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AS PREDICTABLE AS A COWBOY MOVIE
Jerry Kirshenbaum
March 04, 1974
A certain touch of sporting suspense may be fine in its place, but with the swim team one might as well relax and enjoy the predestined slaughter. Everybody knew what would happen last Saturday when the University of Cincinnati arrived in Bloomington to face the Hoosiers. The hometown printer knew: long before the first stroke was swum, handsome souvenir programs were issued hailing Indiana's Centennial dual-meet victory. The baker knew: somewhere offstage waited a giant victory cake bearing 100 candles. Even Cincinnati Coach Roy Lagaly was never in doubt; when the ordeal was all over, he bit manfully into his slice of cake and allowed that he was honored to be a part of this historic day.
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March 04, 1974

As Predictable As A Cowboy Movie

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A certain touch of sporting suspense may be fine in its place, but with the swim team one might as well relax and enjoy the predestined slaughter. Everybody knew what would happen last Saturday when the University of Cincinnati arrived in Bloomington to face the Hoosiers. The hometown printer knew: long before the first stroke was swum, handsome souvenir programs were issued hailing Indiana's Centennial dual-meet victory. The baker knew: somewhere offstage waited a giant victory cake bearing 100 candles. Even Cincinnati Coach Roy Lagaly was never in doubt; when the ordeal was all over, he bit manfully into his slice of cake and allowed that he was honored to be a part of this historic day.

Victory No. 100 came about as easily as had most of the previous 99. Closing out their dual-meet season with a 12-0 record, the Hoosiers placed one-two in every event to roll up a perfect score of 102-11. So outmanned was Cincinnati that when Indiana senior John Kinsella made a stab at his own American record of 9:09.5 in the 1,000-yard freestyle, some of the Bearcat swimmers on the pool deck waved towels to cheer him on. Kinsella missed the record, but he won the event easily in 9:12.39, twice lapping Cincinnati's Kevin McSweeney.

Unsuspenseful as all this was, the Hoosier swimmers still had reason to feel unappreciated. An enthusiastic SRO crowd of 1,500 lined Royer Pool for the 100th win, but the team ordinarily draws about half that many and attendance suffers in particular when home swim meets and basketball games overlap. Watching the fans file into the pool last week, backstroker Mike Stamm seemed almost relieved that Bobby Knight's basketball team was playing that night at Minnesota. "Otherwise," said Stamm, "people would walkout in the middle of our meet to go to the basketball game. It's discouraging. It's like when a theater audience walks out because it doesn't think the performance is very good."

The real problem, of course, is that Indiana's performances in swimming are too good. Besides being unbeaten in dual meets for eight years, the Hoosiers are favored to finish their season by winning their 14th Big Ten and seventh NCAA titles in a row. Their domination of college swimming, a huge annoyance to rivals, has become something of a bore to their own fans. "We are as predictable as the ending of an old cowboy movie," admits Tom Miller, the school's sports publicity man. "The good guys always come out on top."

One obvious solution is to lose a few, but that is definitely not the way of James E. (Doc) Counsilman, whose dual-meet record in 17 seasons as Indiana coach is now 162-6. Baldish, spectacled and wearing the outwardly placid air of a bemused friar, the 53-year-old Counsilman in fact boils with inner energy. His widely translated Science of Swimming, now in its 12th printing, makes him as much of a celebrity in London and Moscow as in Bloomington. He produces instructional swimming films, and he has helped develop coaching aids. The demands on his time are enormous. Shortly before the Cincinnati meet, a group of six French coaches arrived to follow Counsilman around for two weeks. When they learned he soon would be leaving to attend the Big Ten meet at Wisconsin, the Frenchmen were disappointed. "Do you have to go?" asked one of them.

Counsilman's chief lesson for those who yearn after his wisdom is deceptively simple. "We get good swimming teams at Indiana because we get good swimmers," he says. Indeed, his success at landing Mark Spitz, Gary Hall and Kinsella in successive years remains one of the recruiting coups in any sport. Giving the impression of being embarrassed by these wet riches, he tended for a time to play down dual meets as "warmups" for the NCAA championships and he allowed swimmers to skip meets pretty much at will. This practice almost ended the win streak at a mere 52 when, in 1971, Spitz, Hall and several other stars did not make a trip to Ohio State. Indiana was disqualified in a relay and suddenly found itself in unaccustomed trouble. To the rescue came Kinsella, then a freshman. Kinsella is mainly a distance man but he upset a favored Ohio State rival in the 100 freestyle to demoralize the Buckeyes, who finally fell 66-53.

One team that Indiana has deflated more or less permanently is Michigan, a former swimming power that has suffered the awful frustration of finishing runner-up in all 13 of Indiana's Big Ten champion years. It was Michigan that handed Counsilman his last dual-meet loss, a 62-61 squeaker on Jan. 15, 1966, and a Wolverine team arrived in Bloomington a couple of years later all primed to beat him again. Counsilman enjoys a reputation as a shrewd operator in part because of the message he left posted on a blackboard that week reading, "Anybody who wants to swim against Michigan sign below." Whatever the message's effects on the Michigan swimmers who saw it, Indiana won in a rout.

To boost sagging attendance, Counsilman reversed himself recently by talking up the dual-meet streak. He even added a meet to the schedule last month so that his team could dramatically win No. 100 in the season's finale.

Partly because the sport's low budgets allow few tough intersectional meets, big win streaks are not uncommon in swimming, like Yale's record 201 straight dual wins from 1945 to 1961. Indiana has benefited from this situation. It has never, for example, been in a dual meet against perennial NCAA challenger Southern Cal, but Counsilman nevertheless boldly welcomes comparisons with UCLA's 88-game streak in basketball.

"There aren't as many big powers in swimming as in basketball," he says, "but you've got to remember that UCLA has good basketball players in its backyard. Our recruiting job is harder because Indiana is not a swimming state."

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