Cal Swimming: Coach Dave Durden Not Ready to Red-Shirt His 2020-21 Team

Dave Durden celebrates at the 2019 NCAA swim championships.Photo by Justin Casterline

Jeff Faraudo

Cal men’s swim coach Dave Durden says he and his program will consider the path that Arizona State intends to take this year — to red-shirt its entire men’s and women’s rosters because of uncertainty caused by the COVID-10 pandemic — but only if that becomes a necessary step.

“As we get to the start of the school year and as we think about different options and look at the health and safety of our student-athletes, and consider where they’re coming in from . . . from around the world and around the country, it’s something that’s on the table,” Durden says in our video interview. 

“I just don’t feel like we’re at the time to make that decision.”

ASU coach Bob Bowman, who also served for years as Olympic swim star Michael Phelps’ coach, made his announcement this week in the wake of the 2020 NCAA Championships being derailed by the coronavirus.

Bowman explained that ASU athletic director Ray Anderson in the spring challenged the school’s coaches to find a way to emerge stronger from the fight against the virus.

“This decision clearly accomplishes that goal,” Bowman said. “It promotes the health and safety of our student-athletes, enhances their educational opportunities and allows time to rebuild and refocus on performing at the highest levels of NCAA competition.”

Durden, set to begin his 14th season as Cal’s head coach, has continued the Bears’ tradition of excellence in the pool. In 2019, Cal won its fourth NCAA team title under Durden, following championships in 2011, ’12 and ’14.

Voted the NCAA Coach of the Year five times in the past decade, Durden also is the head coach of the USA men’s team that will compete at the Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed from this summer to 2021.

Cal was No. 2 nationally behind Texas in the final regular-season rankings of the Collegiate Swim Coaches Association of America in the weeks leading to the scheduled March 25-28 NCAA meet.

“There’s a lot of consideration as we go into this (2020-21) season, looking at competition not being too far removed from what we experienced in March, being a couple weeks out of our NCAA Championships and having that canceled,” Durden says.

Spring sport athletes were granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA after their recent seasons were wiped out almost before they began. That did not happen for winter sports, which includes men’s and women’s swimming.

The swim season was mostly in the books when the COVID-19 shutdown happened, except that for top-end swimmers in the Cal program, “Our season is the three-and-a-half days in March at the NCAA championships.”

Durden also says many of his swimmers have long-established career paths that don’t necessarily include adding an additional year of swimming.

It was that way for some of his 2020 seniors, and it will be that way for athletes expecting to close out their collegiate athletic — and academic — tenures in 2021.

“A lot of our seniors had their ambitions and had their lives planned our after March, after graduation, what that looked like,” Durden says. “To get them to come back to swim for another year and to take classes toward an advanced degree, they were on to the next stage of their life.”

Even if the Bears feel forced to adopt the red-shirt option, Durden says doing so will require some “high-end math” to manage the flow of incoming athletes and those who expected to be entering the professional work force.

In the meantime, he says he will continue to plan and his athletes will train as much as they are permitted with the hope there will be a 2021 NCAA meet.

Sitting out another year is not in their DNA.

“Our guys like to race and if they get the chance to do it, we’re going to step up and do it,” Durden says. “It’d be really hard to keep these guys in the stable.”

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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