The Potential Impact of Conference Realignment on College Swimming – Swimming World Magazine | WHs Answers

The potential impact of the conference realignment on collegiate swimming

On July 1, 2022, the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), two of the NCAA’s most celebrated athletic programs, shook the collegiate athletic world when they announced they were leaving the Pac-12 conference in 2024 to join the Big Ten conference. The announcement surprised many for a variety of reasons, and while many looked at the implications of this move for football, far fewer looked at the implications for Olympic sports, particularly swimming.

The professionals

If there’s one thing that motivates college athletic departments more than anything else, it’s money. And there’s a lot of money at stake in these conference realignment plans.

Before USC and UCLA announced they would be joining the Big Ten, multiple media reports indicated that the conference’s new media rights deal could be worth up to $1 billion, making each school between $80 million and $100 million a year only on TV could earn revenue. Currently, USC and UCLA make about $19.8 million a year from their conference at the Pac-12.

This newfound money could save or revitalize sports like swimming. Olympic sports generate low revenues and are constantly on the verge of being cut back by sports departments. By becoming more national through rebranding, it gives many universities (and swim teams) the opportunity to build their national brand. In the case of UCLA, she retired her swim program in the early 1990s, so a financial windfall at least brings the program up for discussion.

Many young swimmers looking to compete in college are usually exposed to teams in their area or come to their nearest college. The national realignment offers young athletes exposure to teams they’ve never seen before and encourages a competitive urge to reach the next level and swim for each team.

Finally, UCLA’s athletic department announced that joining the Big Ten Conference would save a number of low-revenue sports, showing that realigning the conference can have a positive impact on sports like swimming.

The disadvantages

While the conference realignment may bring a wealth of positive developments for college sports, including swimming, all is not perfect.

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest incentives for attending a new conference is the money available. While sports like swimming can be saved initially, the long-term impact could be drastic. As conferences become more national compared to the number of regional conferences we are currently seeing, an increase in travel is inevitable and more money will be spent with additional travel. Due to the fact that swimming is a low-revenue sport, swimming programs could be at risk because the programs don’t bring in the money it costs to pay for coaches, training, and travel. Even if schools receive more money through their improved conference profile, maintaining a high-cost program may be considered impracticable.

Many of the negative elements emerging from the conference realignment relate to the increased travel costs for teams. It’s no surprise that traveling can be exhausting. The collegiate swim season begins in October and lasts through March. It’s asking a lot for these young athletes and coaches to pack their bags for trips on a weekly basis, and sometimes multiple trips.

Add to that the fact that increased travel translates to less time in the classroom, raising questions about the focus of collegiate athletics. Athletic departments that value money more than students earn may be considered more of a business.

Eventually, when conferences get this big, it can end up affecting the NCAA as a whole, not just swimming. Mega-conferences are a very real possibility and with that potential comes a journey into the unknown that could result in each respective mega-conference evolving into its own governing body. This scenario could harm traditions that the NCAA currently has, such as B. the NCAA championships.

The future

Sports talk show host Dan Patrick likened the realignment of the conference we’re seeing today to playing risk. This analogy is spot on, and similar to the game, we watch some conferences attempt to eliminate other conferences through tactical maneuvers that lure schools into their network.

With everything going on in the world of collegiate athletics, from NIL opportunities to the transfer portal and now the realignment of the conference, the world of collegiate athletics is changing. Certainly these changes will have a big impact on collegiate swimming.

Could we see the creation of three nearly 50-school superconferences with conference championships akin to NCAAs? With the cash inflow that athletic departments will receive, could more swim programs be saved? Or, on the other hand, will more swimming programs end up on the chopping block due to higher travel costs?

While the last few schools are making their decisions about what’s best for their athletic programs, nothing is off the table and in the not-too-distant future, college swimming may not be the same.

All comments are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine or its contributors.

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