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COLUMN: Will IU swimming and diving finally step out of the shadow?



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Freshman Lilly King practices breastroke Dec. 7, 2015 at the Counsilman-Bilingsley Aquatic Center. Katelyn Rowe and Katelyn Rowe Buy Photos

We’ve seen this before.

A school has less popular sports excelling for decades on end, but they’re overshadowed by teams that are, well, not as successful.

In high school, you have cross-country and track teams making it to state every year. You also have the bowling team winning state more than any other team in the school and still getting the, “We have a bowling team?” response. (Nope, I’m never letting that one go, Lake Central High School.)

But my high school, and probably others, also had the problem IU has — a swimming and diving team that owns numerous records and accolades, but still seems to fall short in attention to sports like the once-in-a-lifetime football semi-state participants.

Let’s look at the numbers:

IU’s football team has never won a national championship. The men’s basketball team has five.

The men’s swimming and diving team has six team national championships and 80 individual champions, and the women’s team has produced eight individual NCAA Champions.

Granted, American football is not an Olympic sport. But basketball is, and there have been nine Hoosiers to play in the Olympics. Meanwhile, the men’s swimming and diving team has sent not nine, not 10, but 100 athletes to the Olympics. Beyond that, IU has sent 30 female swimmers and divers to the Games.

On paper, the swimming and diving programs sound much more prestigious. Yet the numbers show IU football had 36,000 in attendance against Southern Illinois and more than 52,000 for the No. 1-ranked Ohio State game in 2015. Assembly Hall is much smaller, of course, but still averaged about 17,000 per game last year.

I tried to find attendance numbers on how many people pack into the Counsilman Billingsley Aquatics Center to watch Olympians in their element, but IU Athletics doesn’t keep track of these things as they are not ticketed events.

After sophomore Lilly King’s two gold-medal performances and very public slam of Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, everyone suddenly cared about IU swimming and diving. Students said on Twitter they’d be attending many more swim meets to watch America’s No. 1 badass.

But the IU swimming and diving season is still two months away. The Olympic flame will have been extinguished for a long time.

Will these students be packing into Memorial Stadium with 40,000 other people when it’s inevitably snowing because that’s Indiana weather? Or, will they be following through on their vows to be swimming and diving’s new biggest fans?

I would say time will tell and we’ll find out come October, but seeing as their events aren’t ticketed and no one keeps track, we won’t know for sure. It’d be great if people followed through on their plans and did go out to support the swimmers and divers, as well as IU’s other less popular teams. But plans fall through all the time, don’t they?

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