There seems to be a lot of confusion about "qualifying" for Nationals. I think the process would make more sense if swimmers understood the background behind the process.
I don't remember every last detail, but I think I can provide some history that help explain why we have qualifying times and how they work. (Disclaimer: This is all based on my recollection and understanding. I'm not speaking in any official capacity here. I've just been to a lot of USMS conventions.)
USMS has always been an organization focused on inclusion. Swimmers of all abilities, from beginners to Olympians, are welcome to join and participate in meets. Back in the early days of Masters Nationals, there were no qualifying times. Anyone could enter and swim at Nationals.
As USMS grew, so did the two annual national championship meets. 1987 saw the largest SCY Nationals ever, with 2328 swimmers attending. At this point, there were still no qualifying times.
The next few years saw good attendance at Nationals. But allowing anyone to enter meant that the meet days dragged on into the evening. There were stories about events going on until 10:00 or 11:00pm at night.
I remember a lot of debate at the USMS annual convention about how to control the length of Nationals while still remaining as inclusive as possible. There was a strong feeling that we still wanted to include anyone who wanted to swim at Nationals, but we wanted to do something to keep the meet at a controllable size.
The current system of qualifying times was the compromise. The system works as follows:
- ANYONE can enter Nationals, and enter up to three individual events, without meeting any qualifying times.
- Swimmers who want to enter more than three individual events must meet qualifying times for those additional events.
The rationale behind these two rules is that we can still allow anyone to enter the meet, but by limiting the number of events swum by the slower swimmers, we can control the length of the meet days.
This system only works as long as everyone is honest. Beyond the first three events, swimmers are on the honor system when they enter the meet. USMS is relying on swimmers to be confident that they can actually achieve the qualifying times.
So there's the history and the rationale. Now I'm going to attempt to answer some common questions about the entry process.
Q: I can't make any of the qualifying times. Does this mean I can't go to Nationals?
A: No. Remember, anyone can enter THREE individual events without having to meet the qualifying times.
Q: When I enter Nationals, do I have to provide proof that I achieved a qualifying time?
A: No. Your entry times for Nationals are submitted on the honor system.
Q: Do I have to achieve my qualifying time in a swim meet?
A: No. You could use a time that you swam in a workout or time trial. Again, remember that this is all on the honor system.
Q: Can I submit the time that I swam 10 years ago as my qualifying time?
A: Only if you think you can still achieve that time!
Q: What happens to me if I don't achieve the qualifying time at Nationals?
A: There are no penalties if you swim slower than the qualifying standard for one of your additional events. But keep the rationale in mind. If a lot of swimmers lie about their abilities just so they can enter more events, we'll be right back to 14-hour meet days.
Q: Can I submit an entry time converted from a different course?
A: Yes. You have to do the conversion yourself.