The Sharks Circle

Missy Franklin is turning pro in ten months... Top agencies hungry for their piece of the biggest fish in the pool...  She's the most marketable Olympian alive. Across every sport, Summer or Winter, Phelps and Lochte included, you won't find a more appealing athlete for endorsements in the lead up to Rio. Two years out and Missy Franklin is already the confirmed face of the 2016 Olympics.

Much was made about her decision to forgo the pro path after London and attend college at Cal, including by yours truly (Why She Went to College), but let's be honest - that was always a halfway commitment. Missy, and her parents Dick and D.A., who are highly active behind the scenes, never had any intention of swimming through the full four years of her collegiate eligibility. She longed for the college experience, and she's getting it, but the time has come to start talking dollars and sense.

This four-time Olympic champion is a sponsor's dream. She may not have the 8-gold epic-ness of Phelps in her future, and she may not have the twinkling-eyed model smirk of Lochte, but Franklin has something neither of those two man-childs possess. Actually, quite a few somethings. She is that rare transcendent athlete who is also relatable, down-to-earth, and somehow, retains an accomplishment-defying humility. She might be a mutant of physical excellence, like all highest-tier Olympians, but she possesses an unaffected star power that seems rooted in appreciation.

This sounds like I'm among the agents pitching her these days. She and her parents have clearly been hearing much of the same from many quarters. In this week's Sports Business Journal, the trade reports that meetings have begun in earnest among top agencies trying to woo the Franklins to their star athlete stables. (I'd include the link to this piece, but it appears you have to be a subscriber to access SBJ stories online...)

These agencies include CAA (home of Lochte); IMG (Lindsay Vonn); The Legacy Agency (Lolo Jones, Kerri Walsh); and of course, Octagon, where Phelps has resided since he turned pro way back in 2001. Safe to say she'll be just fine at any one of these hot spots. Each will come flooding into her orbit with big ideas and big promises and big-time endorsement contracts. In less than a year's time, Missy Franklin will be a multi-millionaire.

Those new representatives will also get theirs. Anything an athlete makes in endorsement income, the standard is that the agent keeps about 20 percent. A $5 million deal with Kellogg? Lovely! The agency will collect a cool million for their trouble. That's just one example, probably ample. As the deals continue to spin, and the potential earnings add up, one can see just how valuable a commodity Franklin has become.

Her refusal to turn pro right after London may have actually helped her in the long run, and not just for the two blissful college-years she's in the process of enjoying. Provided these years proceed without any real hiccups or injuries, her value continues to soar as she sits on the professional sidelines. She's already a proven quantity on the Olympic stage; she's a proven quantity as an athlete with her priorities refreshingly in order; and she's yet to endorse a single thing. All of which adds up to the Sports Business Journal calling her "the most sought after Olympian for agencies in more than a decade."

Indeed, the sharks are circling. But first they'll need to swim past Missy's father, Dick Franklin. See, Mr. Franklin has spent much of his career as a sports business executive, working for Reebok and Head tennis. Agent Evan Morgenstein, who is quoted liberally in the SBJ story, but knows he can't sign her himself, points out that Dick Franklin will likely act as "the point guard" in the team that assembles around Franklin beginning next spring.

Reading all of this in the works, can you blame her from wanting this last gasp of campus normalcy? Just two years to indulge in the fantasy that you're a regular college kid, just like all your friends. But Missy Franklin isn't normal; she's so abnormal in fact that there is a growing line assembling in front of her, just waiting to pour millions into her bank account the moment she says so.

The irony is that what makes her most valuable is the fact that, despite all those heady money clouds on the horizon, she remains motivated by all the right stuff.

The Freshman

Ryan Murphy's rookie year at Cal...  The kid just keeps following the script. He's been the best since he was a boy, and every year, at every level, he keeps fulfilling his seemingly unlimited promise. And so it went his first year at Cal. A year ago, I wrote a piece called The Recruit after Murphy signed at Berkeley. It seemed fitting to follow up a year later with this one.

The box score on his just-about-perfect NCAA Championships: Five titles, three relays / two individual. NCAA record in the 200 back. Just .03 off the NCAA record in the 100 back. Stunning splits on every relay, with wins in the 200 free, the 200 medley, the 400 medley, and a second in the 400 free. And perhaps most impressive of all, in terms of personal leaps forward, a 1:42.24 in the 200 IM, which secured a spot in the big final and got Cal rolling right out of the gate.

Between his relay load and his individual races, there wasn't a swimmer at the meet that accounted for more points than Murphy. He's the most valuable swimmer on the best team in the nation. With that in mind, it's flat out disrespectful that Kevin Cordes, a swimmer who scored zero points on relays, was named Swimmer of the Meet over Murphy, or Florida's Marcin Cieslak, for that matter. (The Gators could easily make a case for Cieslak, who claimed two gold and a silver in his individual races, and also contributed big time on the relays, with prelims swims as well. Yet Florida, did not win any of those relays...)

Cordes was predictably impressive in his pair of record-setting breaststroke performances and all, but you're not the swimmer of any meet if you DQ your team's medley relay on the all-important first day. As everyone knows, relays win the meet at NCAAs; therefore Cordes is undeserving of this year's honor.

But let's stay positive here, and focus on what Murphy did right, not what the jump-happy Mr. Cordes might have done wrong. It's hard to find a flaw in any one of his swims. He led off the medley relays in 20.90 and 44.91, and Cal never looked back. He swam the second legs on the sprint free relays. In the 200, on night one, he went 18.75. In the 400, in the last race of the meet, he split 41.67, which was not only the fastest on his foursome, but the third fastest split among all competitors. In his second best stroke.

Of course, it was his individual backstroke races where he shined most. As expected (and predicted last year in that Recruit story), he swept both backstrokes. 44.6 and 1:37.3 is over-the-top fast, but for Murphy these times just scratch the surface of what's in store in the years to come. Before he leaves Cal, Ryan Murphy will very likely be a 43 / 1:35 backstroker. Times that, not too long ago, were scoring points in freestyle at NCAAs...

Now comes the hard part. The subject of my story last year was not how he would swim in the small pool, but how he would fare in the big pool, where it really matters. NCAAs might be the most exciting three days of swimming on earth, but they are still the minor leagues when it comes to making your mark on the sport. All anyone remembers, and all sponsors will pay for, is international long course success.

So, this summer will say a lot. Will Ryan Murphy go 52+ and 1:54, and continue to stay on script? Or will he miss those walls and swim back to his best long course times from his Bolles days? A year ago I questioned whether he would have been better off at Florida with Coach Troy, pointing out the outsized success of Gator backstrokers on the big stage, and the short list of big time backstrokers who have come from Dave Durden's Berkeley Bears.

It's too soon to withdrawal that question completely, but it's getting hard to question anything Durden is doing these days. With three team titles in four years, he's created a new dynasty at Cal, and Murphy is now at the center of that dominance. Here's hoping - and betting - that the can't-miss-kid continues to translate his success this summer in the big pool where it matters most.


The Event That Was Left Behind

What happened to the 500 free? As times in every event drop with staggering speed and depth, the 500 remains stuck in another era...  It was the usual stunning start of the NCAA championships, with times that were hard to fathom. If you're past a certain age, say 28, you're used to this by now. The further you get from your own glory days, the harder it is to grasp how fast kids are swimming these days. I'm sure that's always been the case, and may it always be so. Generations fly by, and times that were once NCAA records, the outer envelope of aquatic performance, now those same times don't even score a single point at NCAAs.

This is presently true in a race like the 200 IM. In 1993, Florida's Greg Burgess set the NCAA record in a time of 1:43.87. That time was jaw-dropping back then. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it. Today, Burgess's time would not score a single point at the meet. 1:43.66 (by Stanford's Tom Kremer) was the 16th and last spot to earn a second swim at the big show in 2014. The same is true in other events - after all, two decades is a long damn time. If college kids aren't swimming much much faster 7,300 days later, then something must be wrong.

So then, what's wrong with the 500 free? Every event in every stroke has taken off with the times, but take a look at the 500 free. It's barely moved an inch in 20 years. On day one of the NCAA championships, USC's Cristian Quintero took the title with a wire-to-wire 4:10.02. A second and a half back was Florida's Dan Wallace, in 4:11.62. Turn back the clock to 1994, when Arizona's Chad Carvin cruised to an NCAA record with a 4:11.59, a time that puts him in the hunt pretty much every year these days. A year later, in 1995, Carvin was left in the wake, as Michigan's Tom Dolan dropped a 4:08.75. It was the first of several record shattering swims for Dolan at the '95 NCAAs; I'm not alone in my opinion that it's the greatest short course meet that any swimmer has ever had.

It took over a decade for a fellow Michigan alum, Peter Vanderkaay, to lower that mark, down to 4:08.60 in 2006. PVK dipped it down another .06 two years later in '08 to 4:08.54, and that's where the 500 record remains to this day. It's not going anywhere.

Based on the progression of other events, shouldn't swimmers be flirting with sub 4-minutes in the 500 by now? According to the progressions in the 200 IM, 4:08 should be about what it takes to make it back in the 500. Instead, a 4:16 is good enough to score points for your team in 2014. That's about 10 yards too slow.

Strokes and events don't progress at a uniform rate. Rule changes, like the dolphin kick in breaststroke pullouts, will artificially drop times across the board, simply because what's legal now is a whole lot faster than what was legal before. In another era, we saw the same thing happen in backstroke when the "bucket turn" was replaced by the classic freestyle flip turn at every wall. However, aside from the changes in breaststroke pullouts, there really haven't been any meaningful rule changes in the strokes that would warrant a significant drop in times.

A few weeks ago, as the conference championships wrapped up and the times came in, I noticed yet again that the 500 free was going nowhere, even as every other event seemed to surge forward. I raised the point with my friend Elliot, a smart, perceptive coach who wonders about the same things. His response was immediate: 'It's the under waters,' he said.

But of course. Nothing has changed more in swimming over the last two decades than the preeminence of under waters. I'd argue that nothing has driven the sport forward more than this "5th stroke". So much so that when the under water code was finally cracked in the mid-1990s, and times got silly, it was soon limited to 15 meters, first in backstroke, and a few years later in butterfly. Yet, even with that 15-meter limit, under waters have redefined virtually every event.

In a 20-lap race that lasts over four minutes, it's not exactly feasible to gain the full advantage of under waters off every wall. Or maybe it is, and no one has ever had the balls (or the lung capacity) to really try it. In any case, that would seem to provide the most obvious reason for the 500's languishing times. But it's not enough.

The times in the mile have dropped plenty over the last two decades, more than the 500, and under waters would seem to be even less of an advantage in the 1650. The 'we're not doing enough' argument is tempting, and maybe there's an element of truth to it, but that too is not enough. Not when the mile is getting faster, at a faster rate, than the 500.

There's also the fact that this riddle seems mostly limited to the guys. Katie Ledecky went 4:28 this year, in high school. She's an outlier of the most severe degree, but Missy Franklin and Brittany MacLean were both swimming at least a few seconds faster last weekend than the times in took to win women's NCAAs back in the mid 90s.

So, there are the under waters, that might be the biggest piece. There's the 'not enough' factor, and that can't be ignored. And there's the women, charging ahead and keeping with the times. What are we missing? Why hasn't the men's 500 free moved an inch in generations?

This is why: There has been no leader in imagination. There's been no outlier. Every other race and stroke has had its barrier-breakers. The Cielos, the Lochtes, the Cordes, the Phelps, the ones who pushed the standards of their strokes into another realm and challenged everyone else to follow.

That hasn't happened in the 500 free. There hasn't been anyone, not since Dolan, to grab the event by its throat and say: this way forward, try to hang with me, if you dare. This is an event that not even Phelps could master. There was a time when Bob Bowman looked forward to a showdown between Phelps and Ian Thorpe in the 400 free. It never happened. Phelps mastered damn near everything else, but this distance always eluded him, and for the last 20 years, it's eluded really everyone else. Vanderkaay chipped away at Dolan's mark, but he didn't redefine it in any meaningful way.

Coaches have surely realized this. Ambitious young middle distance guys too. It's an event that's just sitting there, waiting for someone to grab it and own it and drag it forward.

When is it going to happen? And who's it going to be?

Why She Went to College

Missy Franklin and the Meaning of NCAAs...  She couldn't have realized it at the time. She was rather immersed in the task at hand. Two and a half seconds back, her team a distant third, only her anchor leg to go... It was Friday night, day two of the Women's NCAA Championships, and Missy Franklin had a hell of a lot of ground to make up in the 800 freestyle relay. The race was down to the three best teams at the meet - Georgia, Stanford, and Cal. Already in the water for Stanford was freshman Lia Neal, Missy's fellow high school Olympic teammate back in London. In the water for the Bulldogs, sophomore stud Brittany MacLean, the girl who beat Missy head to head a night earlier in the 500 free.

She couldn't have realized it then, but this was a moment, perhaps the moment, that she will always return to when folks ask her why she went to college. This is what college swimming is all about, this is why Missy Franklin passed up millions for a few years of this priceless community of competition.

What happened next was what you'd expect from the current face of American swimming. She dove in and started reeling them in. 50 yards, just a second and a half back; 100 yards, less than a second; 150 yards five one-hundredths back; and then Georgia's MacLean dug in. She wasn't letting Franklin by that easy. Stroke for stroke over the final lap, until Missy managed to inch by, touching the wall first for her Cal Bears by .15. Her split: an astonishing 1:40.08.

Another golden feather in the cap for the golden girl... Did you expect anything less?

Actually, many probably expected more from Franklin at her NCAA debut. Her individual results: gold, silver, and bronze. Three events earlier on that Friday night, she torched the field in the 200 free, crushing the NCAA and American record by almost a full second. On the first night in the 500 free, she had to settle for a hard-fought second in the 500 behind MacLean. Both swimmers eclipsed the former NCAA record, held by Allison Schmitt, though it's worth noting that Katie Ledecky's American record of 4:28.71, set last month, is a good four seconds faster than that NCAA mark. Tonight in the 100 free, she rounded out her freshman campaign with a third behind Arizona's Margo Geer and Stanford's Lia Neal.

A fine and impressive showing, but then again, the girl collected more hardware at the Olympics. And then again, why didn't the best backstroker on earth swim any backstroke for her team? Safe to say the 100 and 200 back were fairly sure bets for Franklin. Why wouldn't Teri McKeever use her golden goose where she's at her best? Well, because this is a team competition, and it's all about the points. Cal was already stacked with backstrokers; the Bears needed her skills more in the freestyles. That's value and versatility - when you can pass on your two best events, and still be a touch away from winning your fourth or fifth or even sixth best events, because that's where your team needs you.

Missy's first NCAAs didn't end the way she'd envisioned when she first signed at Cal last year, when she glowed and gushed about being a part of a college team and leading the Golden Bears to another team title. This year they were no match for the all-around depth and excellence of Georgia. A crushing DQ in the 200 medley relay didn't help Cal's chances, but even without it, Georgia was in a class of its own this year. However, it's a safe bet that McKeever's girls did not expect their cross-bay Cardinal rivals to sweep past them the way they did. The Stanford women swam over their heads at this year's meet. Caps off to second year coach Greg Meehan and his crew for four relay victories and a surprising second place finish. Cal swam away with what must be a bittersweet third in the team race.

She didn't think it would be easy, did she? Of course not. At 19, she's as seasoned an elite competitor as any teenager you'll find, in any sport. Yet, everything has always seemed to turn out, well, just about perfect for Missy Franklin. The Olympics, the World Championships, the almost sickeningly well-adjusted home life... Stumbles from the script, that stuff happens to other swimmers. Don't you think she must be just slightly surprised right now?

And that too is why she went to college. To go through challenges not as a lone figure on the blocks wearing stars and stripes, but to embrace the collective challenge as a teammate, as a student-athlete.

Missy Franklin has had greater triumphs than a come-from-behind relay victory at NCAAs. She'll have greater triumphs to come. But years from now, ask her about her experience swimming at Cal. Ask her what she remembers most, what were her proudest moments?

She's going to mention that 800 free relay.

The Bottom Line

Mike Bottom and the psychology of special... He gets you to believe. In yourself, in your talent, in your training, and importantly, in him. That's no small task, and it doesn't have much to do with what goes on in the water everyday.

18 to 22 year old boys can be a delicate lot. They won't admit to this, but it's true. Their egos are fragile and their freakishly fit bodies are hyper sensitive to the slightest turbulence in their training. Often times what they need is not a coach but a psychologist. Enter Mike Bottom, the ultimate mind coach.

Two days ago, Bottom guided Michigan back to the top, as the men raced to their first title in 18 years. Bottom's incredible accomplishments with a who's who of champion sprinters long ago established him as one of the world's great coaches, but this title does something else. It validates his Hall of Fame bona fides and transcends that old Sprint Coach label that he wore for so long. This Michigan team won it the Michigan way and the Bottom way. Which is to say they won it by dominating the distance events and swimming blazingly fast on the sprint relays. That's a dangerous combo.

They also won it with virtually no stars. With all due respect to Connor Jaeger, who posted a pair of terrific winning times in the 500 and 1650, this Michigan team was a group that won with depth and consistency, not with a few eye-popping record-shattering swims. They did post one NCAA record - a stunning 1:22.27 in the 200 medley relay that no one saw coming. But aside from Jaeger's wins and that one relay, you didn't see Michigan standing on top of the podium in any other events.

Consider the races that will be remembered at this meet. There were quite a few. USC's Vlad Morozov's staggering sprints. 17.8 on that relay, 40.7 flat start in his 100. Cal's Tom Shields, who ended his collegiate career in high style, tying Phelps's small pool record in the 200 fly with that 1:39.6. And of course, Arizona's monster sophomore, Kevin Cordes, who can now officially be proclaimed America's Next Great Breaststroker. A few days ago, I posted a claim that his 49.5 100 breast split on Arizona's medley relay may have been the best college swim ever. Turns out we spoke too soon. His 1:48.6 in the 200 breast is the best college swim ever. Tell me another that compares.

All of the above guys are Pac-12 swimmers. That's where the best swimmers are. It's hard to argue with the evidence. However, Michigan had the best team. By a lot. For all the drama at the meet this year, the team race was never really close. As the pre-meet projections established, Michigan was on another level, points-wise. They won by a comfortable 73.5 points ahead of Cal. (Talk about poetic justice. Beating your old team, after losing the top job there and watching them instantly ascend to the top in your absence...) The fact is, Michigan left plenty of points on the table. That first morning, they really should have had three or four guys in the final of the 500. Instead, they put four in the B-final, with each one missing the top 8 by less than half a second. There are plenty of other examples where they could have racked up plenty more points, but no matter. They did what they had to do.

They did it because Bottom made them believers. The man grasps the science of fast swimming as much as anyone, but it's always been about more than that with Bottom's swimmers. He simply convinces his swimmers that they're the special ones. Simply - talk about the wrong adverb... There is nothing simple about it. This is high stakes coaching. Because all you need is one swimmer to call bullshit, and start spreading seeds of doubt among his teammates, and all those inspiring whispers cease to matter. It's easier for coaches to place all their faith in a system. That gives everyone deniability. You present a program that's worked before - with the right amount of yardage and speed work, the right arc to a season, the right carefully plotted taper, and you let the end take care of itself. That makes sense, and it does work, but Bottom has always played for higher stakes.

He's the coach who creates unshakeable confidence in his swimmers, convincing them of their specialness, of their destiny. It doesn't always turn out that way. But when that promised specialness all works out in the end, that's when legends are made. Both in the water and on deck.

Sick Splits

In the tradition of ESPN's Web Gems, introducing Sick Splits... And what better place to start than Day One at NCAA's?  You love this stuff, you know you do. I do. It's shamelessly swim geek, but whatever. If you've been in it, you know how exciting it is. These are numbers that make your pulse race. The crazy ass relay splits that bend time and make you text your friends frantically... Here's tonight's first edition:

4.) 40.45 - Vlad Morozov, USC, 100 free split on 4x100 medley relay, prelims. 18.9 to the feet... Yeah, Jesus.

3.) 43.48 - Tom Shields, Cal, 100 fly on medley relay, finals. The. Best. Swimmer. In. College.

2.) 17.86 - Vlad Morozov, USC, 50 free split on 200 free relay, finals. What the fuck?

1.) 49.56 - Kevin Cordes, Arizona, 100 breast on medley relay. No, seriously, what the fuck? When I texted this to my friend, Adam, he wrote back: "The greatest yards swim ever." It might be.

So, there you have it... Sick Splits, Vol. 1.

Prelims - From Paper to Reality

Men's NCAA results: Day one prelims vs. statistical projections... The times are in from the all-important first session of NCAAs - and it turns out the psyche sheets don't lie. Much. Take a look at the reality after morning one:


If the meet had been decided on paper, here's how it would have looked:

Projected score after

So, flip Indiana and Texas in 4th and 9th positions, and the top nine teams are more or less exactly as predicted. USC and Auburn reverse orders in 5th and 6th, but that was a toss up to begin with. As noted previously, Indiana was probably the one team most likely to drop in the projections, while everyone seemed to know Texas was completely undervalued based on its seed times.

As for the top teams, it's clear that Cal was also undervalued points-wise. Just look at its seeds for its relays. But that likely won't be enough to catch Michigan. If they continue to swim to their seeds, as they did this morning, they'll win. It's just one session of six, but as anyone who's ever been to the Meet knows, that first session counts for more than any other. It sets the tone and dictates all that's about to come next.

Like a political pundit desperate to believe his party actually stands a chance, plenty of folks will continue to deny the obvious in these statistical projections. That's all lovely, it's nice to support your school. Just remember to bet with the stats, not with your heart.

The Meet on Paper

Men's NCAA Projections: Based on the Psych Sheet and assorted data crunching, Michigan projected to win big... Cal, Florida, Indiana, and USC round out Top Five... Stanford and Texas well back in 8th and 9th. On paper... This doesn't mean anything. Let's get that out of the way right up front. The meet isn't swum on paper. Titles are won in the water. Yes, yes, tell us something we don't know...

Ok, how about this? Michigan is about to run away with the men's NCAA swimming championships. They could DQ a bunch of relays and swim like crap, and still win it. At least that's what the numbers are saying. According to a detailed analysis of the Psych Sheet, top relay times from College, and a hand entering of all diving data, based on Diving Zone scores, here is what the scoring looks like on paper heading into the meet:

Projected score after

Projected Final Score

The above projections were compiled by a smart New York financier and close friend by the name of Steve Williams. It might be of note that Steve was a member of Michigan's 1995 winning NCAA team - the last time Go Blue won it all in the water. No bias or anything! But as a man who makes his living making well-researched statistical financial projections, the hard data happens to support his rooting interest. In this case, the math is pretty straightforward. Swimming is a sport of numbers, and a Psych Sheet is as objective a document as any financial forecast. He notes that the diving is a little subjective, since, well, diving is a subjective sport. But in Steve's words: "I entered all the diving data by hand from the divers who made the meet.  I used their absolute Zone performance scores to rank them per event.  This was a pain in the ass, but I used Zone scores, as a diver is only as good as their last performance."

Nonetheless, these projections do not reflect the relative preparedness of when these qualifying times were posted. Some swimmers, like say Cal and Stanford, were merely in tune-up mode at their conference championships. They were far from peak performances, so big improvements can be expected. Meanwhile, teams like Indiana may have been flat-out rested at their conference meets, so perhaps a bounce could be in the cards. (The Hoosiers jump out on those rankings. Knew they've made big strides as a program, but to see them projected ahead of so many longtime powers is a bit of a shock...)

All conference tapering aside, it seems like an extremely good bet that Michigan will race to its first title in 18 years. Not to jink them or anything, but huge congrats to Coach Mike Bottom and Co for returning a proud program to the top of the heap... However, the rest of those projections reveal that the remaining Top 10 will be a tightly contested battle. Cal and Florida appear to match up with identical numbers, in the relays and individual events, and Indiana is just 15 points back in the 4th spot. USC and Auburn are placed in a virtual pre-meet tie in 5th and 6th, separated by just nine points. And Arizona and Stanford are just two points apart in 7th and 8th. One false start on a relay; one bad prelim session; one sick superstar - that's all it will take to turn all these projections upside down.

So, in the spirit of March Madness, after analyzing the data, and knowing a bit about the swimmers and the coaches in play, here are my picks for the final Top 10 this Saturday night:

1.) Michigan 2.) Florida 3.) Cal 4.) USC 5.) Stanford 6.) Arizona 7.) Indiana 8.) Auburn 9.) Texas 10.) FSU

How about you?

The Battle or the War

Cal tops Stanford for Pac-12 title, ending longest conference streak in college sports history… Cal yawns, coaches eye war ahead… Dave Durden was not impressed. And why should he be? His team had just snapped the Streak. Three cruel decades of Stanford’s smug dominance at the top of the Pac-10 / 12 men’s conference swimming championships. 31 years. Since the early 80s, no Pac school was able to chop down the Cardinal. It’s about damn time. So, shouldn’t the Bears (and the Trojans and the Wildcats and the rest) be rejoicing?

Not really. See, Stanford all but conceded the title. And for that, they must be praised.

You won’t find much Stanford love in the pages of this blog. It’s the product of being a former USC Trojan. It’s not personal. Well, actually, it is. It’s completely personal. I’ve always hated the fuckers. Some of the reasons are even slightly valid. But in this case, Stanford must be honored in defeat. Not because they lost with humble grace (that would be very un-Cardinal), but because, for once, they kept their eyes on the real prize.

In year one of the Ted Knapp era, this is a new and prioritized Stanford. They are plotting to win the war, the NCAA team title two weeks from now. They might. In victory, the two-time defending Cal Bears looked beatable. More than that, they looked entitled. A quality that has always been more Palo Alto than Berkeley. Maybe that’s what repeated winning does to you.

So, no, Coach Durden was not impressed with his Bears. They’re loaded again, with a squad packed with underclassmen studs, and leading the way, the best swimmer in the NCAA, Tom Shields. At Pac 12’s, Shields won five races: the 100 and 200 fly and the 100 back, plus two relays. He was the swimmer of the meet. He’ll probably be the swimmer of the Meet two weeks from now. But the rest of them?

The New York Times ran a story about Cal’s victory / Stanford’s defeat today. The focus of the article was about the general buzz kill surrounding the end of the Streak. Neither winner nor loser seemed to care. The winners were pissed at their performance; the losers shrugged it off and said (rightly) that they had more important things to think about.

One has to wonder how Coach Knapp felt about the Streak. Over the last decade, it seemed to take on a life of its own. For most of those 31 years, Stanford was simply the class of the Pac 10 / 12. They were better than everyone else, plain and simple, as much as it pains me to write. Say, for two of those three decades, they won the conference meet without breaking much of a sweat. Hell, in seven of those 31 years, they went on to win the whole damn thing. But the last time they did it was 1998. For the next 14 years, it started to feel like the Streak, the battle, mattered more than the war.

It became a defining piece of Skip Kenney’s legacy. His Cardinal couldn’t lose the conference meet. That’s just not who he was. And if Ted Knapp wanted that top job when Skippy moved on, well then, as the loyal Number Two, he had to suck up some dubious tapering decisions come conference time. No longer. This year, Knapp saw the writing on the wall. It wasn’t so hard to see. After Cal won back-to-back NCAA titles, after losing two weeks prior at conference, it may as well have been spray-painted in neon on Stanford’s Clock Tower.

To win the big one, you don’t want to be at your best fourteen days too soon. Tapering isn’t rocket science, after all.

But then, you also don’t want to cruise through the conference meet like you’re a Golden (Bear) god, believing you’re predestined for yet another team title at NCAAs.

When Dave Durden took at look at his crew, that’s what he saw. Not impressed. Durden is too smart and too classy to come out and say it plain and mean in the New York Times. Instead, he referenced a “distorted self-awareness” among his talented crew of underclassmen.

Distorted self-awareness – that’s good. Allow me to translate: That heralded crew of Cal freshman last year, the ones who helped lead the Bears to another title? As sophomores, Durden is saying they’ve gotten cocky. They’re acting entitled, thinking winning is just that easy, something that they deserve every year. Maybe this year’s crop of equally talented Cal freshman have followed their example and started swaggering around before they’ve won anything. Whatever it is, Durden has called it out. And he’s done it in a brilliant and not-so-subtle way in the pages of the New York Times.

Across the Bay, Ted Knapp is guiding his crew with his own bit of inspired psychology. The man has clearly read his Sun Tzu:

If your enemy is superior, evade him. If angry, irritate them. If equally matched, fight, and if not, split and reevaluate. – The Art of War

(Or maybe he’s just a big fan of that scene from Wall Street…)

In defeat, Knapp seems to have followed master Sun Tzu’s wisdom. He evaded a superior opponent in a battle that was acceptable to lose. He likely irritated the victors by shrugged it off and claiming his team never even talked about the Streak. And now they’ll regroup and take aim at the war ahead…

Both Durden and Knapp replaced legends at their respective schools. It’s clear neither is shy about stepping from any shadows.

The Recruit

Bolles backstroke king, Ryan Murphy, chooses Cal... Was it the right decision?  It's a nice problem to have. Universities lining up, begging you to join them, offering you an all expense paid education, assuring you that as a Bear, Gator, Cardinal, Longhorn, or Tiger, you will win many NCAA titles. Girls will be lining up to meet you. Whatever campus you choose, you will be a big man on it. Champagne problems indeed...

But it's still a hell of a choice. And despite what they say, you can indeed go wrong.

The bluest of the blue chips this year is a young man from Jacksonville, Florida named Ryan Murphy. Also commonly known as The Next Great American Backstroker. His age group and high school career to this point have been pretty much perfect. Young Murphy placed 6th and 4th respectively in the 100 and 200 back at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer. Many thought he had a great shot to make the Team. Four years from now, he will. Whether he will be on the podium in Rio has a lot to do with where he swims the next four years.

Yesterday he chose the defending champions, Cal Berkeley. If gold in Rio is indeed his ultimate goal, not everyone is convinced this was the best call.

To be clear - Murphy is going to have an insanely decorated career as a Golden Bear. In his freshman year, he will likely win both backstrokes at NCAAs. (His times from Junior Nationals last year would have already put him in the hunt in the A final...) But beyond the back, Murphy is a complete swimmer, the perfect college point machine. He's going to be a sub-20 50 freestyler and a 43+ 100 freestyler before he's out of high school, meaning he'll be on every sprint relay. He's also already a 1:45 200 IMer, meaning he'll score big points in his third individual event.

Dave Durden is busy building a dynasty out at Cal, and it's possible his Murphy-led Bears may win NCAAs every year he's there. The kid is going to go down as one of the greatest swimmers in NCAA history. Barring injury or an absurd shift in character, this is all but assured. (Ryan also has a 4.4 GPA at Bolles, so safe to say academics isn't a worry either...)

But that's not really the point, is it? NCAAs is the small pool minor leagues. A warm-up for the big pool, where the big fish swim. If that's where Murphy's ambitions truly lie, a case can be made that he just made a big mistake. Because many out there are asking - why didn't he go to Florida? Wasn't it obvious? If a young backstroker wants to be on an Olympic podium, he would be wise to put on the blinders and head straight for Coach Gregg Troy. It goes way beyond Lochte. Take a look at this quick list of recent Gainesville-based backstroke greats: Elizabeth Beisel, Gemma Spofforth, Ben Hesen, Omar Pinzon, Rex Tulius, Sarah Peterson, Teresa Crippen, Arkady Vyatchanin... To name a few.

Murphy probably wouldn't win as many NCAA titles at Florida. The relays he'd be on wouldn't be as fast. But again, is that the top priority? That's not to say that Durden can't shepherd Murphy to the top of the podium in Rio. He certainly did the job with Nathan Adrian in London. But it's worth noting that he's never done it before, not with a backstroker. Coach Troy, on the other hand, has a resumé of Olympic medalists that needs a few pages.

Did Murphy's choice come down just to those two schools? Not at all. At various times, I heard he was leaning towards Stanford, that he wanted to swim for Eddie Reese at Texas, that Brett Hawke made a huge impression at Auburn. Every suitor was rolling out the red carpet and Murphy owed it to himself to walk down each one.

Of course, if you're talking about a kid with a 4.4 GPA, it can't just be about the athletics. With the possible exception of Stanford, academically, Berkeley's a cut above the others. Isn't life after swimming the real top priority? Ha. Good luck convincing a 17-year-old stud recruit of that. Maybe Murphy has a lot more perspective than I did at that age, when a big part of my college choice was based on the attractiveness of the student body, but I'm guessing he put more stock in the team than he did the classroom.

The team - that appears to be Durden's true budding genius. He's all about celebrating the collective, getting everyone on board, and winning as one. These are lovely qualities, and terrific lessons for a young man to learn from a coach.

Problem is, at the Olympics, on top of that podium, you're all alone.

Life is a Carnival

Go Blue... Check out Michigan's Water Carnival... Swim meets are boring. Sorry, but you know it's true. There are moments of incredible, intense excitement. There are races you came to see, swimmers worth the price of admission, even if they're only in action for 47 seconds of a many hour affair. But the overall event? The prelims and the processions and the podiums? The waiting. The waiting and the waiting for the few heats you actually care about... It can be brutal.

This is coming from a dyed in chlorine swim addict.

Of course there are exceptions. The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials were as exciting as any sporting event I've been to, this side of the World Series. Every March, the NCAA Championships are packed with six sessions of edge of your seat drama. Plenty more to be sure, you don't need the world's best to be there for the meet to be great, but c'mon, as a rule swim meets aren't exactly Must See TV.

There must be better ways of staging these things. You've heard that before, right? Well, it's nice to hear someone is doing something about it. Cheers to Mike Bottom and his crew at Michigan. This Saturday, October 6th, they're hosting the first annual (sure to be a tradition) Water Carnival.

The centerpiece will be a tri-meet between Michigan, Minnesota, and Oakland, but that's just the beginning - or the end. Before that, it's a five-hour celebration of aquatics, the sort of stuff you do on those few and far between fun days at practice.

- A 200-meter showdown with fins

- 16 x 25 relays

- 3 on 3 water polo

- Underwater dolphin kick races

- And of course, a diving show

The Michigan marching band will be there, cranking out their iconic 'Victors' fight song and a "Friars singing group" will also be on hand. Not exactly rock n' roll, but at least it's live... And of course, there will be loads of "audience participation" - ie sorority swim groupies wooing it up.

Sounds like a fine way to spend an afternoon. Or in any case, a lot more fun than a spectator-free dual meet against Stanford in the rain.

There is precedent for this sort of swim-flavored carnival. Back in the late 30's and 40's, an impresario named Billy Rose staged swimming shows called the Aquacade. Rose was a song and dance man who loved his swimmers. He married 1932 Olympic backstroke champ Eleanor Holm, aka the Champagne Girl. Holm was a free spirit who got herself kicked off the U.S. team on the way to the Berlin Games in 1936 after she got caught boozing it up with journalists as their Olympics bound boat crossed the Atlantic. At Rose's Aquacades, Holm was joined by fellow Olympic swim champs Johnny Weismuller and Buster Crabbe, along with the incomparable Esther Williams. It wasn't about racing, it was about celebrating the sport.

It's a bit grainy and dated, but check out this clip of the Aquacade at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. If we're all on board with raising the profile of swimming and expanding the sport beyond its walls and lanes, these are things worth revisiting.

Michigan's Water Carnival is a big stroke in the right direction.

The Altered States of Swimming

As we enter the post-Phelps era, the sport finds itself reeling between robust health and on-going sickness... A new Olympiad has begun. Michael Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is becoming Derek Zoolander. Missy Franklin continues to resist millions so she can swim in college. That's the narrative of the big three, anyway. The three short hand stories of the sport that have spread into the mainstream. That's what your friends in the dry land world know about swimming. They might have also heard about some dark sex scandals, involving coaches and teenage swimmers, but we'll get to that in a bit...

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. It was started last September with a piece entitled The Phelps Effect. It detailed the ways that Michael Phelps's dominance may have killed off the depth and ambition in American swimming. There was evidence of that back at the World Championships in 2011. At the Games in London, the symptoms of this 'Phelps Effect' appear to have been killed off. Just ask Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian - three American guys not named Phelps or Lochte who raced to individual Olympic gold this summer.

Seventy-five stories later, this site has managed to piss off, provoke, and hopefully entertain and enlighten many in the swimming community. Just what I'd hoped for... And so it seems like a fine time to take a step back and examine the sport in its many altered states.

The contrasts are dizzying, like a too-heavy trip that throws your mind from transcendence to terror and back again. At the peak, an Olympics with grace and greatness on display at every turn. At the depths, scandal that threatens the foundation of the sport itself and delivers crushing blows to the reputation of coaches everywhere. So much to love, so much to hate.

First, the health... By damn near every standard, the sport of swimming has never been in better shape. Sure, Micheal the Meal Ticket has left the table, but he has left a feast of riches. The competition in London was as good as any Olympic swimming in history. Across the board. Thrilling upsets, epic relays, all-time moments every night. And despite the unfortunate tape delay by NBC, more viewers tuned in to watch swimmers than ever before.

At the age group level, there has never been more kids taking part in this sport. In the U.S., there are currently 362,700 registered competitive swimmers and almost 3,000 member clubs. That's a 17% increase from four years ago, and remember, four years ago was its own high water mark after Phelps's Beijing bonanza. Across the world, it's safe to say that the ranks of young swimmers in France and South Africa and Brazil are also swelling as we speak, thanks to overachieving performances in London and a Rio Games on the horizon. This is a sport on the rise, and not just within American borders.

The sport also appears to have finally turned a corner when it comes to diversity. Sure, it remains embarrassingly too-white at every meet. But that's changing - at the top, with the likes of Tony Ervin and Cullen Jones and Lia Neal - but also at the ground level, as grassroots programs like Make a Splash are reaching scores of young athletes who might never have been exposed to the pool.

Phelps did indeed change the sport, but he wasn't alone. The tide has been rising for a long time, well before he took the blocks as a teenager in Sydney, and it will continue to rise in the Olympiad ahead.

Now, the sickness... Swimming has an image problem. (And no, I don't mean Seth MacFarlane's mean-spirited mockery of Lochte on SNL last week.) Today, Rick Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming. Two decades too late, some might say. His namesake team, Curl-Burke, was renamed Nation's Capital Swim Club. Or NCAP for short. (One friend from the area quipped: "Does that stand for 'No Coitus After Practice'?")

On Monday, Mark Schubert was hauled into the ugliness, facing a lawsuit from a former assistant for unlawful firing. Basically, she accuses Schubert of Paterno'ing - that is, not doing anything after he was made aware of sexual abuse allegations against a close coaching colleague, Bill Jewell. Not doing anything except fire the whistle blower, that is. As wrote: "another embarrassing turn for a sport that has taken steps over the last two years to combat widespread claims of sexual misconduct."

Then the Schubert story gets crime novel crazy. The suit alleges that Schubert and Jewell were the less-than-masterminds behind Sean Hutchison's downfall at FAST. Word is that Schubert hired a private investigator to take pictures of Hutchison engaged in sexual activities with one of his swimmers. (An adult swimmer, it's worth noting...) Schubert then apparently took the pics from the P.I. and used them to blackmail USA Swimming to the tune of $625,000 to keep the compromising photos under wraps. If you believe all this, you're about as bright as the guy being sued. But the facts, whatever they are, are just part of the problem. Regardless of how this lawsuit ends, this is yet another blow to the image of our sport.

Think about it: Rick Curl and Mark Schubert. A pair of Hall of Famers. Their characters aside, these are two of the most successful and celebrated swim coaches in history. When parents looked for the very best programs for their children, when former swimmers chose to stay in the sport and become coaches, these two used to be the examples. The ones you turned to as pillars of the profession. Now they seem to exemplify an on-going sickness that still isn't cured.

Here's something else that remains deeply ill: the state of men's college swimming. How many Olympic medalists in London were the product of NCAA programs? 30, by my count, but feel free to fact check. Florida, Michigan, Cal, Northwestern, USC, and Georgia each produced individual Olympic champions in London. How many other international athletes were at the Games after developing their talents at U.S. universities?

Of course, that's all good and well, but Olympic medals don't pay for college athletic budgets and men's swimming remains at grave risk at dozens of schools. Gratefully, the women's programs appear to be well protected under Title IX provisions, but the growing ranks of young male swimmers are going to want some place to continue racing after they turn 18. Let's hope enough college teams can stick around to serve them.

It's easy to get wrapped up and warped in these extremes. Olympic triumphs, coaching sex scandals, college programs being cut... These are the Heavens and the Hells of a sport that continues to carry on day after day, lap after lap, in countless pools all over the world. Most of you will never experience any of this. The highs might inspire you and the lows might enrage you, but do they really change your own daily swimmer's reality? A reality that is drenched in chlorine and early mornings and worthy dreams.

When you're under water and on an interval, all this stuff ceases to matter. All that exists is that pure altered state of swimming.

The NCAA is Un-American

And that's a good thing. The issue of foreign Olympians training at U.S. colleges...  That headline is not meant to inflame. It's just a fact. In many quarters, calling someone "un-American" is akin to hate speech. In this case, in reference to an athletic institution based in the United States, it's simply the way it is. See, for decades now, the NCAA has been the principle development system of the world's greatest Olympic athletes. Many of those athletes carry American passports and go for gold under the Stars & Stripes; many more do not.

This upsets some folks. Well meaning Americans who seem to be believe that it's the duty of American universities to prepare only American athletes for the Olympics. Never mind the fact that the USOC does not give a single penny to these colleges to fund that perceived duty. So, apparently it's just supposed to come from some vague altruistic notions of nationalism?

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal got in on the debate - with a grossly jingoistic piece entitled Schools That Train the Enemy. (Nice to see Rupert Murdoch's always classy fingerprints on his illustrious paper...) The language in the piece makes the skin crawl. In addition to the "enemy" in the headline, there's a sidebar called "Rating the Traitors" (an honor won by Auburn), and words like "damage" and "threat" sprinkled throughout the piece. Fair and balanced, indeed.

Clearly I take exception. And unlike the Journal, I'll make no pretense of any objectivity. My bias is huge. I was the "enemy." I received all the spoils and expertise of NCAA swimming, and then I went off and competed for Canada at the Olympics. My business partner found his way from Germany to Cal Berkeley, where he was the captain of the Golden Bears his senior year, and was a member of their U.S. Open record-breaking 4 x 100 free relay back in 2000. Suppose he's the enemy too. A couple of damaging threats who now own a school that teaches thousands of mostly American children how to swim...

For the two of us, and a great many of our friends, the NCAA was un-American in the best possible way.

But I guess all that big picture context is besides the point. The question remains - should American coaches at American colleges be preparing top foreign athletes to compete against Americans at the Olympics? Is there an inherent conflict of interest there?

First, some facts and figures: In 2008, USA Swimming did a study on the number of foreign swimmers competing at the top level of the NCAA. At the 2008 men's and women's Division I NCAA champs, they found that 48 different countries were represented. The Olympic Games could not top that level of international participation until 1936 - when 49 countries competed at the Berlin Games. This means that our current NCAA Swimming championships are a bigger international event than the first eight Olympics.

Hans Chrunak, the former head coach of the Swedish national team from 1991 to 2000, was once asked who was the biggest sponsor of Swedish swimming. Chrunak thought for a moment, then replied matter-of-factly: "That would be the NCAA." An unlikely reply perhaps. One would expect an apparel company, or perhaps a petroleum company like Phillips 66. But no, for the Swedes, their biggest benefactor was the NCAA. When Chrunak made that statement a few years back, there were 51 Swedish swimmers competing in the NCAA. Now, not every one of those 51 were receiving full scholarships, and not all went on to make the Swedish Olympic Team, but consider the resources and the finances that the NCAA was devoting to these 51 Swedes. Even if each one was receiving a partial scholarship worth $10,000 a year, that's still a half million dollar investment each year in Sweden's swimming program.

One can see how that might rub certain Go U-S-A'ers the wrong way. Should those scholarships and those dollars have been spent on American kids? Well, if those Americans were better qualified, yes. If not, then absolutely not. (How do you feel about affirmative action? What's your stance on isolationism? How do you define your patriotism? This particular issue can quickly slip and slide onto bigger pastures...)

The greatest coaches in the U.S. are often divided on this delicate question. On one hand, you have Texas' Eddie Reese and Stanford's (now retired) Skip Kenney. These two elder statesmen are widely regarded as coaches who've seldom been interested in international swimmers at their schools. That's not to say it was a hard and fast rule for these men. I can rattle off a number of Canadian swimmers who competed for the Cardinal. And Israeli breaststroker Imri Ganiel (1:00.9 in the 100) just recently signed at Texas. Just two examples, plenty more, yet these two perennial powers have mostly been stocked with US swimmers through the years.

Contrast that with the longtime leaders of Auburn and Florida. As the head coach of Auburn from 1990 to 2007, David Marsh took the Tigers to prominence by focusing more on top foreign swimmers than anyone else. Sprint kings Freddy Bousquet and Cesar Cielo, to name the two most obvious. Meanwhile, Florida head coach Gregg Troy quite literally made his coaching name by developing international talent. At the Bolles School, where he coached for twenty years, he guided world beating talents like Surinam's Anthony Nesty and Spain's Martin Zubero, Olympic champions in 1988 and 1992, respectively. Add these guys to the Journal's "enemy" list too... (More bias, I was one of Coach Troy's "international" swimmers at Bolles. At the 1996 Games, we had 18 different countries represented in Atlanta. Two Thai friends and I made t-shirts that proudly proclaimed "Bolles Nation.")

Fast forward to today: Gregg Troy is the head coach of the U.S. men's Olympic swim team. Dave Marsh is now the CEO and Head Elite Coach of SwimMAC - a United States Olympic Committee Center of Excellence. So, is it fair to say that these two world class coaches may have improved their craft working with all those world class foreign talents? So much so that these two are now charged with developing and leading Team USA on the biggest stage possible.

The career arcs of Marsh and Troy reveal something frequently missed when folks make their isolationist arguments in favor of keeping foreign swimmers out of the NCAA. Both coaches and swimmers improve thanks to that international presence. Want to be the best? Put yourself around the best possible talent. American swimmers are better thanks to the presence of foreign athletes side by side in their lanes at college. And American coaches are better too, when given the opportunity to work with top talent from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. How could that not help a team improve in every way?

So, here's to the enemies. The foreigners, the ones who cross oceans and borders and arrive at American colleges determined to improve themselves... By doing so, they also improve all those young entitled American kids around them.

No thanks necessary.

So Long Skippy

Big coaching gigs up for grabs... Stanford men, Michigan women, who's next? Your coach may be eyeing the exit. It's not that he doesn't care about you. It's not that Olympic Trials - and your taper - aren't the most important looming priority. It's just that this is his career. And some big fat opportunities are dangling out there. They're the white whales of the coaching profession. Forgive him if he's been going a little Ahab lately...

This month two of the most successful coaches in NCAA history stepped down simultaneously. On May 16, Stanford men's Skip Kenney and Michigan women's Jim Richardson announced their respective retirements. Both careers feature a feast of achievements. The CV for Richardson: 2-time NCAA Coach of the Year; 14 Big Ten titles; 162 All-Americans. The CV for Kenney: 7 NCAA team titles; 6-time Coach of the Year; 72 NCAA champions; 23 Olympians; and the most disgusting (for non-Stanford Pac-12'ers) stat of all: 31 straight Pac 10 / 12 titles.

Love 'em or hate 'em, these two are Hall of Famers who helped change countless lives. A mighty bow is due to both men. But almost immediately after their announcements, the conversation was not about their past careers, but about who would take over these oh-so coveted positions. Will it go to a young up and comer, a la Dave Durden at Cal? Or will it be awarded to a man or woman of equal stature, who might have an eye on more prestigious pastures?

When a friend emailed me about Skip Kenney stepping down, his next line was: "Is Dave Marsh going to take over?"

Suppose that's as good a bet as any. Particularly considering Stanford's perception of itself. As opposed to their cross bay rivals, one just can't see the position going to a young coach still making his bones at a step-below program. After all, there's a smug cloud that permanently hangs over the Farm. That three-decade flawless conference streak is not going to be entrusted to just anyone...

As for the Michigan gig, the campus might lack the balmy weather of Palo Alto, but if there's a cooler college town than Ann Arbor please let me know. It sounds like the perfect place for a coach to raise a family, with a reasonable standard of living and a well funded and ever supportive athletic department. (Just a guess, but a fine 3-bedroom home in Ann Arbor might be just a bit less than in Palo Alto, home to hoards of garden variety tech billionaires...)

The Stanford and Michigan jobs were just the latest on the coaching carousel, of course. Tennessee and Alabama came before that. I've heard nothing but glowing things about Matt Kredich at Tennessee, who ascended from women's coach to take over the combined program for the Volunteers. So, that program appears to be in winning hands. As for the Alabama job, another Hall of Famer has returned to the collegiate ranks -- Crimson Tide alum and longtime USA Swimming National Team Director, Dennis Pursley. Joining him will be fellow 'Bama alum and world class coach, Jonty Skinner. A guy who's coached 17 Olympic champions, and used to be a world record holder himself. After well over a decade of being dominated by their hated rival, Auburn, I would not want to be in Brett Hawke's shoes right now... Recruiting in the South just got a lot harder for the Tigers.

When major coaching positions change hands, recruiting becomes a whole new ball game. And not necessarily in the ways you might suspect... When a legend steps down, the assumption might be that his particular school is now less of a draw. In fact, the reverse is true in some cases. For instance, I know of one supremely coveted recruit next year who became a lot more interested in Stanford when he heard the news about Kenney. That's not meant to knock a man on his way out, it's simply a fact. The swimming world witnessed this at Cal. There are few coaches on earth worthy of more respect than Nort Thorton, but when he let go of the reins, those Bears raced to the front of the pack under Durden's new command.

With Berkeley's recent success as a template, if I were the AD at Stanford or Michigan, I'd be taking a hard look at those young coaches at second tier swim schools. The ones perhaps mentored by a Marsh or a Troy as a graduate assistant, ones who learned from the greats, spent a few years leading slightly lesser talents, who are now ready for the big time.

Does that sound like your coach? Are you that coach?

If so, time to buy a new suit. Good luck on your interviews...

The Majors No More

The NCAA Championships used to be loaded with Olympic medalists... No longer. "It used to be the major leagues," said the well-placed source. "Now it's become AAA."

The well-placed source did not wish to be named. Didn't want to come across as criticizing the accomplishments of the latest crop of NCAA champs. Fair enough. But this was less a criticism than an observation of fact.

Take a look at the results. Scroll through the names of the winners. Do you see the names of any likely Olympic champions among them? Any that will appear on any podiums in London?

Well, maybe a few. Two big exceptions here, both on the women's side: Florida's Elizabeth Beisel and USC's Katinka Hosszu. Beisel is the defending world champion in the women's 400 IM; Hungary's Hosszu may be the swimmer to beat in London in the same race. She won the women's NCAA title in the 400 IM in an astonishing 3:56.54. Those two are my picks to go 1-2 in London. But beyond those two swimmers, in that one event, who else is there?

Cal's Caitlin Leverenz has to make the list. She's clearly swimming with a crazy new confidence nowadays - as evidenced by her latest performance at the Indy Grand Prix. She'll likely join Beisel as the other American entry in the 400 IM, but her medal chances are probably better in the 200 IM...

Among the men, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single guy from NCAA's who's likely to medal in London.

Texas' Jimmy Feigen might be there as a member of the U.S. 4 x 100 free relay. Maybe, in the prelims possibly. Tom Shields could drop a big time long-course 100 fly any day now, and find himself in the London final with a great shot at a medal. But first he's got to make the Team. Same goes for Arizona's insane freshman Kevin Cordes. If you go 51.32 at 18-years-old, you've got to figure a huge drop is on the way in the big pool. But again, he's gotta make the Team first - and he's got just a few old guard Olympic medalists standing in his way. (Among those three, I'll take Cordes as the best shot; think he goes 59-low at Trials, with a big shot at the London podium...)

Missing anyone? Please let me know if I am. Stanford's Chad La Tourette will very likely make the U.S. team in the mile, but it would take quite a drop to be anywhere near the medal mix in London.

When did this happen? When did the NCAA Championships - long considered the fastest short course meet on the planet - become a minor league competition? Sure, they're still fast as hell, and this takes absolutely nothing away from the excitement of the meet, but the fact remains: the stars of the Olympic Games are no longer competing at NCAA's.

Think back to another time when this was a very different environment. In 1996, Tom Dolan was widely considered the best all-around swimmer on the planet. He was a junior at Michigan. His meet the year before, at the 1995 NCAA Champs, is still the best all-around collegiate performance in history. In 2000, Erik Vendt and Anthony Ervin were mere kids in the Pac-10 when they went to Sydney and took home silver and gold, respectively. In 2004, Ryan Lochte collected his first Olympic medals in Athens; then he went back to Florida and dominated the 2005 NCAA champs.

The list goes on... But times have changed.

Now the very best stick around and turn pro after their college days are done. The average age of Olympic champions seems to get older with every Olympiad. This is a trend that's not going to reverse itself anytime soon. Indeed, Lochte has made clear that he has every intention of continuing on until Rio. And despite his protests to the contrary, I'll put money on Phelps being there in Rio too. Maybe this superstar pair won't be loading up on a million events at this advanced age, but they'll still be taking up a few relay spots, at very least.

There's one girl who could make a mockery of all this talk in a hurry. That would be Missy Franklin. If she continues to refuse the ever-escalating stacks of money being thrown her way, continues to put off turning pro, she could be the greatest all-around female swimmer on earth straight through her four years in the NCAA, at whatever lucky school wins her services. Though, there has to be a limit to how much money you can leave sitting on the table... (Another bet: Franklin sticks with her convictions and goes off to school, then turns pro after a year or two in the NCAA. Cashes in before Rio, but still gets to have the whole college "experience"...)

Of course, if the NCAA had any common sense at all, this wouldn't even be a decision for phenoms like Franklin. This behind-the-times organization could simply get with the program - that is, the Olympic program. The Games long ago admitted to the central fallacy of amateurism. And the Olympics are much better for it.

The NCAA would be too...

The Golden Years

A Dynasty is Born at Cal  The hills are alive with the sound of... Durden? Did the boys of Berkeley really just win NCAA's for the second year in a row? After losing an irreplaceable graduating class, led by none other that Nathan Adrian, and replacing that crew with bunch of no-name freshmen? Yeah well, they're no-names no more. Those Diaper Dandies (cheers, Dicky V) just won the big one for the Bears. And that means the dawn of a dynasty in the Berkeley Hills...

Meanwhile, one week earlier, Teri McKeever led her legion of Lady Bears to yet another title at the women's NCAA's. That makes three national championships in the last four years for the ladies. Or, if you're counting combined, this means that Cal has won five of the last eight national NCAA team titles available over the last Olympiad.

How did this happen? Wasn't Stanford supposed to be the spot where hot shot recruits flocked in the Bay Area? No longer. There's been a changing of the guard, and it looks like it's just getting started.

Admittedly, I've got some pro-Bears bias in this regard. While I didn't go to Berkeley, my wife and my business partner are both Cal alums. Meaning, the two people I communicate with more than anyone else are Go Bears to the core. If my schools (USC and SMU) aren't winning, I'm cheering for Cal, because of them. But who needs a bias? You could look at this as objectively as a sober judge and still come out pulling for the Bears. There's a lot to like.

Among the Cal women, you have - not sure there's any argument here - the greatest woman swim coach in history. This summer, Teri McKeever will be the first female head coach of the women's U.S. Olympic Swim Team. That's sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? The first ever, in 2012? But it's true. The first time a woman's had this top spot. Obviously, she's more than earned it.

Among the men, you have Dave Durden. The guy's 36 years old; he just won his second straight NCAA championship. When he was hired by Cal five years ago, succeeding the legendary Nort Thornton, the decision was met with random shrugs. Apparently, Durden blew everyone away when he interviewed for the job. But this is a gig that's supposed to go to a proven commodity. Swim coaching jobs just don't get much better. It's a destination job, reserved for coaches who've already been around a few Olympic blocks. Durden wasn't that. He was coming from the University of Maryland, not exactly a swimming powerhouse. (In fact, not a swimming house at all anymore, as the program got the axe just a few months ago...) But before Maryland, Durden had apprenticed at Auburn - at the Dave Marsh School of Higher Coaching. He clearly studied hard.

No one's shrugging anymore.

I hate to jinx Coach Durden, and as his profile grows there will inevitably be grumbles, but I have never heard a bad word uttered about the guy. This is more than unusual, it's something that doesn't exist among high profile coaches. Everyone has enemies at that level. I consider Florida's Gregg Troy to be the best swim coach alive on earth, but not everyone agrees with me. In fact, I know a few old swimmers who might disagree with that opinion rather vehemently. But with Durden, all you seem to hear is sunshine. How it's all about the team with him, how he gets everyone to buy in to a bigger mission. How he's "so Zen."

I'm not sure what that even means, but I wish it was something said about me. Don't we all.

Meanwhile, at the rival across town, there seems to be a program with its priorities bizarrely out of whack. Over at Stanford, it seems to be all about the Streak. That is, its mind-boggling streak of consecutive Pac-10 / 12 titles. It's been 31 straight years now. Stanford has not lost a men's conference swimming title under Skip Kenney since 1981. That's insane. (If you swam at another Pac-10 / 12 school, it's also infuriating, but that's another story...) Yet as impressive as that streak might be, it's pretty clear that, for the last two years at least, it's being extended at the expense of a much bigger prize. Sure, the Cardinal won again at the conference meet last month. But where were they this past weekend? A distant third place. 109 points behind their biggest rival when it mattered most...

Over at Berkeley, there's no confusing the priorities. These young men and women are buying in for a pair of coaches who are fast defining the state of their art.

Here's hoping those Berkeley Hills are hosting some raucous swimmer parties right about now... And here's betting that this time next year, Cal is going to win it all again.

Place Your (Charity) Bets

Gambling, for Good, on Olympic Sport... Everything's more exciting with a bit of action on the outcome. A gambler's truism if there ever was one. Many might go with the glass half empty outlook: Nothing is exciting without some money on the line.

Wherever you fall on the compulsiveness meter, this is the one week of the year where you're probably placing a bet of some sort. Super Bowl week: the time when even teetotaling Mormons know the spread. The time when hard core bettors go on a mad frothing bender... In Vegas alone, there will be an estimated $100 million wagered legally. A drop in the cash bucket compared to the estimates worldwide. If you count offshore Internet gambling sites, illegal bookies, and the countless 'friendly' bets made in every living room in America, some say over $10 billion is bet this week on the game of games, by over 200 million people across the world.

It's a beautiful thing. Depending on how you view this fine vice... I love to gamble. Always have. Horses and poker, mainly, but having some cash on the line in any contest will always make it just that much more...

Unfortunately, wagering on our favorite sport of all has never been an option. (Officially that is...) Much as I'd love to see odds posted at the biggest meets, that doesn't seem like an idea that's going to entice the good folks at USA Swimming or the NCAA anytime soon. But just envision it for a second: 2-1 odds on Lochte beating Phelps in the 200 free. 50-1 odds on anyone beating Phelps in the 200 fly. How about a favorite / longshot Exacta in the men's 50 free - Cesar Cielo and Anthony Ervin, anyone? How about being able to bet the Trifecta on any podium at the Games?

Obvious opportunity for corruption and scandal aside, the idea does have its upsides. Like legalizing marijuana in California or legalizing Internet gambling in all 50 states, opening up wagering on swimming could instantly cure many financial crises. Things like, say, all of men's college swimming... Alas, few want to hear about vice coming to the rescue.

In the meantime, here's a noble way to get your gambling fix on in Olympic sport. Take a look at Charity Bets. Do-gooding meets stock-picking, in sport... A way to gamble on your favorite athletes. And when you win, you give. Come again? Isn't gambling about getting? Yes, well, time to test that old Christmas cliché - it's better to give than to receive...

Here's how it happened: A few sporty finance guys in New York were looking to raise money for cancer research around an athletic event. According to the site, their approach can be summed up with this simple premise: "I bet you can't run this fast, or jump this high, or throw this far." The essence of every challenge between competitors, with an emphasis on the bet. These guys decided to go a step further, set up a site, started contacting athletes, and a beautiful charitable mission was born.

And here's how it works: Pick your athlete and issue your challenge. Pick your favorite charity. Place your bets. Athlete succeeds, you win, you pay up to your chosen worthy cause.

U.S. marathon champion Meb Keflezighi has been the early face of Charity Bets. By winning the U.S. Olympic marathon Trials in Houston last month, Keflezighi won his bets, and raised a boatload for the chosen charities. U.S. sprinters Walter Dix and Justin Gatlin are also on board.

So, the question is, why aren't any swimmers on Charity Bets yet? Why aren't the Olympic Swimming Trials listed on the site as events with open charitable wagering? Right now, there are plenty of options in running, biking, and triathlon. Where are the swimmers?

This is what swimmers do anyway. Last week, I heard Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer were talking trash at workout, challenging each other over who could do what in practice. Apparently Lochte tells Dwyer there's no way you can stand up and go 3:48 in the 400 IM, right now. Dwyer takes the bait. Stands up and goes 3:42. In practice. Same time he went at NCAA's last year... Impressing Ryan Lochte must have been nice. Seeing him have to pay up - to a worthy cause - would have been even sweeter.

I'm ready to place some bets. So, here's a challenge to kick this off: Lochte, I've got $100 that says you can't break your world record this year in the 200 IM. You pick the charity.

I would love to pay up.

Well Endowed

Tarheels, Bulldogs, Buckeyes, Bears, and Vikings... Yes, Vikings. Follow these leaders: Sustainable college swimming programs that get it... The headline isn't a euphemism, stop smirking. The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines well-endowed as "having a lot of something, especially money or possessions"... Or having a large something, right? But today's story is about what lies ahead for college swimming, not what lies beneath the Speedo. And those ahead-of-the-curve programs that get it...

Last week, a post called Pay Your Way quickly became the most read piece ever on this young blog. It tried to dissect what will happen in college sports when football and basketball players start getting paid, when swimming programs face elimination as a result, and want can be done to protect them. Based on the feedback that poured in, the story clearly touched a nerve for many. And rightly so, considering it's many of your livelihoods.

In the days that followed, I had a chance to email and speak with a few leaders in the sport who have been out on those front lines fighting this fight long before there was an Internet for bloggers to share their unsolicited insights. To a man, everyone's diagnosis was the same -- the situation is dire, perhaps terminal for some, and in need of immediate attention. And all agreed on something else -- there is a cure. The principal antidote? Endowments.

Want to protect your swimming program so your great grandkids can someday be Trojans or Mustangs too? If so, you'd better be well endowed. That is, with a healthy fund of alumni money set aside, accumulating interest, and paying for your swimmers' scholarships and training trips and, hell, even a brand new pool when the time comes. Without it, you're like a surfer without a leash. One big wave knocks you off the board and it's time to swim to shore, session over.

While that rather forced aquatic metaphor might describe many college swim programs, there a few teams out there that are sitting pretty. Thanks to the foresight of their coaches and / or their well-heeled alumni, they've made their teams untouchable. Come what may, these programs are now built to last. They're no longer the no-revenue-producing redheaded stepchildren of their big sport siblings. Pay their football and basketball brethren all you like, it won't affect these swim teams' existence. Because they figured out how to do it themselves.

So, who are they? Last week, I had a chance to speak to Bob Groseth, the Executive Director of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. For twenty years, Groseth was the coach of Northwestern, taking the Wildcats from the bottom of the Big Ten rankings to perennial contenders with a roster of NCAA champions. Groseth took over as the head of the CSCAA in 2009. A widely respected presence at every level of the sport, he's interested in a whole lot more than the top 10 teams everyone sees at NCAA's. He knows college swimming extends far beyond its flagship meets, and that some of the programs most worthy of admiration aren't necessarily the ones stacked with Olympians.

But first, let's talk about one of those programs that gives everyone Olympic envy. When it comes to Cal Berkeley, there's plenty to be jealous of these days. They're the defending NCAA champions among both the men and the women. Their head coaches are among the most beloved figures on pool decks today. Recruits are lining up out the door for the privilege to swim here. (Untouchable, right? Tell that to UCLA...) But a few years back, they managed to do something even more impressive than win the team titles at NC's. They created the Cal Aquatics Fund. Led by a few deep pocketed alum (let's just say one founded the Gap, and another founded Dreyer's Ice Cream...), they made sure that every Cal water sport would exist forevermore. Men's and women's swimming and men's and women's water polo, all taken care of.

Sure, the Cal track record of excellence is plenty impressive, but it's also a state school, in a state than has just a few financial difficulties. Falling in-state admissions and rising tuition are serious issues in the UC system these days. No matter what place they got at NCAA's, the Cal teams had plenty to worry about. That is, until this Fund came into being.

Who else has patched together that warm cloak of endowment? North Carolina is a school frequently mentioned towards the top of the list. So is the University of Georgia. According to Groseth, both UNC's Frank Comfort and Georgia's Jack Bauerle have made sure that every single one of their scholarships is endowed. The UNC recruiting slogan almost writes itself: Take comfort with Comfort! Because his team isn't going anywhere...

Groseth also had high praise for Ohio State's Bill Wadley. In addition to building a new state-of-the-art pool, Wadley recently managed to get all of the Buckeyes' swimming scholarships endowed. No surprise that this is suddenly a program on the rise... Sure, the pool makes a major difference in impressing recruits, but according to Groseth it was the security of establishing the endowment that truly allowed Wadley to take ownership of his fast improving program.

All four of these schools mentioned above deserve plenty of props, but you might have noticed that they are all major athletic powerhouses, among the most accomplished athletic departments in the nation, across many sports. It makes sense that it's possible at schools like this, where there's bound to be plenty of passionate alumni support. But what about smaller schools, without any real sports tradition to speak of? What about a small Midwestern school, an institution less than 50 years old, a mid-major program that's never had a swimmer break 20 seconds in the 50 free? The sort of program that so often finds itself on the chopping block...

What about the Cleveland State Vikings?

According to Bob Groseth, CSU "should be the poster boy for how to create a sustainable swim team." The man responsible? Head Coach Wally Morton. Now in his 37th year as head coach, Morton has led a rock solid program with most of its scholarships endowed since 1999. And it's not just rich alumni who prop it up. The CSU team has made itself untouchable thanks to an active and ongoing effort to make itself indispensable in its college community. I spoke to Morton earlier, as he was about to board a flight home with his team from a Christmas training trip. (That right there should say something...)

"The money is key, of course," says Morton. "But more important is the relationship you foster with your Athletic Director, and even more, your college president."

Sounds simple enough - you want your bosses to know and care about you. Yet, this is something that just doesn't happen at so many programs. Case in point: During my sophomore year at USC, the Athletic Director, Mike Garrett, was giving a speech at our annual swim team banquet. His remarks were proceeding with the usual vague, overblown praise when he declared "and that's what makes the SC water polo team so important to this school." Silence in the room. A few snickers, probably from the freshman. It took Garrett a few uncomfortable seconds to realize that he was speaking to the swim team, and that now everyone in the room knew he was reading from a stock speech that he apparently read at every other team's banquet. The swim team was a faceless entity to this AD. He wouldn't blink if he was forced to cut it; he didn't even know who we were.

Something like this would never happen at CSU. That's because everyone at the school knows exactly who Morton and the swimmers are. And they know because Morton makes sure of it. Recently, Morton told me, the CSU president was traveling to San Francisco. So, the swim coach called up a few old alums who had settled out there. One took him to the San Fransisco Farmers Market. Another figured out his dinner plans. How much do you want to bet that this college president attended the team's next swim meet when he got back to Cleveland?

At the CSCAA conference last May in San Diego, Morton recalled a line from the keynote speaker Frank Busch, USA Swimming's National Team Director. After 31 years as the head coach of Arizona, Busch knows his way around the landmines of college swimming. To his assembled coaching audience, Busch had one piece of advice that resonated with Morton: "Don't be a mosquito to your AD and your college president." That is, don't be a pest who only buzzes around when you want something. Mosquitos gets swatted away, and then they get crushed.

But those wise well-endowed programs who get it? They'll be swimming above it all for a long, long time.

Pay Your Way

The movement to pay college football and basketball players... and what it means for college swimming. A righteous debate rumbles into deep water... Last Sunday, the latest media missile was fired into the mess of big time college sports. It hit its mark with precision, making the overwhelming and by now obvious case that NCAA football and men's basketball players deserve to be paid. This latest treatise was published in the New York Times magazine by Joe Nocera. Its unambiguous headline: Let's Start Paying College Athletes.

Agreed. But then what...

Nocera quickly clarifies his editor's headline; he doesn't mean just any athletes. And certainly not swimmers or other sportsmen and women in the shadows who generate exactly zero dollars for their schools. No, the journalist cum reformer makes the clear case that the only ones entitled to a share of the income are the ones who actually earn the income. In other quarters, this would be known as the Law. As opposed to a cartel or a plantation -- the two entities that the NCAA most closely resembles these days. (How do you feel about Colombian drug lords and slave driving 19th century Southern landowners? Maybe consider these two conscience-free classes next time you're singing your college fight song...)

Two months back, I posted a piece called State of Pay, which picked apart the tone-deaf ideas in a Sports Illustrated story that argued for similar reform. Under SI's plan, paying football and basketball players would mean slashing sports like swimming from scores of athletic departments. Fortunately, Nocera's plan in the New York Times refrains from such destructive half-bright suggestions. In fact, no other sport is mentioned once in the piece except football and basketball. He rightly points out that these athletes are employees of the schools -- workers who earn often substantial revenue for their employers. As opposed to the athletes in "non-revenue" sports who earn nothing for the university, and thus can fairly be called amateur. (Setting aside the sponsorship debate for the moment...)

I was nodding right along with the story until I came to one rather halting paragraph. Under Nocera's plan, not all universities will be able to afford the new required cost to compete. If each school has a set budget with a salary cap (to prevent Yankees-like monopolizing at schools like Texas and Florida...), some will not be able to afford that budget, even with a cap. Can't afford to pay, can't compete, goodbye program. Nocera doesn't seem particularly bothered by this. He estimates that the number of so-called "major" football programs will shrink from 120 to 72, and the number of "major" men's basketball programs will shrink even further, from 338 to around 100. Now, this would not affect the top 25 rankings in either sport, and you wouldn't even notice it during March Madness. It would merely eliminate those teams who are already kidding themselves about competing in the big time...

Except that's not what would happen at all. Under this plan, about 25,000 scholarships would disappear: 28 football programs with 85 scholarships each, and 228 basketball programs with 13 scholarships each. (Feel free to do the math.) Meaning thousands of ballplayers who might have gone to college for free now aren't going to college at all. We're not talking about high-income resourceful backgrounds here. If the scholarship ticket goes away, that means a great many would never even set foot on a college campus. As poor as the "education" is for so many of these football and basketball players, no college education whatsoever is not exactly preferable.

This won't fly. We know this. These football and basketball programs aren't going anywhere, even if they're also-ran schools with no hope of really competing at a high level. They still have a critical mass of fans and alumni who will absolutely howl at even the hint of cutting them. Guess what will happen? C'mon, take half a second to think about it... Football and basketball players suddenly start earning a rightful wage as proud income-producing workers of a university. Athletic Directors suddenly have to get financially literate in a hurry. They know they can't touch their sacred big ticket sports, even if they can't afford to compete. So, they start looking somewhere else to cut costs...

Looking at sports like... you guessed it. Swimming is in trouble any way you cut it. The financial model of the NCAA is so unsustainable and flat out busted that anyone not pulling their financial weight better start scrambling for their very existence. And that means everyone in the sport of college swimming.

Here's what it comes down to: If you earn nothing and yet consider yourself entitled to all the spoils -- scholarships, travel, private locker rooms, and the rest of those intangibles that so many swimmers consider birthrights -- if you feel you're entitled to all this and generate nothing in return, at some point, someone is going to come looking for you. With a knife.

So, how to avoid the assassin? There is a way. It's not too complicated either. It comes down to the simple wisdom learned (the hard way or not) by anyone who's ever held a job, didn't want to lose it, and hoped to be promoted... Three words: Make Yourself Indispensable. Make the people who pay your way actually give a shit about you. Make them think, no, truly believe, that they cannot do without you.

With all due respect, coaches and swimmers, your college swim team is dispensable. When it comes down to dollars and cents, you aren't worth keeping. That's a hard pill to swallow, but it's true. Competitive swimming is a bad business - for this basic reason: it requires a lot of time and space in the pool in order to thrive. Space and time, these are two expensive items, especially in a high maintenance tub of water.

But these teams are worth keeping, regardless of the unblinking bottom line. Anyone reading this surely believes that. So, the question is - how do you convince the two parties that matter most to embrace your existence and make sure you continue forevermore. These two parties? The university itself and your alumni. You need them both. They need to have your back and be willing to fight for your survival as much as you're willing to fight when the ax is raised...

If that's going to happen, it's time to wise up. The financial blindness of so many swimmers and coaches is astonishing. They can't, can't possibly!, grasp how a school could be so cruel as to cut a sacred institution like a men's swimming program. Yet, when asked what they've given back, what will the answer be? Deafening silence... Those football and basketball players have an answer when they're asked that question. They can point to full stadiums and TV cameras and ask how much their own coaches earn thanks to them.

Now, the answer will never be the same when it is put to swimmers or other 'non-revenue' athletes. ('Non-revenue', such a seemingly harmless word that's tossed around but says so much...) Money-generated clearly will never be the answer. Ok, then what about clinics and swimming lesson programs for kids in and around the college community? What about taking an active role in fundraising, with seniors picking up the phone once in awhile and calling alumni and wooing them as much as they try to woo star recruits? What about figuring out how to set up an endowment for your team? How about teams stepping forward to help the university as a whole, integrating itself as an essential how-can-we-help part of your college town? Something like that tends to bring grant money for young men and women who actually grasp their place in the wider community...

These are the sort of things that make one indispensable. They put you on the radar - in the right way - long before the Athletic Director / Assassin comes searching for ways that he can cut costs and afford to pay for sports deemed more important than your own.

I'm ashamed to admit that as a college swimmer myself, many years ago, none of these things ever occurred to me. I was a financial illiterate, an utterly entitled take-take-take swimmer. I was outraged when they cut the UCLA men's program across town when I was a freshman at USC. Yet, it never once occurred to me how it might have been prevented. It was Title IX's fault, it was unfair, and the mean old penny counters at the college just didn't get it. Maybe it couldn't have been prevented, no matter what was done. Many programs have been cut since, and many more will be in the future. But most of these teams are unwittingly putting themselves in harm's way by being so willfully blind to how they might help themselves.

Ground-shaking change is coming to the NCAA. College football and basketball players are going to be paid soon. Sooner than you think. The system is broken and the cries for reform are only getting louder. And the changes are going to hit swimming, hard.

If the sport wants to stick around on the college level, it's time to get creative. And it's time to start making yourself indispensable.

The Price of College

Missy Franklin and the Value of the Undergrad Degree To have problems like these... Option A: Accept a full scholarship to any university in America. Soak up school's eternal gratitude. Win many NCAA titles. Have time of your life. Option B: Accept prize money and untold endorsements. Win a few gold medals in London. Appear on Wheaties box. Earn far more than that college scholarship was "worth."

A champagne problem indeed. A truly diamond-studded dilemma... This is what is currently facing 16-year-old high school junior Missy Franklin. She's the best American female swimmer since Janet Evans, and she's earned this difficult choice by virtue of her astonishing talent. While I have never met the girl, everything I have seen, heard, and read indicates that she is a smart and grateful young athlete. I think she gets it, and I think she appreciates that there are worse problems to have.

It is a rare and privileged decision to face, yet it is hardly a can't-lose choice. The possibility of regret looms large on both sides. What if I win big in London and turn down millions that I might never see again? Just for the chance to have the college swimming experience? What if I take the plunge and accept the money and then get hurt? Or simply lose the fire or the mojo required to win gold medals? This is hardly NBA-contract guaranteed money. The real money in swimming (what little there is of it) is incentive-laden to the extreme. It's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Stop winning, stop earning...

Nonetheless, don't you wish you could have had such a choice at 16?

While this question affects a miniscule population of the obscenely talented, their rare choice shines a light on a much wider question, one that affects every college student who does not have the luxury of a scholarship or parents wealthy enough to pay their way. That is - what am I paying for? And, more importantly, is it worth it?

That's the real question of value, isn't it? The essential balancing act that determines the price of everything. In every story written about athletes turning pro and forgoing college, you tend to see the same numbers bandied about. The price of college is often cited as "as much as $200,000" - meaning the tuition of top schools being around fifty grand a year these days. But this is a prime example of basing value on the literal rather than the actual. Something we all do, lazily, because it's easier. How much did Speedo offer you? $100K? Well, a Stanford scholarship is "worth" twice that.

Apologies for the continued use of quotation marks around the word "worth", but this number is ridiculous. Here's why: there is nothing more overpriced in America today than the cost of an undergraduate degree. If universities were stocks, I would short liberal arts colleges with every penny I have. What you get out is very often not what you put in. Or at least, not until that debt is paid off so many years later... It's a bad investment for its current going rate.

This argument is hardly news. It's one of the many grievances of the angry folks trying to occupy Wall Street. Higher education costs too much and it doesn't offer any decent return. Due to this imbalance, three things could happen: 1. Tuition prices go down. 2. Post-graduation salaries go up. 3. Many kids stop attending college altogether. Any guess on the most likely scenario?

So, this would make Missy Franklin's choice much easier, right? The value of that scholarship is absurdly inflated, so why not take the endorsement and prize money - income that is actual.

But there's the sad irony. While the cost of an undergraduate degree, in tuition terms, is grossly overpriced, the value of the collegiate athletic experience may be the most undervalued thing on any college campus. Hell, they're cutting many of the programs that offer the highest return!

College swimmers, where do you think you're going to meet the lead to your first employer? Where might you meet the friend you later start a business with? What network will you tap into if you wind up out of work at 30 and needing an in? Clue: Don't expect your degree to open many doors...

I know, these aren't exactly variables that should enter the mind of a talented 16-year-old. She should be thinking about the experience, the friendships that will be forged, the energy of an NCAA team standing as one, shoulder to shoulder along the edge of a pool, waving a teammate home in the heat of a close race... These are things that are impossible to value is financial terms. Or are they? Because many of those moments can and will transfer into career-making opportunities.

Regret is not an emotion often admitted by elite athletes. When things don't go exactly as planned, you tend to hear the "I wouldn't change a thing" line, the "it made me who I am" denials. Fair enough. I wouldn't admit it either. But the precedent of regret after turning pro is hard to miss. Especially among female swimmers.

Back in the early 1990's, I was growing up alongside the Missy Franklin of that era, a breaststroke phenom named Anita Nall. A year apart, we were friends and teammates on the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. At the 1992 Olympic Trials, 15-year-old Anita broke the world record in the 200 breaststroke - twice in one day.  She was the golden girl of the moment, the young charmed face of the American team heading into the Barcelona Games. Faced with sudden professional opportunities, she took the money and decided to forgo her NCAA eligibility.

In Barcelona, she had a good meet. But not a great one... A best time and an American record in the 100 breast, good enough for silver. A gold as a part of the women's 4 x 100 medley relay. But in the 200 breast, the event she was expected to dominate, she was just slightly off her best. She missed the gold by 2-tenths of a second and had to settle for bronze. She was never the same swimmer after that. There were reasons, valid ones like chronic fatigue, but she had missed her window, by 23-100ths of a second.

An individual gold medal is where it's at, the price of admission really, if you're talking about a "pro" swimming career paying off. Sixteen years after Anita's near miss in Barcelona, another high school pro from NBAC was forced to face the same reality. In 2008, Katie Hoff arrived in Beijing with an albatross of expectations weighing over her. The female Phelps, we called her. It wasn't fair maybe, but she'd earned it. She was the best female swimmer on the planet in the early summer of 2008. But by late summer, after her Games had ended, Hoff, like Anita Nall, was no longer the same swimmer. They both exited the Olympics with three medals, none of them individual gold.

Of course, NBAC also produced the ultimate example, the one career scripted by the gods. In Olympic waters, not much has ever gone wrong for Michael Phelps. No need to recite the litany of greatest hits. The money he's made makes these pro vs college debates completely moot. But that took how many gold medals? Maybe that shooting star destiny awaits Missy Franklin in London. Maybe it won't be any decision at all. But more likely, it will come down to a difficult question of value.

College might be overpriced, but college swimming remains the deal of a lifetime.