Chancellor of the University expressing their pride and pleasure in your program?
- 1I. Is the Head Coach and/or assistant coaches active on campus in visible roles outside of coaching swimming? (educate as to means and methods if not.)
- 1J. Are the AD/President kept abreast of academic achievements of the team?
- 1K. Are current team-members parents active in fund-raising, letter writing; etc.
- 1L. Is the swimming program active with the local Swimming Committee of USA Swimming ? Does the LSC respond with support for the University Swimming program in terms of letters of support, fund/friend raising, and meet hosting?
- 1M. What positive “student-athlete” centered promotion is done to recognize on campus, in the local community and in the LSC, the great role models for NCAA sport that are the swimming athletes of the University. i.e. “student athletes, not thugs.”
- 1N. What is the relationship like between the Head Coach and the Athletic Department?
In each case, the audit explores the key items of gaining and retaining support from within the program, for the program. Where there are gaps, t educate and assist the University coaching staff in learning how to implement additions and solutions.
Number One – Each NCAA D I Coach has a comprehensive audit of P&P for their program. You can’t force the horse to drink, but you have clearly led them to water.
- American Swimming gains a comprehensive look at its D I membership and knows where the strengths and weaknesses are. This is critical when it comes time for triage.
- The support base for collegiate swimming is energized by knowing that action is underway. Publicizing the work being done is important to develop additional energy and additional personnel resources to share the load of this work.
Number Two – Provide templates and “programs in a box” with instructions on how to implement each of the items in A-N (plus others) above. Paint by number simplicity on how to begin an endowment program, for one example.
Number Three – Identify, from known risk factors, the top ten “at risk” programs from its audit, and begin structured efforts to assist those coaches/programs, with the philosophical foundation as follows.
“No one coach owns a swimming program at a University. Coaches are caretakers of the program placed in their trust. They were not the first coach there, nor, hopefully, will they be the last. The swimming program at “X” University should be considered an asset of the entire American Swimming community, in caretaker trust with “Coach Y” temporarily. The dismantling of ANY swimming program is a failure not only of “Coach Y” but of the entire swimming community. Because of this it is NOT ACCEPTABLE for a collegiate coach to say “I’m not interested in all that stuff….all I want to do is coach my team.” It is not “your team.” It’s a critical piece of the infrastructure of swimming in the USA. In some sense, it belongs to all of us.”
Number Four – Assemble, from each University, the alumnI email list and structure a series of communication lists that include:
- Every collegiate swimming alum in the USA.
- Alums by conference
- Alums by gender and decade.
This list then becomes the primary lobby group for all future communications….keep these people fully informed and energized about everything that is going on, and they will be our BEST advocates on each campus.
Number Five – In conjunction with EACH individual University coach, (both genders) should provide quarterly press releases in LOCAL newspapers and Television outlets, highlighting.
“The Good Things” that have happened in that program in that quarter. This involves Creating GOOD NEWS! That is indeed newsworthy. It may be events, it may be humanitarian efforts undertaken by the team, it may be academic and athletic results….but EACH UNIVERSITY SWIMMING program should be assisted by the CSCAA to become its own PR factory…NOT relying solely on the SID of the University.
Second, Actions OFF-CAMPUS to Preserve and Protect.
Number Six – Search out every legislator in the USA at the state or national level, who has any connection to Swimming, as an athlete, as a parent, grandparent; etc. Individual coaches in club, high school and college settings know who these people are. Ask. List, communicate. Put them totally in touch with the effort to save college swimming. And focus on the REAL STUDENT ATHLETE concept….swimmers are the best of the best….and a great contrast to many bad news stories in other sports.
Make these individuals a constant communication target so they are already prepped well when we need their help.
Number Seven – We’re working to create a huge army of supporters for swimming to impress AD’s and Presidents/Chancellors with the amount and quality of support for swimming and its degree of organization.
This makes both entities realize immediately the degree of opposition to cutting a swimming team and the amount of “pain” that will come back to the administration if it attempts to do so. All of this put forward only as SUPPORT for the current enlightenment of the Administration for having a swimming team.
Next step: Visit every LSC in the country and gain their agreement and support for every college program in that LSC. Give the LSC’s specific ways they can demonstrate their support such as:
- Dedicate “X” dollars from each meet run in the LSC to the Endowment fund at each University in the LSC. This can be significant or symbolic. Both are valuable.
- Commit themselves to bring “X” number of athletes to each dual meet of each college team in the LSC. In return, the college athletes and coaches do a meet and greet and a short instructional clinic after or before each meet.
- Hold major meets in University facilities and send significant letters of thanks to the University for allowing them to do so. (yes, even if they pay to use the facilities.)
- Each LSC commits to creating one new Division I program in their LSC.
In return the CSCAA should work to get each University Coach in the LSC to participate in some LSC activities to help provide local leadership.
Number Eight– Regularly (every two months) provide a short piece on the efforts to preserve and protect collegiate swimming, in writing, to every one of its “army,” specifically targeting/
USA Swimming clubs across the country, direct from the USA Swimming Office, and ask the clubs to forward this electronically to every family on their teams. The ultimate health of swimming depends on families who want their children to swim in college. Those families need to know that the sport is at risk, what they can do to help and how to do so easily. This bi-monthly “report” keeps those families in the loop and energized to support the college team in their area.
Number Nine – All donations to endowment programs in any university across the USA should be tracked and PUBLICIZED to the largest possible audience. Donations are DRIVEN by other donations. People want to give to WINNING CAUSES. When alums from University A see that alums from University B have given $300,000 to endow some scholarships, it motivates them to do likewise. Make all this as transparent and celebrated at possible.
Anonymous donations can be noted as such.
Number Ten – Form a “Think Tank” of leading Swimming Alums who meet quarterly and devise new ways to support collegiate swimming programs. Put some of the best professional and business minds in the nation at work for us. Don’t try to do it all ourselves and think of every idea.
Number Eleven – Myles Brand was a strong advocate for NCAA Olympic Sports. We should develop a strong case on why the NCAA should be more than basketball and football and meet with the new leadership at the earliest opportunity to seek their support to do as Myles said he would do….specifically, talk to ANY University Administration before they dropped swimming to present alternative ideas. Further, if Executive Director support is not obvious, work further within the volunteer structure of the NCAA to understand where we have friends and how to activate those friendships to our advantage.
Number Twelve– Sit every Division I swimming coach in the country down and explain that all negative recruiting must cease immediately.
Knocking the other university’s facilities, coaching staff, and program stability simply weakens everyone’s position. Telling recruits you can’t compete without a state of the art 50 meter facility may win you that recruit, but it may also contribute to losing a team in your conference. Extract a pledge from all to restrain themselves and focus all recruiting on the strengths of their own program. This is “used” by AD’s in their rationalizations of why to drop a program – “we can’t compete.”
Number Thirteen– Begin a quarterly newsletter on the Good News stories of collegiate swimming (focusing on Student athlete success, addition of new collegiate programs, great PR generated by a team; etc.) and distribute specifically and directly to every AD and President in the country. Make them aware of the tremendous effort to preserve and protect. Make special note each issue in the growth of number of people who are email accessible and on the “Preserve and Protect” bandwagon. Get that number into the hundreds of thousands as quickly as possible and keep growing and promoting it to AD’s/President’s/ Chancellors.
Highlight Post-Grad success of swimming alums.
Number Fourteen – Ensure that EVERY AD and President, is once a year, inundated by letters/emails of THANKS and APPRECIATION for maintaining and enhancing their swim program.
(Start with the alums, continue to the LSC, and enlist others to do so…direct from the support database that is maintained for each University. AD’s are smart enough to known that if 5,000 expressions of appreciation come in, that if they dropped the sport, they’d have an equal or great number of detractors speaking to everyone about their disappointment. (Chuck Warner – Do a DAY once a year when everyone writes the thank you letter, children; etc. Everyone.)
Number Fifteen- Everything previously discussed with regard to gathering support from USA Swimming, should also be done with the 280,000 high school swimmers in the USA and their coaches (estimated at 20,000). This is a harder target to reach, but it is estimated that fewer than 50,000 of those 280,000 are year-round USA-Swimmers. There are MANY who are not duplicated and their coaches, their parents and themselves can also be interested in supporting collegiate swimming. We must reach out to this community with specific ways to be “registered” as supporters of PP&E.
Number Sixteen – One of the most effective ads in years, is the NCAA ad about “almost all of them will turn pro in something other than sports.” The PP&E coalition needs to craft a centerpiece ad for print or TV, that focuses on the superb human beings that collegiate swimming turns out as Alums…and how valuable they are to the country in later life…..a sort of “here is what our sport produces as leadership for our nation in diverse fields.” Then the CSCAA utilizes the “Think Tank” noted in number eleven, to figure out how to fund placing the ad.
Number Seventeen – Masters Swimming has already volunteered multiple times to assist in Preserve and Protect. Tap into them as a group for expertise, contacts and ideas. This is a large and already “activist” group with an “activist” leader in Rob Butcher.
Once again, be TRANSPARENT AND AGGRESSIVE at reporting all groups and individuals who commit to help and what they will be doing.
Number Eighteen – By my count, there are NINE university presidents who have DIRECT relationships with swimming. (They were swimmers, or have immediate family members who are.) Court these people, get them to write position papers and support the continuation of programs. Three are at schools without existing swim teams. Get them to START ONE. Reverse trends. Ask each of them to take leadership roles within the NCAA to protect our sport. Next, discover AD former relationships with Swimming and do likewise.
Number Nineteen – Coordinate and enhance ALUMNI gatherings at the NCAA Championships of both genders. Enthusiasm for collegiate swimming is never higher and the combination of social and philanthropic opportunities are immense. Make this a “centerpiece” of the PP&E movement and use this opportunity to energize the PP&E ALUMS to actively work and fund-raise for their Universities.
Put on programs that help them understand what others are doing and what they can do. Strengthen the collegiate swimming alumnI community in every possible way during this two week period.
Number Twenty – Do everything possible to educate the public and the parents of current swimmers, that the solution to “permanency” of Olympic Sports is directly tied to funding. Explore all possible means of supporting the financing of Olympic Sport. Approaching this as a public health issue and University Sport as the peak of that pyramid, is one concept to be explored. State legislators must be engaged in this discussion at an early stage.
The above are just 20 ideas. There are many more. Not all will work, not all will work immediately. But if the American Swimming Community does not take the lead on this project soon, we’ll have fewer and fewer programs to build support for….and as collegiate swimming shrinks, it makes it that much easier for any University looking to add more luxury boxes to its football stadium, to cut swimming to do so.
Specific ideas are there. Action is needed.
Only a coalition will succeed at getting this done…of the ASCA, CSCAA, NISCA, USA Swimming, the YMCA, USA Swimming Foundation, ISHOF, Masters Swimming and Many Others.
And if no one commits, where do you predict collegiate swimming will be five years from today?
Thanks for reading.
All the Best, John Leonard?