Unique plan vs. COVID-19: ASU redshirts its swim teams

Arizona State‘s swim & dive coach, Bob Bowman, has borrowed an idea from the school’s wrestling coach, Zeke Jones, who redshirted his entire top-ranked recruiting class five years ago.

But Bowman has gone his coaching colleague one better.  He just redshirted the entire  men’s and women’s swim teams for the upcoming season.

Jones’ strategy, which he used in just his second year as head coach, was part of his rebuilding plan for an ASU wrestling program that had fallen into mediocrity after being a conference and national power in the ’90s.  His 2015 recruiting class  was ranked No. 1 in the country, so he took the unusual approach of redshirting the entire class to build for the future.

Bowman’s expansion on that idea, however, was borne out of necessity.  He needed a new approach to meeting the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, responding to a request from his athletic director to all ASU coaches to find ways to make their programs stronger after the pandemic crisis passes.

Redshirting the men’s and women’s teams was Bowman’s bold answer to that challenge.

The plan, which was discussed first with parents and athletes, has numerous advantages.  Foremost, it enables the student-athletes to recoup the training time they’ve lost so far during the pandemic and prepare for next summer’s Olympic trials – more than 20 from the ASU programs have qualified – and then carry that momentum into the 2021-22 season.

Swimmers and divers will have the option of taking classes and training on-campus, or training at home while taking online classes.

From the school’s standpoint, there are a couple of important advantages to Bowman’s plan, one that involves coaching and another that offers a financial benefit.

Without meets to attend, there would be no travel expenses over the seven months the season runs, a significant savings to the athletic budget.  And Bowman would also now have time to find a dive coach to replace Mark Bradshaw, who retired in April following a career at ASU that spanned more than two decades.  The new coach would then have time to begin gathering recruits.

The Sun Devils are coming off a 4-3 season that closed out with three losses in its last four meets.  But that one win was the final game on the schedule when the Devils beat rival University of Arizona, dominating almost every event in the men’s and women’s competition to close the season on a high note since the virus threat cancelled the Pac-12 Championships.

But there is a great deal of optimism going forward.  When competition begins again, the Sun Devils will have not only a strong recruiting class with a season of training, but will also return last season’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Jack Dolan, (just the second in program history) and a couple of individual title-holders.

Emma Nordin won her Pac-12 title in the 500 freestyle and Zach Poti is the reigning 100 backstroke champion.  Nordin’s winning time was the fastest in the nation.

ASU’s program last year was stronger than its record indicates.  Last year’s teams combined for 18 school records.

And when they return from their redshirt season, they  will be healthy, rested, and eager to begin competing again.

Sounds like a good plan, Bob.  Let’s hope the Pac-12 Conference agrees.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)