U.S. College Conundrum: Model On Missy Or Katie Or Bypass It Like Michael?

Missy Franklin- by Peter Bick

There’s no right or wrong answer for the handful of top-tier swimmers who must make the decision to attend college or turn professional while in, or coming out of high school. Yet, there are a number of pros and cons that must be weighed and factored into the decision-making process. John Lohn weighs it up

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There’s no right or wrong answer for the handful of top-tier swimmers who must make the decision to attend college or turn professional while in, or coming out of high school. Yet, there are a number of pros and cons that must be weighed and factored into the decision-making process. John Lohn weighs it up


Mark Schwartz

Often when you see a record broken by Ledecky, you’ll notice that the previous mark was held by Dagny Knutson. Choosing to turn pro rather than swimming in college turned out to be a disaster for her. People often talk about the money associated with turning professional. But perhaps a scholarship to and a degree from a Stanford University is worth more in the long run.


I’ll note that Ledecky, like Franklin, is fortunate to come from a relatively well-off family and doesn’t face a ton of financial pressure about her future. If she blew a shoulder out tomorrow, her parents (or the uncle in the process of buying a majority stake in the NY Islanders ice hockey team) could probably pay full sticker price for four years at Stanford, and everything would likely turn out just fine in her life. That kind of thing has to be part of any decisions going on.

Going pro does close a pretty significant NCAA athletics door. In addition to Dagny, I suspect that Kate Ziegler, who had some glorious years from 2005-07, would have chosen to not go pro as a teen if she had that decision again.

Swimming Mom

As a non-American I would say that they should follow the Collegiate route until they are finished Uni and can then still turn pro, it is never too late if you are at that level. Even if they do not come from wealthy families the support that America gives their swimmers far exceeds all the other Swimming Federations in the world.


Franklin is not the same swimmer anymore after competing in College. College swimming is for second place losers. Follow Phelps.


My guess with Franklin is that it’s not so much the change in training but that she’s gone from living at altitude to more or less living at sea level. McKeever does have a good track record as a whole with improving her swimmers.


Not sure why people are so sure Ledecky will be delaying a year before going to Stanford. That has not been her M.O. She goes forward, all the time, not worrying about expectations, what other people think, etc.

Life is bigger than swimming for someone like her, which is likely why she is showing no signs of a plateau. And like Andrew Luck found, at Stanford she will feel at home with so many elite people in so many different disciplines.


The Time as an elite swimmer for women seems to be constantly shrinking…seems too risky to me to delay cashing in.


If Ledecky is smart, she needs to stay with Bruce. Stanford can wait especially next year is Rio. Or just don’t ever swim @ College. It’s like a suicide. College Swimming is bad for talented young swimmers. Franklin is not even the same anymore. Terri is an overrated coach.

Bad Anon

Missy was thriving under Todd Schmitz mentoring. She is now performing just above average. kazan 2015 will be a good sounding board for Franklin. its never too late to return to colorado stars with Todd.


Good article! Well-considered details: the options are more nuanced than ‘pro or not’ or ‘money vs education’. And as the author, and some of the commentors have suggested, there are numerous examples of where both professional and collegiate swimmers have thrived or failed to meet expectations in both contexts. An individual’s needs, goals and, for sure, socio-economic situation will play a factor in their choice.

Pol: while your assertion that collegiate swimming is “bad” is a hilarious over-generalization that suggests a uniform approach to success, and your claim that “college swimming is for second place losers” quite humorously equates a whole avenue, or forum, of swimming practice with something of a tautology (what second place swimmer isn’t a loser?), your comments show a cheap disregard for facts, and belittle some of the most impressive figures in our sport. Many American college swimmers, as well as “amateur” university-based swimmers from other nations, were clearly able to avoid “suicide” and stand atop the Olympic podium. Missy Franklin had an incredible 2014 season, her tough performances at PanPacs proof of her talent. With her track record of success, Ms. McKeever, I suspect, needs no approval from you or a defence from me.

The age of professional swimming is still in bloom. We are just now witnessing the first truly pro generation morph into its 2.0 version. The real analysis has likely yet to begin, at least concerning to the main question: what will this mean for the sport, for human potential?

But a few observations could be noted.

Longevity is one of the clearest results. The combined age of the professional US men’s 4×100 freestyle was, I believe, 117 years. This fact will offer clutch talents such as Ledecky and Franklin, a full “professional” career long after a collegiate experience. Beyond endorsements (and beyond the US, as Hosszu, Belmonte and others have shown), the professional opportunities for elite swimmers far outpace anything like they were even 10 years ago.

Indeed, the age of professional swimming has also ushered in a truly “global” awareness for the sport, multinational endorsements for both swimmer and national federation, and an international diversity of elite talent unmarked in the history of the aquatics.

In some ways, the dichotomy between professional and amateur is rendered moot. While a number of recent Olympic finalists might not be considered professional, clearly none of them could be called amateur. In the US, many university programs contain a post-grad “pro” program that, at the level of training at least, unsettle easy distinctions.

The age of professional swimming offers opportunities for new ways of thinking, working and racing. For the very talented, and very committed, US swimmer the age of professional swimming offers the opportunity to stay “amateur”—an option that may actually help to bolster a more successful post-grad career in swimming and beyond.


* The combined age of the US men’s 4×100 freestyle at 2014 PanPacs was, I believe, 117 years.


I agree with beachmouse about the living and training on altitude benefit for Missy.

I still think Missy should have gone pro while stidying in college. She has the rare perfect combination of talent, results, attitude, personality and commercial likeability to reap millions of dollars or more since 2012 London,


Avantswim why would you point to men’s combined age on relays as a sign of longevity of females discussed? You don’t think history and especially recent history has shown how much younger top women are and how much shorter their careers at the top are ?


Remember that before there was Bruce, there was Yuri who guided Ledecky to Olympic gold, and when Yuri took the Cal job, the transition to a new coach seemed to be quite seamless for Ledecky. She doesn’t seem to be the kind of swimmer that needs to imprint onto a single coach like Phelps did with Bowman.

I generally like teenagers. Despite the perpetual ‘kids these days’ as a population they’re frequently hardworking, earnest, wanting to make the world a better place, funny, and generally underrated as a whole. But they often aren’t mature enough to function as adults in the modern world, and while the prize money and endorsements can roll in at age 16, it’s not always in the best interests of long term career success to push for that brass ring that young. I think we all agree that Thorpe retired too young, Anthony Ervin and Daniel Gyurta saw early success and then crashed out of the sport for a time for enjoying things way too much outside the pool, Jodie Henry was just kind of a flake. It took until her 20s before ‘Lethal’ Liesl Jones was called such by the rest of the world without irony. The demands of professional sponsors never really seemed to suit quiet introvert Kate Ziegler….

The career lifespan of the professional swimmer remains far longer than that of a female gymnast or figure skater. Let teenagers be teenagers a bit longer before turning their sport into their career and let them grow up some first.

Justin Thompson

If you are a world class swimmer I think there’s a great case to be made for turning pro and endorsements is only one part of it. The main disadvantage I think all these world class swimmers have in college is swimming short course yards where the bulk of the race is spent underwater. I really think this hinders their development as opposed to spending more time training for LC.


Many don’t realize that Phelps did them both at the same time. While he was at the University of Michigan he essentially practiced with the collegiate team along with other pro’s. He swam exhibition in collegiate meets and was at many of the meets as a ‘volunteer asst. coach’. He really experienced a lot of college (even a couple classes to stay busy) without the pressure of a full course load and while still full-time training for 2008.


AvantSwim, Missy had an incredible 2014 season??????!!! HAHA! She had a horrible 2014. This is the same swimmer who won 6 golds in 2013 World Championship and got ZERO gold in individual events in International competition like Pan Pacs. So, you’re delusional if you think Franklin is still the same dominant force.

Again, it was a mistake for her competing in College. She will never admit it. But deep inside she regretted competing for CAL. In CAL she is now swimming 500 free! What in the world is Teri thinking?!! She can still study in college but now I don’t see her getting back to her old form.


Because Teri pulled a Tonya Harding and whacked Missy in the back last summer, resulting in her trying to swim Pan Pacs through some pretty awful back spasms?

Uh huh….. that’s what happened, eh?


My God, Pol and his/her tirade against CAL… lol.

Again, i do think, like beachmouse does, that living and training in sea level year round has somewhat taken the edge off Missy, not because of Teri McKeever’s training.

As for Pan Pacs, she injured her back. in NCAA she crushed the 200 free AR that not even Ledecky now is able to get within one second. She also continuously swam PB in the 500, far from her best events, and she kept getting faster in 50 and 100 free SCY.

I’m sure she will be back to her best in the next year when she focuses on LCM. So, I don’t think Pol is correct in saying that Teri McKeever is an overrated coach. She has proven herself with Olympics champions and medallist Coughlin, Vollmer, Leverenz, Cope, etc.

If you call Teri as an overrated coach yoy might as well call Bowman even more so as within a very short time he made Agnel, Friis, etc very slow.


By the way, is it really confirmed that Ledecky will definitely defer Stanford for one year?


I would like to see any statistical data, but I have a hunch that the percentage of college swimmers to total US swimming team members in 2012 London or even 2008 Beijing is less than the numbers in the 90s.

OK, I think there were only two active/eligible US college male swimmers in 2012 team: Andrew Gemmel and Conor Jaeger. And I think there were 7 or so male college swimmers in 1992 Barcelona.

The numbers for females are definitely higher. Interestingly, the percentage/composition of female college swimmers did not change much, from around 9 in 1992 Barcelona to 7 or 8 in London.

There have not been sufficient samples to claim whether or not college swimming is detrimental for US swimmers swimming career, as there have not been many swimmers who took the professional path from their junior days. It just seems to me that it depends heavily on many other factors, such as personality, family support, relationships with coach, rather than just “college swimming”.


Beachmouse, even without her “awful back spasms” she wasn’t the same swimmer that won 6 golds in Barcelona.


aswimfan, those swimmers you listed are not even competing in College anymore. Those are retired from college swimming.

College swimming = suicide. And no one cares if you won 5 NCAA titles.


pol, actually a lot of people care about winning a NCAA title. Some actually consider it bigger than winning an Olympic medal. The reason being is this: It’s more of a team event. You train with your teammates for years on end and when you accomplish something as a team, the reward is much greater than accomplishing something individually.


@blah…fair point about differences in female/male longevity…aswimfan rightly points to some of those statistics as well.

Still, the US men’s Panpac team must be a record–I had to look again to make sure I was seeing that right! And, perhaps more to my point, a quartet very much in the heavy-weight professional class…a generational product of the kind of pro arena that proliferated between Atlanta and Sydney.

But I disagree with the assertion that history shows how much “shorter” their careers are: Evans, Torres, Egerszegi, Thompson, de Bruin, Coventry, Coughlin–even Vollmer, Friis and Soni–are all names that spring to mind as swimmers with long careers and/or success at mid-twenties, or older.

While it is true that women often begin their international careers at a younger age, the longevity and/or relative age of these swimmers easily match any rivals of the male gender. (Careers as long, or longer, and in many cases ages older than greats such as Biondi, Darnyi, Gross, Thorpe, Piersol, Hackett…)

I reiterate my earlier claim–and in agreement with aswimfan that the sample size is still limited–that the ways in which the professional milieu is effecting the sport is still coming into focus.

There are clearly new, exciting ways emerging of how to stake out a long career in swimming


completelyconquered, yeah right. Liz Pelton who is good in college couldn’t even medal in International competition. NCAA title will never put you in the greatest list if you can’t even medal in the biggest events in International competition. Good for your team concept, but no one cares.


Okay, you’re just trolling now. Not sure why I let myself get sucked in.


Trolling? You just cannot accept the fact that most of those swimmers competing in college are not podium material in International competitions.


OK Pol, you’re not trolling, good to know. I’ll take you at your word.

Then what are you talking about, Sir?

The list of NCAA winners and podium finishers reads like history text of the sport’s best-known champions. Far from “suicide”–an absurd hyperbole–US college swimming has clearly benefited, oh, perhaps 80-90 percent of the American swimmers we hold in the pantheon of greatness, as well as countless international stars. I know that this holds true for many Canadian swimmers in the CIS system, as well as the UK intercollegiate system. Pro swimmers who have remained unsullied by college programs, spared the “loser” system you speak of, are the exception, not the rule, as you suggest. Who are these swimmers, beyond a Phelps or Thorpe? I am actually curious.

You write: “most swimmers competing in college are not podium material in International competitions. Apart from the legion of examples I could give to rebut you claim, I will grant you the point just to show how fatuous and overgeneralized your argument seems: it is certainly true that “most swimmers” anywhere, in any system, are not “podium material.” Your point seems to say next to nothing.

What do you propose? Perhaps, since high school swimmers usually don’t podium at international meets, I guess we should advise them that they too should avoid that as well… “no one cares”, anyway, right? (Oh wait, someone might protest, Ruta and Ledecky were in high school!) Perhaps the pro system should extend to younger age-groupers: the top ranked 10 year olds out there should be sponsored to ensure they never, never perform career suicide and attend a college system.

And yes, I do believe Franklin had incredible 2014, and I’m sure I am not alone. Some of us some of us believe that swimming isn’t exciting just because of the podium finishers (although, as I’m sure you know, she won a handful of Panpac medals…no golds?, wow, what a loser). Some of us also believe that injuries happen, and that swimmers don’t generally lie about them. Some of us love to see perseverance in sport, grit and high performance in the face obstacles. Some think that swimming is a practice, not always an end in itself, and is exciting for that reason. Swimmers evolve, change, grow up… your dismissive statements seems to suggest a cookie-cutter model of success, one which clearly, and thankfully, doesn’t bare factual scrutiny.

Steve Levy

Some measure “success” in terms of Olympic medals and endorsement deals while others measure it in terms of personal happiness, friends, and NCAA relays.

So you can put on the suit, put in the work, and make the decision for yourself; cheer for the athletes; or opine online.



AvantSwim, keep believing. I will say this now, Franklin will never be back to her usual dominant force. She will never win the 2 freestyle events in Kazan. And now her backstroke is deteriorating under Teri.

And if she does win, then I’m wrong. But if she doesn’t, then I’m right that competing in College = biggest mistake for her development.


She won’t win the 200 free in Kazan because Ledecky will win it. Same with 2016 Olympics. And that’s obvious. Now, if you want to place a more realistic wager about Franklin, I’ll be happy to take you up on it.

Jim C

Stanford is on the quarter system. Ledekjy could go to Stanford the first two quarters, through the NCAAs in March, and take off the spring quarter. She could start full time training in March. She will also want to do altitude training, although I do not know when she would want to begin.


There IS no set answer to this question; so many other factors outside of swimming are “in play”.

What takes precedence for the aspiring college swimmer; academics or swimming ? For those voting the latter it simplifies somewhat but there are still those intangibles of “is it the right program for me ?”; issues of personal chemistry with collegiate coaches and even how they will adapt to collegiate culture and in some cases living in areas of the US that may be distinctly different with regards to “prevailing social culture” than where they’ve been brought up.

For those who have serious career ambitions in “the professions” post swimming then the academic status of your college choice can be a serious consideration. Whilst there are a number of leading colleges in academic ranking who also have great swim programs; at many great academic schools sports programs are secondary. Conversely there are major swim programs at colleges who’s academic status is not stellar.

For international swimmers; much of the above applies. Additional questions are:

– what is the infrastructure of the sport in my home country and will this be a step up ? For some, the answer is a simple affirmative
whereas for an AUS/GBR etc maybe not so.

– for those with legit academic purpose, is the education/academic standard of relevant college superior/on-par/inferior to what I would receive at home ?

– cultural issues

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