It is fall and in many places in the United States the focus is on football. Football used to be a fall sport, just like baseball used to be a late spring/summer sport. But money and the professional leagues have changed all that. With football you have mini camps in the very early spring and summer and then training camp followed by preseason and then the start of the regular season which is 16 games long, but actually 17 weeks since each team has a bye week - read more television revenues. Of course this is followed by playoffs and since there is a wild card add another week to this post season setup. Sometimes the Super Bowl is the first week in February which is so far removed from the fall that...well you get the point. Even the college game goes into the first week of January.
But today's idea is that for those of you who have gotten jaded by the professional game, the money, the off field antics etc. perhaps you will be better served by the collegiate product. Make no mistake; it too is driven by money. However it is played by youngsters who are prone to error by the very nature of their developmental progress (or lack thereof) so the game has a much more "real" feel of a game than of a carefully scripted piece of entertainment.
What does this have to do with swimming? From our vantage point it has a lot to do with it. We just witnessed the Olympic Games in all their splendor and glory. And the swimming portion was truly captivating. We are biased of course. The sport of swimming at the international level is truly professional. Money exchanges hands openly. The faster and more marketable swimmers can and do make decent money.
There is a whole other level of swimming out there that is very much like college football in that it is almost always done for free. With the exception of a very few swimmers most collegiate swimmers pay to swim. Their tuition gives them the right to try out for the team. Most are not going to the Olympics or making money while they train. They are doing it for their own personal satisfaction. To our way of thinking that is a more "pure" pursuit. This does not in any way cast an unfavorable light on those who can profit; it merely states the facts: most swimmers do compete in college for the pure joy of doing so. Soon they will be forced out by the necessities of adulthood.
As a fan of swimming you can enjoy this collegiate experience for free as well. Nearly every college swimming program has meets that you can attend for free. Bring the whole family. If there is a charge it is usually minimal.
Swimming in college is a winter sport. Having said that, nearly every school that has a swim team is now training, even though it is fall. They will begin having meets very soon, often with an intra-squad and or Alumni meet. College swimming provides a lot of information about the sport at www.collegeswimming.com. There are teams at four levels: Division I, Division II, Division III and the NAIA level. Even most Junior Colleges or Community Colleges have team, though for many the sport is in the spring.
Check out your local area. Chances are if you are in or near a college town you have a swim team you can follow. In the larger cities and metropolitan areas there will often be several choices. If you are a Masters or fitness swimmer you may find a program at the college that will work for your own swimming needs.
Swimming is a lot like football in that while there is a professional level which is well publicized, there are many levels below that support the top end while giving thousands of enthusiasts a chance to participate. And there is always the opportunity for you to volunteer at the lower levels. You can time or officiate or become the announcer!
Check out your local college team. Our guess is that you'll be glad you did!