Archive for March, 2007

The NCAA Should(n’t) Change From Yards To Meters

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

By Jane

I hate conversion formulae. I really hate them. Not because I think they don’t work (although converting times from long course meters to short course yards seems like more than a mathematical task). I don’t like them because I know a lot of people put no merit in them whatsoever. I remember not being able to submit my best times for certain meets because they’d been swum in a fifty-meter pool, not a twenty-five meter one. I also vividly recall being scolded for entering a meet with a “converted” time; one year later, the coach who told me off for this entered one of his swimmers in a meet with a “converted” time that was a good three seconds faster than she’d ever swum.

However, I digress. My original motivation to write this post was to ponder whether the NCAA (America’s university sports association, for our foreign readers) should change its competition format from twenty-five yard pools to twenty-five meter pools.

I am not going to advocate fifty-meter pools for American college swimming because only a small percentage of this country’s bazillion universities have long course pools, and of the rest, only a few could afford to build a new one. In the spirit of open discussion, I’ve dreamed up reasons on both sides of the argument. Just to clarify, twenty-five yards is only a small distance shorter than twenty-five meters. The difference in time between a 200 short course meter swim and a 200 yard swim is roughly fifteen seconds. For example, my best 200 short course meter breaststroke time was 2:30.92. My best 200 yard breaststroke was 2:14.92. Sixteen seconds, to the one-hundredth point. I’ve always been one for precision!

The NCAA should change to using twenty-five meter pools.

  1. That strange place called The Rest Of The World stopped using yards for all sporting competitions years ago. I’m willing to bet they abandoned yards before I was born.
  2. In 2000 and 2004, the NCAA swimming championships were conducted in short-course meters. The swims were insanely fast. Changing to meters for all meets would validate the NCAA system in the eyes of the world, some of whom don’t see the point in even reporting NCAA competition.
  3. As previously mentioned, converting times from yards to long course meters seems to be a little more of an art than a science. Half the number of turns and a different distance? Surely more than an equation can make up for all the variables here.
  4. The change would undoubtedly attract more foreign athletes. Those who dislike the presence of foreign swimmers wouldn’t consider this a positive point, but I believe the U.S.’s contingent of foreign swimmers is one reason why this country’s athletes do so well on an international scale. They’ve swum with their foreign competition; when they arrive at international meets, they aren’t surprised or unaware of the strengths and tactics of their competition. They raced that competition in a dual meet against Auburn last month.

The NCAA should not change to using twenty-five meter pools.

  1. The NCAA does not have to answer to international associations and commentators who downplay its quality or importance. A system that helped produce Kara Lynn Joyce, Janet Evans, Ryan Lochte, Jo Fargus, etc has nothing to prove.
  2. Many schools have one twenty-five yard pool at their disposal. Lengthening the pools and/or building new ones would cost a huge amount of money and most schools aren’t willing to spend that kind of money on their swim teams. Only a small percentage of competitions would actually take place in meters pools. That is, things wouldn’t change much.
  3. All the NCAA’s swimming records would be rendered obsolete. Athletes and programs worked very hard to achieve these records. To see their quality and importance fade into the realms of history would be disappointing.
  4. The change would hand a huge advantage to schools that have access to meters pools. As it stands, those schools are the heavy-weights already, such as Auburn, Stanford, Georgia and California.
  5. Many schools take advantage of the fact that their local long-course pools are twenty-five yards across (Auburn, Minnesota, Georgia, etc). Changing to a strict diet of meters competition would result in these aquatic centers’ pools losing some of their value. Very few American pools are twenty-five meters across.

In 2004, the Pacific 10 Conference, in which I was competing, considered using a twenty-five meter course for our annual championships. I would have like the opportunity to race meters, but it did not end up happening. I’m interested to hear others’ opinions on this subject. I assume that the NCAA champs will take place in a twenty-five meter pool again in 2008, as it will be an Olympic year. Should the format of college swimming in American begin migrating from yards to meters?

The "Official" Story

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Our previous post about officials sparked some interesting discussion in the comment thread. We thought two contributions from people deeply involved in the “official” world were particularly interesting. In case you missed them, we have copied them here. They’re still available in the previous post’s comments also.

Joe DiPietro said

Thank you on behalf of Jay and Beth for your complimentary post. I’ve worked with both on the deck many times over the years and feel I can speak for them on this issue. In fact, I would have been working this JO’s in Coral Springs except that I was out at NCAA Division III’s in Houston – as a partisan spectator.

It’s always difficult when an official feels it is necessary to DQ a swimmer, particularly one of Rhi’s caliber at a championship meet. We don’t delude ourselves that such a DQ is useful learning experience. It is what it is, a call made to enforce this rules, serving no beneficial purpose for the swimmer involved.

I know that part of the difficulty in this case was the fact the USA Swimming rules differ from FINA rules on the matter of notification. FINA absolutely requires notification while USA Swimming requires “reasonable efforts”. What is considered reasonable depends on what is happening at the meet itself and is defined by the meet referee, not the coaches nor the swimmers.

In this particular instance, I happen to know that there was a problem at the other pool which might have resulted in a number of swimmers missing their heats. Beth’s choice was to deal with issue immediately to prevent that problem.

As officials, we represent all the swimmers and the integrity of the sport. Our first job is to enforce the rules; but, to always strive to find a way within those rules to let each swimmer swim. Sometimes. we can not find a way to do that.

When that happens, the swimmer frequently disagrees with our action. Even when the swimmer acknowledges the rightness of the call, we expect the coach to strongly advocate for the swimmer – to be a pain. As referees, we expect and accept it – sometimes with gritted teeth behind our smile. Still, we do our best to deal with the situation with good grace because our second job, maybe our toughest job, at a swim meet is to keep it all sane.

Part of that is “no feuds”. A call was made. The coach tried to get it overturned via the “legalistic” approach. In the heat of the moment, he took personal issue with the process to the point of escalating his complaint about an official’s conduct to another level of the hierarchy. He was politley told, “no dice”, while being informed of an alternate avenue to protest to the call. For a good official, that’s the end of the story.

The next swim, the next call, the next interaction on the deck are completely new and must be dealt with on their own merits. Beth is as good as a referee as there is, when it comes to “no feuds”. Having a fine and peppery sense of humor, I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed your commentary.

Jay Thomas said

You know the Internet is an interesting place. I have been reading David’s blog for some time and I have a pretty good feeling for its tone.

David and I have exchanged emails on the situation since last weekend and I feel we both have a good understanding of each others position. He was being an emotional advocate for his swimmer…digging as deep as he could into his Barney Bag trying as hard as he could to try and get his swimmer off from a technical rules violation……and we (officials) were doing what we could to be fair to all involved. That’s all in a weekends duty as an official. That David aired it out in a public forum is a little different…but no big deal.

I have a life outside of swimming. The weekend of this meet, I was with my younger daughter out in Colorado at one of her volleyball tournaments. Wow…a weekend away from swimming….what a concept!

I asked Beth to serve as the Meet Referee for this meet. She is a top notch official and I really trust her sound decision making abilities.

I received a call from Beth while I was out in Colorado to inform me that I would probably be hearing from David regarding this situation. When I went back to my hotel between volleyball sessions, I received the email in question from David. I responded just as David published in the blog….Beth was the Referee…and yes I am the Official’s Committee Chair…but that does not mean I am the one to run to every time a coach or official does not agree with a call. I have to trust the people I put in place…we trained Beth well and she did a great job. It is unfortunate that Rhi did not get notified of the disqualification. But not getting notified is not grounds for overturning the call.

One of the main reasons for the notification is so that swimmers/coaches have the opportunity to dispute the call via a protest to the Referee. There is a 30 minute window where protest of the technical rule are permitted. If there is no notification of a disqualification, how could one dispute the call? The remedy for not being notified is not overturning the call, but rather to allow the swimmer/coach to dispute the call via protest outside of the normal 30 minute window.

The protest would be the coaches assertion that the official mis-applied the rule or did not make a proper observation (looked at the wrong lane or something like that.) That is a protest of the technical rule…the protest is made to the Referee and the Referees decision is final (as per rule)

I think that David also could have challenged Beth’s decision not to overturn the call based on lack of notification. Since that was a decision of the Referee, I think that could have gone to a Meet Jury. I am fairly confident that they would have upheld the Referee’s decision. This is what I was suggesting to David in my email response.

I go pretty far back in Rhi’s swimming career. I have known her since she was a little one. I remember her mom making sure I scored her high point correctly when she was a young age grouper swimming open events. I remember her making her first Junior National cut. I remember hearing her say “I am going to make my trials cut today and then go to trials this summer” with confidence…and then go out and do it. I remember Nationals in Fort Lauderdale….nice 200 Free! I remember the nose ring at the Woodson at Pine Crest. I remember having a discussion with one of her previous coaches about the fine line that we have to dance when dealing with her as an elite athlete. We have to hold her to the same rules and standards that we hold every other athlete. One of the great things about Rhi is that she understands and respects that. As outwardly irreverent she sometimes may appear, she understands and holds high the importance of the integrity of our sport.

Doug – thanks for the nice comments. You have a great daughter.


To Err Is Human; To Forgive Is Divine

Monday, March 19th, 2007

This weekend our team swam in the Florida Gold Coast JO Championships. Normally that would not merit mention on Swimwatch. The meet hardly compares with the feast of aquatics about to begin in Melbourne, Australia. Something did happen in Florida though that deserves examination.

But first, I need to introduce you to the story’s cast of four. There’s Rhi Jeffrey, she won a relay gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games. There’s me; I’m her coach. Then there are two swimming officials; Beth Wilkerson, the Meet Referee and Jay Thomas; he’s the Chairman of the Officials Panel for the Florida Gold Coast.

The story begins with Rhi swimming a heat in the 100 butterfly. She did well; won her heat in a good time of 56.78. We were both looking forward to an exciting final. And then disaster; the results were posted and beside Rhi name, the dreaded initials, DQ. What had she done, why had she not been contacted and told she had been disqualified? Come to think of it doesn’t US Swimming Rule 102.10.2 say that the “referee shall make every reasonable effort to seek out the swimmer or his/her coach to inform him/her as to the reason for the disqualification.” We had been in the vicinity of the start for half an hour. No one had made any effort to find us. They had broken the Rule. Yes, we would definitely protest this one. We would get Rhi reinstated.

A few minutes later I was deep in conversation with Beth Wilkerson. My point was a simple one; if she could name just one thing she had done to reasonably find us I would withdraw happily. It did not have to be “every reasonable effort” just one thing would be enough. Did she look around, make an announcement, ask someone if they knew Rhi, anything would do? Beth, she is honest, said no she had not done anything to find Rhi. “Ahh,” I said triumphantly,” then you must have her reinstated.”

And do you know what she said, “I’m sorry you see it that way, NO.”

Clearly I needed to explain again. And do you know what she said, “I’m sorry you see it that way, NO.”

My God I thought, this woman is as bad as her mates in New Zealand. She breaks the rules and refuses to acknowledge fault. You catch these officials out, dead for rights, as guilty as hell and they don’t bloody care. Just your tough bloody luck they say. I’d complain to Jay Thomas, that’s what I’d do.

I let Beth know of my displeasure and left to compose my email to Jay.

The email explained Beth’s crime and ended with the demand, “The referee was polite but she was wrong and that should be addressed.”

Half an hour later this is what I got back,

“Hi David, I am out in Colorado and just received your email. Thanks for informing me of the situation at the meet. I think it best to let the Meet Referee handle the situation. It is her meet and for me to suggest solutions from here is not appropriate. All that I will suggest is that if you have a dispute as to the technical rules violation by the swimmer, it is best handled with the Referee or through a protest. Best Regards, Jay”
Now, isn’t that the nicest way you’ve ever read of being told to behave? It really, really pisses me off when I’m making every effort to be as aggravating as possible and I get no reaction. I hope Jay doesn’t mind me telling you this but he flies big airplanes for American Airlines. His email annoys me but shows why he’s a good pilot. He’d get you down on a shitty night. Oh well, I thought, no joy their.

The next morning I needed to get one of our swimmers a deck entry. A little nervously I went to Beth and asked. “Yes, of course.” she said. And then half any hour later Rhi wanted to time trial a 100 fly. Beth said, “No problem.” An hour later I’d forgot to confirm the entry of our 500 swimmer. Beth said she’d get it done. Just before the session ended someone taped my shoulder. It was Beth. She was sorry about yesterday but had no option. She hoped the rest of the meet was going well. This woman’s is as bad as Jay Thomas, I thought. She’s so bloody nice and she’s running a good meet. Why can’t I upset her as successfully as I was always able to in New Zealand? Perhaps I’m losing my touch.

And then it dawned on me. I was dealing with two real pros. People used to running meets of thousands, of managing two pools of swimmers at the same time, of dealing with aggravating buggers like me and not letting emotion get in the way. I’d just experienced another reason why swimming in this place is as good as it is. They’ve got good officials. I still think they were both wrong, but I tell you what, you have to admire the way they did it. If you ever have anything to do with a big meet, get in touch with these two. They run a good show.

Swimming Socialism Won’t Work

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

By David

Many of you will have read the most recent issue of the American Swimming Magazine. It is the one with a photograph of David Marsh on the front cover and an editorial piece congratulating him and several others on the transformation of the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club.

The editorial does not tell us much about what’s going on at Mecklenburg. It does suggest there has been a combination of interests that are in the process of creating a “Center of Excellence“. In our view one of these initiatives is good and deserves everyone’s support and admiration. The other is naked “state socialism” and should be condemned and resisted.

The admirable part is summarized in the editorial as follows. “At MAC, Club President and former Coach, Jeff Garckle gets the kudos for visionary leadership to move MAC to the front of the pack.” In the true and full spirit of all that’s best in the United States MAC has built its size and quality to become one of the country’s most successful teams. Its history is everything that US Swimming’s world leadership has been built on – private enterprise. It’s the stuff that produced Mission Viejo and Santa Clara. It’s the environment that gave this nation General Motors and Microsoft. And then MAC blew it – big time.

They succumbed to the lure of socialism. For these purposes we are calling the US Olympic Committee and US Swimming the sport’s governing bodies; its Congress, White House and Supreme Court. The editorial says that US Swimming “helped put together resources from the USOC to produce this new scenario which is expected, over time, to strongly impact the ability of the USA to produce Olympic Medals.” That’s socialism, that’s the “state” interfering in activities that are none of its business. Running or financing swimming clubs are no more the responsibility of the USS or USOC than financing Microsoft is up to George Bush.

In a private enterprise society, such as the United States, the role of government is to establish and protect an environment that encourages its citizens to pursue free and purposeful lives; to lead modest lives or scale impossibly high heights. The role of government is environment not participant. The journey belongs to the people not the government. Mill and Locke should be required reading at USS and USOC. They have a responsibility to create an environment where any Club can become a Santa Clara. Theirs is not to anoint and finance a chosen one. Theirs is to consider the health of the whole nation and all its participants and not provide disproportionate resources in to a selected few – that’s socialism and it won’t work, not in elite sport it won’t.

It encourages all the wrong attitudes. Administrators become adverse to risk; political correctness becomes more important than results; five year plans more admired than a practice set. Just look at New Zealand. They’ve been doing what’s planned at MAC for the last four years. In their case NZS chose a club called North Shore to be their MAC. A woman called Jan Cameron was their David Marsh. Millions have been spent, for nothing; not one world record or gold medal at any meet that begins with the word “World”. Who are the great New Zealand swimmers of the recent past? Danyon Loader, Olympic Champion, Trent Bray World SC Champion, Anna Simcic World Record holder, Antony Moss and Paul Kingsman, Olympic Medalists and you know what none of them ever had anything to do with NZS’s center of excellence. While millions are spent at MAC some Mark Spitz will be missed while the sport’s administrators are engrossed in making sure their experiment in socialist largess produces something.

America’s founding fathers wrote a document called the Constitution. It’s a fine text that provides some powers and severely restricts others. Those responsible for funding MAC have just gone way beyond anything Madison or Franklin would have found acceptable and swimming in the US will be the worse for it.

The NCAA Screws Up… Again

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

By Rhi

If collegiate swimmers thought NCAA rules were dumb before, just wait until they get their hands on the article that has been posted on about the new rule they have just enforced. Collegiate swimmers can no longer compete in the same heats as high school swimmers, as now stated in Bylaw, in order to cut down on recruiting violations. The law has been suspended until March 27 so that the NCAA can conduct its championship meets in several sports, but USA Swimming’s Spring Nationals starts on March 27.

At the Missouri Grand Prix, a couple of us got to see this rule in effect first hand. Before the first day of prelims, the entire weekend’s heat sheets had to be reseeded to make sure that no high school competitor would be in the same heats as a collegiate competitor. Some swimmers were swimming by themselves or even in heats with boys and girls combined. When a high school swimmer and a college swimmer both made finals, an extra heat of finals was added to let those swimmers swim in the finals they fairly qualified for. Even though there weren’t many of these heats because most of the people at the Grand Prix were out of college because of the college championship season, it was still a disaster. I can only imagine what it will be like at nationals if the meet is not exempt from this rule.

Those of us who swim know how hard it is to swim in a heat by yourself. You have no one to push you; no one to race. Some of us do better under the pressure of having competition next to us. What is this ultimately going to do to our sport? Destroy it! Probably not, but it will be more of a hindrance than it will be helpful. What the NCAA needs to do is make this a sport specific rule.

This is just another example of how little this country cares about swimming and how much attention actually gets paid to us. The light at the end of the tunnel is that we have Phil Whitten, the executive director of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA), fighting hard to show the NCAA that this rule could devastate our sport. There will be a coaches meeting held this Wednesday in an effort to convince the NCAA that this needs to be a sport specific rule. Let us all pray Whitten knows how to schmooze the rule makers.