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

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?