Did Arizona State's swimming and diving program just start a trend in college sports? We might soon find out.
The Sun Devils made the startling announcement Sunday that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are redshirting their entire men's and women's teams for the 2020-21 seasons, basically taking the year off to train and then trying again in 2021-22 in what should be a healthier climate.
Arizona State coach Bob Bowman, who coached mega-star Michael Phelps throughout his career and currently trains Olympians Allison Schmitt and Hali Flickinger, told his team Sunday afternoon in a Zoom call. He said the response was "very positive."
"It's been real tough for four months," Bowman told Sports Illustrated. "The hardest part is no clarity, about anything. All our swimmers lost their NCAA (championships) last year. I'm not willing to let them lose two."
Bowman said his campus aquatic facility is closed, which means his swimmers have not been able to train with him. Most are scattered around the country and the world, getting in workouts where and how they can. As with other college sports, the season schedule is in limbo.
Swimming is a winter sport that basically mirrors college basketball, starting in the fall and ending with NCAA championships in March. Many programs are starting to look at no competitions until January, and then dealing with travel restrictions that could curtail the number of meaningful events.
Bowman said his decision came out of March meeting with his athletic director, Ray Anderson, who challenged all of his coaches to find ways to make their programs stronger coming out of the pandemic than they were before.
"This was vetted on every level, through the Pac-12," Bowman said. "Everyone who hears it at first is like, 'What?' Then you look into it and it makes more sense.
"We have the money to cover it, to make it work. It provides an academic benefit, allowing everyone to concentrate on their studies and maybe leave here with a master's degree. They have flexibility to train at home while taking online classes if they want, then come back at the semester break. And it helps us competitively—we're going to be better as a team in 2021-22."
Bowman, who has been the U.S. men's Olympic team coach, has been rebuilding the Arizona State program since taking over there in 2015. The Sun Devils finished 22nd in the 2018 men's swimming championship and 23rd in women's.
Asked if he thought he might start a trend both within his sport and around all of college sports, Bowman said, "I don't know, my job is to coach the Sun Devils and everyone else can do what they want. Ray says he thinks we will."