NCAA Sports

College Sports Leaders Raise Questions About Upcoming NCAA Championships

A pair of recent reports have raised the doubt among college swimming & diving coaches not of just the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships happening this spring, but those of other sports as well, specifically the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament. 

On Friday, the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) released its January Newsletter, bringing into question the likelihood of the Swimming & Diving Championships taking place. A day later, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports discussed the anxiety that Division 1 athletic directors and conference commissioners are facing with this year’s basketball tournament – which could wind up spilling over into other sports.

In the CSCAA newsletter, Executive Director Greg Earhart takes a realistic view of the current COVID-19 situation and how it pertains to collegiate swimming. Earhart references a CSCAA  town hall held back in October where 75% of coaches surveyed gave a less than 50% chance of the NCAA Championships happening. With the number of cases continuing to rise, Earhart calls out the approach of some college coaches, saying:

I’m struck, no – appalled at the lengths some are going to to get their kids’ (or their own) hopes up for qualifying for a meet that may or may not happen.

Teams are traditionally prepping for the college swimming championship season as the calendar turns to February. At this point of the season, less than 25% of college teams (across all divisions) have held a bone-fide meet. 

With swimmers needing to earn cuts for an NCAA meet, particularly in a championship setting, Earhart raises a good point in regard to the viability of the NCAA Championships happening in a safe manner. He goes on to say that coaches need to be prepping their athletes, particularly seniors, for any kind of end-of-year meet whether it is a conference meet or a virtual meet.

Earhart’s viewpoint is influenced by the fact that he is one of the many people who have been personally affected by the coronavirus as his mother died from complications of COVID-19 last year. 

College commissioners are also worried about the increase of COVID-19 rates affecting the basketball season. Norlander reports about a potential mid-season pause for college basketball. There are three factors that are generating the unease of administrators: 

  • Possible new federal coronavirus restrictions
  • Lack of access to vaccines
  • Students returning to campus

Commissioners are keeping a keen eye on the situation and how the NCAA will respond. February is the key month for basketball as teams and leagues will be running out of time to reschedule games and they will be canceled instead. Bernadette McGlade, A-10 commissioner, points out that a stoppage might not come from the NCAA but from other decisions that are out of the NCAA’s control.

This past week has seen two Division 1 schools pause their athletic programs. On Saturday, both Michigan and Vermont made the decision to temporarily suspend all athletic activity. Michigan has seen five cases of the new B.1.1.17 COVID-19 variant and is putting athletics on hold for up to 14 days. Vermont has decided to pause all on-campus athletic activity until February 4 due to a rise of positive coronavirus tests within the athletic program. These moves from Michigan and Vermont will maintain the anxiety levels of athletic administrators about the current coronavirus situation.

The NCAA Basketball Tournament generates significant revenue for the NCAA and they will do everything they can to ensure that the tournament is played, even if that means pushing it back to April or May.

It is in the best interest of not just swimmers, but all NCAA athletes & coaches that the NCAA Basketball Tournament takes place. The money generated from the tournament helps to fund events such as the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. Another year without the NCAA Basketball Tournament and we could see even more collegiate athletic programs on the chopping block.

SwimSwam has spoken to many college coaches, who have mixed views on whether or not the NCAA Championships can happen safely. Some are confident that they will definitely happen, while others have expressed doubts similar to Earhart.

The NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships are scheduled as follows:

  • Division 1 Women — March 17-20, 2021 (Greensboro, NC)
  • Division 1 Men — March 24-27, 2021 (Greensboro, NC)
  • Division 2 Men & Women  — March 17-20, 2021 (Birmingham, AL)
  • Division 3 Men & Women — March 17-20, 2021 (Federal Way, WA)

The New York Times reports that as of Saturday, the United States has hit 25 million coronavirus cases resulting in over 414,000 deaths. Vaccinations in the US began on December 14 and since then 22.4 million shots have been administered.

Earhart’s full letter is below.

During one of our town halls, we surveyed coaches about their confidence of a national championship happening.  Back then, nearly three-quarters of you said you felt there was less than a 50% chance that they could be pulled off. Having known this then, and seeing both the rise of case counts since, I’m struck, no – appalled at the lengths some are going to to get their kids’ (or their own) hopes up for qualifying for a meet that may or may not happen.

Seriously though, with fewer than a quarter of teams having had a bona-fide meet thus far, is a championship this year even legitimate?  Whether it is or isn’t might depend on your perspective, your politics, or your contract’s bonus structure. I get that. If my Brewers had won the World Series, I’d consider it as legitimate as any season, but if the Cubs had, well, then it’s tainted.

What I do know is that the symptomatic spread of this virus is real and deadly. I’ve never won a national title but I lost my mom to the coronavirus. I also know that I would feel guilty if I advocated bringing hundreds of people together just to crown a national champion knowing that it means another member of our community has to say goodbye to a loved one over an iPad.

At this point, I’m convinced that this year’s most important meet is Senior day.  It might be at a conference meet, might be against your biggest rival or might even be virtual. Some kids might swim fast, others not at all. As I’ve been unpacking a lifetime of things stored in my mother’s basement, I can tell you, the notes – especially from parents thanking me for looking after their sons and daughters – mean more to me than any medals or coach-of-the-year plaque.

Stay safe,

GE

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