Men’s Post-Invite 2023 NCAA Relay Qualifications Exposes Texas’ Relay Troubles

There’s many different ways to analyze the state of college programs. But with the postseason now in sight on this side of the new year, one of the most telling ways is the number of NCAA relay qualifications a school has.

First, a quick refresher on how relays qualify for NCAAs:

  • The simplest way to qualify relays for NCAAs is to hit the “A Cut,” formally known as the “Qualifying Standard” in a relay.
  • Once a team has an “A” standard relay, they can also enter all relays where they’ve earned the “B” standard, formally known as a “Provisional Standard.”
  • Teams with four individual swimmers qualified can swim relay events in which they have at least a “B” standard.
  • Relays are qualified “to the team”, not the individual swimmers so teams can take whichever swimmers they want to use on the relay.
  • Teams must have at least one individual invite to send relays. For purposes of this article, we’ve assumed that all of the teams below will get an individual invite.

Why do relay qualifications matter? For one, relays are huge points–double individual events–so qualifying as many relays as possible and scoring is critical for teams with aspirations for finishing high in the standings.

Even for teams that are unlikely to finish inside the top 10 or have any relays score, relay qualification is an important benchmark for a program. Qualifying for all five relays at NCAAs means that a program isn’t relying on just one or two stars; they have four swimmers–and likely more than that–who are directly contributing to the success of the program.

Like years past, we’ve already seen this season–especially on the women’s side–that getting a relay qualified for NCAAs marks a big turning point for a program.

Below is a list of schools that have at least one ‘A’ cut this season, which again guarantees them not only a lane for that relay, but also any relay where they’ve hit a ‘B’ cut.

Schools with 1+ 2023 NCAA ‘A’ Cut

School # of ‘A’ Cuts # of ‘B’ Cuts Total A’ Cut Event(s) B’ Cut Event(s)
ASU 5 0 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 800 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Cal 5 0 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 800 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Florida 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
Tennessee 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
UVA 4 0 4 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Indiana 4 0 4 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Auburn 4 0 4 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
NC State 3 1 4 400 FR, 800 FR, 200 MR 200 FR
Texas A&M 3 0 3 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Texas 2 3 5 400 FR, 800 FR 200 FR, 200 MR*, 400 MR
Georgia 2 2 4 400 FR, 200 MR 200 FR, 800 FR
Virginia Tech 2 1 3 400 FR, 200 MR 400 MR
Stanford 1 2 3 400 FR 800 FR, 400 MR
Alabama 1 2 3 400 FR 800 FR, 400 MR
Ohio State 1 3 4 400 FR 200 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Arizona 1 2 3 400 FR 800 FR
TOTAL 46 18 64

Note: The asterisk on Texas’s 200 medley relay means that USA Swimming has not yet recognized the time because the swim was not within NCAA rules. SwimSwam believes that’s because of roster management. USA Swimming thinks the NCAA will eventually approve these times. Another Texas relay clocked 1:24.16, which has been recognized by USA Swimming, solidifying their ‘B’ cut in the event. 

16 schools have hit at least one ‘A’ cut so far this season, led by ASU and California, who have swum ‘A’ times in all five relays.

The Sun Devils swam all five ‘A’ cuts at midseason last year as well, but their times this season mark a big improvement for them. Four of their relays (all but the 400 freestyle) were faster than they were last year by over a second. Their biggest drop came in the 800 free relay, where they’ve shed 1.89 seconds and currently own the second-fastest time in the country behind Texas. It’s going to be an absolute battle for top 5 in March, and in terms of relay qualification, ASU has thrown down the gauntlet early against competitors like Florida, Indiana, and NC State.

Speaking of Texas, we knew that their relays were going to be a problem for them this year, and this table highlights that issue. They’ve only swum ‘A’ cuts in two relays, the 400 free and 800 free, with ‘B’ cuts in the other three. After the 2021 Minnesota Invitational, they had all five ‘A’ cuts. The Longhorns have secured a lane at NCAAs for all the relays but as it stands now, they really need their sprint core to impress in March. They’re outside the virtual ‘A’ final in two relays (200 free and 400 medley) which is a lot of points ceded to their rivals.

The Longhorns still have a ton of talent projected to score a lot of individual points, but winning a title will be hard without those relays.

The table shows a similar problem for NC State, a team that was top six in all the relays at 2022 NCAAs. They’ve dealt with illness this season, which is certainly a major factor in the Wolfpack only having 3 ‘A’ cuts and not yet owning even a provisional standard in the 400 medley relay.

Outside the top five, on paper it looks like Andrei Minakov being absent really hurt Stanford’s relay qualification. However, that’s not actually the case, at least compared to last season. At this point in the 2021-2022 season, Stanford had swum one ‘A’ cut and two ‘B’ cuts, the same as this year. Even without Minakov, their 800 free and 400 medley relays have improved from last year’s midseason invite. That’s not the only good news for them: Minakov swam at the Cardinal’s dual with Pacific, which is a huge boost not only for their relay qualification, but their overall points.

They don’t have an ‘A’ cut yet, but one relay to keep an eye on is Minnesota’s 800 freestyle relay. At their midseason invitational, they ripped a 6:16.25, coming .23 seconds away from an ‘A’ cut.  The Golden Gophers didn’t qualify any relays for NCAAs last year after their NCAA ‘A’ cut 200 medley relay was DQed at Big Tens.

Another team to keep an eye on is Notre Dame. Even during a tumultuous 2021-2022 season, the Irish still qualified four relays for NCAAs. Even with the return of their best swimmer Jack Hoagland, it looks like it’s going to be an uphill battle for them to hit that benchmark. So far, they’ve swum zero ‘A’ cuts and only a ‘B’ cut in the 400 free relay.

Last year, the only mid-major programs (men or women) to qualify a relay for NCAAs were the Harvard and UNLV men. As it stands now, no mid-major team has hit the qualifying or provisional standards in any relay.

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