Swim Bits: Bring Swimming Back to UO


University of Oregon Ring 1963In the fall of 1961 I walked on to the UO Swim Team coached by Don Van Rossen.  I was lucky.  No one else on the team wanted to swim the 200 butterfly.  After two years of trips to Hawaii, water shows, and beating Washington for the first time since WWII, I realized I had found the right place to swim in college.

Later my relationship to the UO Swim team went downhill when the athletic director abolished the UO swimming program because the football team needed the money.  At a reunion of UO Swim Team members near Cottage Grove, swim alumni were told by a former athletic department member that we should never expect to see swimming back at the UO.

I’d like to change that, but I do not know how.  The easiest way is for me to donate $15 million dollars for a new 50 meter pool near the campus and to establish a foundation to support a new swimming program at the UO.  It worked for baseball.  It should work for swimming.  One problem: I don’t have $15 million dollars.

Mike Merrell, someone I coached on the UO Frosh team in 1966-67, has summed up the situation very well in an article for FishDuck.com.  Go to http://fishduck.com/2015/01/ducks-chance-for-directors-cup-goes-swimmingly/ to read his account.

Mainly, Mike says that the Oregon Athletic Department will never be recognized as an overall excellent athletic department as it does not support enough sports.  At the moment Oregon has eight men’s sports and ten women’s that count, not enough.  Stanford, for instance, supports 29, and regularly wins the overall championship, called the Director’s Cup.

Oregon could restart college swimming in Eugene very easily.  First, hire some young coach who wants to be in the Pac-12 even though the team will be a shoe-string operation.  Second, use Amazon Pool all year around.  UO would have a 50 meter pool for practice and provide a lap swimming venue 12 months of the year for Eugene residents.

I can hear people right now saying, “Swim outdoors in Eugene in the winter?”  As someone who has been swimming and coaching outdoors on the Oregon coast since 1969, I say, “Provide the pool.  They will come.”

Third, recruit the Pacific Northwest, especially in guys.  At the moment there is no NCAA Division One Men’s swimming program in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  Offer such a men’s program, and they will come.

Fourth, offer no scholarships at all.  Just provide expenses for the pool, equipment, coach(es) and travel.  Guarantee a meet schedule with at least one weekend of meets in California, the Pac-12 Championships, and, if anyone qualifies, the NCAA Championships.  The rest would have to be raised by the teams or from a benefactor.

And that’s why I am writing this.  Is there some one out there, perhaps not with $15 million, but willing to cover yearly expenses as outlined above?  If baseball can lose $1.7 million last season and still be a viable sport at UO sports, why not have a true Olympic sport that costs a lot less.

I hope, with this, to start a discussion on having swimming back at the UO.  It will take more than a swimming alum on the Oregon coast to make this work, even though Steve Prefontaine and Mark Helfrich came from the high school I taught and coached at.

Note: the UO Swim emblem I had made up can be purchased from Maya Graphics, Coos Bay, OR. 541-269-9280 or danica@maya-graphics.com.  Tell Danica what year you graduated and how many letters you won, and she’ll make suitable changes.  Minimum order is three of the vinyl decals for $3 each.  If three of you go together, the decals can be different.

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