As coach Greg Troy stepped from his immensely successful Bolles School Sharks to the once-proud University of Florida Gators, he left a final gift to his fellow club coaches -a USA Swimming National Club Championships.
The National Club Championships is the end result of nearly six years of research, work, and consensus building by the United States' Senior Swimming Committee.
The concept was first brought to the committee by coaches Dave Salo and Mike Sharadin. Then committee chair, coach Sid Burkot (another club-turned-college coach) began the process of research and concept building.
As the leadership passed to Troy, he began developing models, floating trial balloons, and building support. This spring‘s meeting marked both the end of Troy's tenure as committee chair and the beginning of his tenure at the helm of one of the most pressure-packed positions in college swimming, but for one weekend, he took his focus off recruiting and put it on developing a nearly finished product.
"We have three goals," Troy reminded the committee at one point. "To make the Long Course season our national focus, to create an end-of-season team championship, and to lengthen the summer season." His group succeeded very clearly on at least two of those goals.
The Senior Committee's efforts to generate interest and build consensus generated literally dozens of proposed formats. Coach Larry Liebowitz submitted one that seemed to combine the best elements of many of the others. This became the template for the Senior Committee's deliberations.
Team competition became the first priority. In order to bring "training groups" to an end-of-season championship, the time standards would have to accommodate swimmers below the Junior Championship level.
After considering geography, demographics, travel, and time standards, the committee recommended replacing the current 3 Junior Championships with 6 Super-Regional (SR) meets of 1000 swimmers each.
From these championships, the top 5 men's and the top 5 women's teams would advance to the National Club Championships (NCC), in addition to anyone who has qualified for the (summer) National championship.
Once the 30 men's and 30 women's teams have qualified, they can enter any 16 swimmers into the NCC. These entrants (plus the Senior qualifiers) can then enter any 4 events they wish, as long as they have attained the senior qualifying standard.
This left only the matter of timing to deal with. It is where the process nearly bogged down in committee and could easily bog down at the annual USS Convention in Cincinnati.
The United States' short course season is already so crowded with regional USS, high school, college, and YMCA meets that many question the need for a winter championship series at all, and if there is going to be a "series," conflict becomes inevitable.
Since the vast majority of the swimmers in the newly formed USA Swimming Club Championship series will be under 18, avoiding high school championships became a top priority.
Shortly before he left USS headquarters, coach Bob Steele (Cal State Bakersfield) surveyed the State High School Associations and found that over 60% of state championships were held in February. This became the month to avoid.
The Super Regionals have been placed the first weekend in March (with an option to go earlier) and the National Club Championships the third weekend in March. The implementation date has been pushed back to 2001, to allow time for local USS meets and state high school associations to adjust, for Chuck Wielgus and his staff to include the series in their marketing plans, and Local Swim Committees (LSC) to develop a fixed calendar for the next quadrennial. After a nearly 72-month gestation, now comes the hard part-giving birth to a new concept at a USS Convention.