Why Does It Matter To Club Swimmers and Coaches?
At the present moment, one of the most serious threats to the sport of swimming and its long term future, is the continual chipping away at the number of collegiate programs for men and for women, that has been going on now for close to two decades.
College is about the best and the brightest. We all preach to our children, “You need to go to college to have a good future.” We all want our children to attend the best college/university that they can qualify for, and that we can afford. Middle class Americans see education and specifically a college education, as the key that opens the door to a financially secure future, an educated mate, and continued experiences in the middle and upper class economics of the USA.
In Short, Its Important.
College swimming, like a life in the social world of the college, or the academic excellence of the university selected, is one of the opportunities that are considered when a family starts looking for the “right” college experience for their child.
Parents and swimmers alike view the college swimming experience as the “peak of the pyramid” of swimming for most of them. As the NCAA ads state so clearly, “most of them will go pro in something other than sports.” Most parents and many athletes love the idea of swimming in college because it provides the same benefits of “belonging” that existed earlier in their swimming life.
What motivates the athlete during their high school years? For many of them, it’s the allure of the “team orientation” of the high school swim team. It’s a home away from home, a family outside of your own family. “A gang” with socially positive motives and actions. It’s belonging to something larger than yourself, and committing to it. As in all later phases of life, the “belonging to a group” impetus is powerful, meaningful and lends context to the life of the young student-athlete.
Continuing to challenge yourself and achieve more certainly is a motivator, as well as the omni-present “be with my friends.” Without a doubt, there are multiple motivating factors in the ordinary high schooler’s life.
In the 2008-2009 academic year, 130,182 boys and 158,878 girls swam in high school. Assuming that 20% of those are seniors, we have 26,036 boys and 31,775 senior girls. Further assuming that 30% of the graduating seniors would like to swim in college if the circumstances were “right” for them. We have a potential senior swimming class of 7,810 boys and 9,533 females. So hypothetically, 17,343 young men and women were looking for a place to swim in 2008-2009. (Statistics taken from the National Federation of High Schools participation report.)
Further, analyzing data from the NCAA Participation Reports, we see the following at the NCAA Level, for the same year; 139 Division I Teams had a total of 3,822 slots available for men. In Divisions II and III, 206 teams had a total of 5,055 slots available to swim for men. In total, 8,877 male slots available to those who want to swim in college. Making the assumption that 30% of those slots are available to Freshmen, we have an opening of 2663 places for males on NCAA Swim Teams. (versus 7,810 males who might like to swim. Thus, only 34% of the males who want to swim in college, can do so.)
On the female side, 194 Division I Teams had a total of 5,296 slots, and at Divisions II and III, 316 teams had a total of 6,320 slots for women, for a total college swimming opportunity of 11,616 for the ladies. Again making the assumption of 30% of those slots available to women, 3,485 slots are open to female freshmen. (Versus 9,533 females presumed interested in competing in college. Thus, only 37% of the females can be accommodated in NCAA programs in 08-09.)
IT GETS WORSE. WHEN YOU USE THE SAME ASSUMPTIONS AND LOOK BACK 19 YEARS TO THE ACADEMIC YEAR OF 1990-91, we find that 42% of the males could be accommodated, and 45% of the females could be accommodated.
In 19 years, we have LOST 8% of male opportunities to swim in college and lost 8% of female opportunities to swim in college.
Don’t be fooled by NCAA statistics that indicate number of swim teams rising in collegiate swimming. That by itself is true, but relative to the increasing swimming population at the High School and USA Swimming level, we are clearly losing significant % of opportunity for athletes to continue seeking personal excellence in college.