Tomorrow, I'll board a plane for San Antonio to attend the annual College Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) conference. It's one of the highlights of my year- a chance to connect with the small community of people in my profession, share ideas and organize our ranks on important issues. This year will be no different, but I have to admit I'll be boarding my flight with a heavy heart: I'm worried about the next generation of college swim coaches.
It's no secret that college swimming is in trouble, and has been for a couple decades. I don't have to look beyond my own conference (ACC) to see one team having swum it's last meet (Clemson) and another fighting for it's existence (Maryland). The reasons are numerous, systemic and evolving. In the past, Title IX was casually thrown out as a reason to cut men's teams. Currently, "budget cuts" necessitated by overspending athletic directors have been the culprit more often than not. For all the efforts of the swimming community, if this is a war than we are losing badly.
Despite the paltry salaries, strange hours and pervasive uncertainty, college swimming seems to have a never ending supply of enthusiastic, intelligent young coaches climbing over the top of one another for jobs. For every exceptional assistant coach I meet that is more than capable I know another who is dying for the chance but won't get it.
I'm troubled because I'm starting to see a cycle. Young coaches scratch and claw there way into assistant coaching positions in college, and for a while it's enough. They are swimming junkies and they're getting their fix- on deck every day year round, coaching fast swimmers and going to the big meets. It's only a few years in that the reality sets in. They get married, they think about starting a family. Male or female, it's just not going to work. So what do they do? Many are leaving college swimming or swimming altogether.
It's unfair to pin the entire thing on programs getting cut. Yes, opportunities are dwindling. Yet that's not the only reason that college swimming is bleeding talent. You see, the lack of care from athletic directors hurts swimming in more than one way. Many coaches in college swimming are retired on the job. We as a community have no effective way to purge them from the ranks. Thus, coaches who are up to the task will leave, while those who are not remain.
It's something I'm going to be looking for solutions for this weekend.