003.011 Sectionals, Futures, and Junior Nationals

In this post, we’ll analyze USA-S senior championships, including sectionals, futures, and junior nationals  While these zone- and national-level championships are in principle open to athletes of all ages, in practice only older athletes are able to make their qualifying times.


Our motivation in analyzing these meets to to better understand the life cycle of competitive swimmers.  What happens to 15/Over age group athletes in USA-S, who can no longer attend JOs and Zones? How do these championship meets differ from each other and from age group championships?  Are they gender-fair? Let’s get started!

Three Senior Championships.

The four Zones sanction a total of eight sectional meets, while USA Swimming sanctions the Futures Championships and Junior Nationals.  The Sectionals all have the same qualifying times, as do the Futures. These meets have a lot in common: all are long course meets, all accept non-conforming times, and all have open events with no age restrictions.


MeetID

SEC

FUT

JNB

JNT

Course

LCM

LCM

LCM

LCM

Date

2019-07-11

2019-08-01

2019-08-06

2018-08-06

Standards

PDF

PDF

PDF

PDF

Announcement

HTML

HTML

HTML

HTML

Days

4

4

5

5

Pools

8

4

1

1

Converted

N

N

N

N

Non-Conforming

Y

Y

Y

Y

Bonus Times

N

N

N

Y

Athlete Ages

Open

Open

Open

Open


The primary difference among these meets is the number of competitive opportunities they offer and the corresponding difficulty of making their qualifying times.  Sectionals are offered in eight different locations across the country and have the easiest qualifying times in this group. Futures are offered in four different locations, with more difficult qualifying times.  Junior nationals are offered in only one location, and have the most difficult qualifying times. We’ll analyze the Junior Nationals bonus times separately.

Senior Championships are for Older Athletes.

Let’s start with the most obvious question: how difficult is it to qualify for these meets?  The answer is: pretty difficult! An 18/Under athlete has a 3.5% chance of making a Sectional cut, 2.1% chance of making a Futures cut, and a 0.3% chance of making a Junior Nationals cut.  For comparison, we’ve seen that 14/Under athletes have roughly a 20% chance of making a JO cut and 6% chance of making a Zone cut.


Breaking out the qualifying time likelihood by age shows that 12/Under athletes have almost no chance of qualifying for any of these meets, and that the likelihood of making a cut increases exponentially with age.  Age 18 athletes have a 22% chance of making a Sectionals cut, 14% chance of making a Futures cut, and a 3% chance of making a Junior Nationals cut.



Some Senior Championships are Slightly Unfair.

According to the qualifying time likelihoods above, men have a greater likelihood of qualifying than women in every senior championship. This is misleading because the qualifying time likelihoods for open events include athletes of all ages, including younger athletes who have no chance of making a cut.  Since younger USA-S athletes are predominantly female, including them in the likelihood calculation depresses the overall likelihoods more for women than men. When we adjust the acceptance log ratio to account for this distortion, we see that it’s slightly (1.15 times) easier for women to qualify for Sectionals and Futures, and that it’s slightly (1.09 times) easier for men to make JNAT bonus cuts, but that the primary JNAT cuts are gender-fair.


See “The Fairness of Open Events” for an explanation of our methodology.   Let’s now look at the individual championships in more detail.

2019 Sectional Championships.

We’ve seen that the 2019 Sectional qualifying times are slightly unfair to men.  While it’s slightly easier for 17/Over men to qualify, it’s substantially easier for 16/Under women to qualify.  The net effect is that the 2019 Sectionals admit a disproportionately high number of women.


Let’s look at the events in detail.  It’s easiest for women to qualify in the 50 Free and 100 Free, and most difficult in the 1500 Free.  Typically longer events are more difficult to qualify for, in part because they are less frequently swum.


It’s easiest for men to qualify in the 200 Free and most difficult in the 800 Free.  Typically longer events are also more difficult for men to qualify for, more so than for the women.


Our weighted event acceptance log ratio shows that it’s easier for men to qualify in only one event (the 1500 Free), while it is significantly easier for women to qualify in at least four events (50 Free, 100 Free, 200 Back and 200 Fly).  The fairest events are the 200 Free, 400 Free, 100 Breast, and 400 IM. Overall, the Sectionals qualifying times are unfair to men.

The distance Free events establish an interesting pattern.  For men, it’s easier to qualify for the 1500 than the 800. For women, it’s easier to qualify for the 800 than the 1500.  In addition, the weighted acceptance log ratios show that the 1500 favors men while the 800 favors women. We’ll see this pattern repeated in Futures and Junior Nationals qualifying times.  Is this an artifact of the 2016 Olympics, where women did not swim the 1500 Free and men did not swim the 800 Free?  If so, USA-S needs to make a course correction because both men and women will be swimming both distance free events at the upcoming 2020 Olympics.

2019 Futures Championships.

Like the sectionals, the Futures cuts admit slightly more 17/Over men and many more 16/Under women.  Again, the net effect is to admit disproportionately more women.

Futures is, somewhat surprisingly, a different experience for women than Sectionals.  The easiest Futures events for women to qualify in are the 200 IM and 100 Fly, while the most difficult event is the 1500 Free.  Again, longer events are typically more difficult to qualify in although the 50/100/200/400 Free break that pattern.


Men’s Futures cuts are closer in spirit to their Sectional equivalents. The easiest Futures events for men to qualify in are the 50 and 200 Free; the most difficult is again the 800 Free. As before, longer events are more difficult to qualify in although the 200/400 Free break that pattern.



Again, the event most unfair to women is the 1500 Free.  The events most unfair to men are the 100 Free, 400 Free, 100 Back, 200 Back, 100 Fly and 200 IM.  50 Free, 200 Breast, and 400 IM are the fairest. Overall, the Futures qualifying times are unfair to men.

The 2019 Futures cuts have the same outdated Olympics distance free bias as the 2019 Sectional cuts.  It’s easier for women to enter the 800 than the 1500, and easier for men to enter the 1500 than the 800. The 800 is unfair to men and the 1500 is unfair to women.

2019 Junior National Championships.

The Junior National cuts admit significantly more 17/Over men and fewer 16/under women, when compared to the other championships.  The net effect of admitting more 17/Over men and more 16/Under women cancels out to create a gender-fair meet.

Looking at the individual events, the women’s Junior National cuts are a bit of a surprise when compared to their Futures cuts. The big surprise being that the 200 IM went from being the easiest event to the most difficult one, and the 100 Breast is now the easiest event to qualify for.


For men, it’s easiest to qualify in the 400 Free, 100 Back, and 100 Fly.  The most difficult events to qualify in are the 100 Free and 800 Free.


Junior Nationals has a balance of events that are fair/unfair to both genders.  The 200 IM and 1500 Free are most unfair to women, while the 100 Free and 800 Free are most unfair to men.  Overall, the Junior Nationals is the most gender-fair of the three meets we consider here.


The 2019 Junior Nationals have the same outdated Olympics distance free bias as the 2019 Futures and Sectionals.  It’s easier for women to enter the 800 than the 1500, and easier for men to enter the 1500 than the 800. The 800 is unfair to men and the 1500 is unfair to women.  Hopefully the 2020 cuts will address this issue!

2019 Junior National Championship Bonus Times.

For completeness, we’ll take a look at the JNAT bonus event qualifying times.  17/Over athletes are more than twice as likely to qualify for a bonus event than a regular event.


For women, the easiest bonus events are the 100 Back and 100 Fly; the most difficult is the 1500 Free.  Somewhat surprisingly, the 100/200 Breast are similarly difficult, as are the 200/400 IM.

For men, the easiest bonus events are the 100/200 Breast and 200 Free while the most difficult is the 1500 Free.  Somewhat surprisingly, the 100/200 Back are similarly easy to enter, as are the 100/200 Fly.


The Junior National bonus times are mostly unfair to women.  It’s significantly easier for men to make bonus cuts in four events (200/400/800/1500 Free), while women have a significant advantage in only one event (100 Free). The fairest bonus event is the 400 IM.

Conclusions.

We’ve seen that Sectionals are like JOs for 17/Overs, Futures are like Zones for 17/Overs, and Junior National cuts are exceeding rare and difficult.   Congratulations to those who make these cuts! We’ve also seen that Sectionals and Futures are unfair to men, while Junior Nationals are overall gender-fair.  All three championship meets unfairly favor women in the 800 Free and men in the 1500 Free. Our main recommendations to USA-S would be to (1) eliminate the obsolete distance Free gender bias to reflect the post-2016 Olympics swimming events; and (2) systematize the process of choosing qualifying times for the events in these meets, because the individual event qualifying times for these meets are seldom fair or consistent.