MSHSL Low Event Qualifying Numbers: Trend or Anomaly?

There have been a few times in my coaching career where I’ve been looking at the High School State Meet program and shook my head because there were only 17 or 18 swimmers in an event.  I’ve mentioned this to other coaches, and they have shared the same opinion.  Are we missing an opportunity to give more kids a chance to participate in the state meet?  Does the methodology used to determine qualifiers need to change?

I’ve been around long enough to know that what irks me in the moment might be a problem or it might not be at all.  I decided to do a little data analysis with the last three years of state meet data for both classes and genders to see if it could shed some light on the size of the issue.

Before we get into the results, let’s review the current process.  In Girls Class A and AA as well as Boys Class AA, there are 8 sections.  The top two finishers in finals automatically qualify, which gives a minimum of 16 qualifiers per event.  In Boys Class A, there are 6 sections and the top three finishers from each section in an event automatically qualify, giving a minimum of 18 qualifiers.  On top of that, any swimmer who swims at the state qualifying time in finals also qualifies for state.  For diving, its top 4 per sections giving 32 (24 for Boys Class A) divers at the state meet.

The state qualifying time fluctuates year to year.  It is based on the average of the 16th place finish in prelims of the last 3 years of state meets.  It also has a cap of +/- 1% change from the previous year to prevent large scales swings. 

So let’s take a look at the data. I categorized each event as either “under 20 entries” which for this purpose would mean less than two and a half heats, 20-24 entries which I defined as the sweet spot, and over 24 entries, which would be more than three heats in an event.

Three of the segments tell a pretty clean story. Yes, it does happen where there aren’t 20 or more entries in an event, but it is rare. In fact, it is as common, if not more common to have more than 3 heats of entries. The majority of the time, it sits in the sweet spot.

Boys Class AA is the anomaly. It is very rare for more than three heats of entries to occur for any event and the remainder are split about evenly between to few and just right.

It is also important to know that the recalibration of the state qualifying times does work to normalize entries over time. Below are some examples where we can see that even when an event has a low number of qualifiers in one year, it tends to trend to the sweet spot or beyond

So in summary, the data tells me there’s not really an issue, even though I thought there was. I’ll probably take a deeper dive into Boys Class AA by going back pre-COVID and looking at a longer run of data to see if it tells me anything, so stay tuned for that one data nerds 🙂

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