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Michigan Set to Host First Meet in “Pro Swim League” Series

By: Braden Keith

The Swimmers Circle

All it would take is someone putting themselves out there. Somebody taking a risk, and doing it. The men that have taken that leap are former Michigan Wolverine, and current USA Swimming National Teamer, Bobby Savulich and Club Wolverine Elite coach Mark Hill, who may just have come up with an idea that is going to revolutionize professional swimming. From November 16th-17th at Michigan’s Canham Natatorium, Club Wolverine will play host to the first meet in a series that they are calling quite simply “Pro Dual Meet 1.” This is exactly what swimming has been longing for. A high-level, professional dual meet, where points will matter, where every swim by every swimmer will count, where there’s no high school swimmers, no amateurs, nor hoardes of age groupers involved. Just a cut-and-dry showdown of East versus West, all professionals, all of whom swim not only to win, but to make a living. This meet has taken quite a few hands to put together, but Hill has been labeled as the visionary behind the concept. Hill is the co-Meet Director along with Savulich, who has spear-headed much of the marketing and networking involved in making the meet happen. Savulich believes that “this meet will bring excitement to our sport in an exciting, intense, and fun atmosphere,” and I couldn’t agree with him more. This first meet will be all male, though Savulich hopes that with increased interest, he will get enough women committed to expand it to a co-ed meet. “Our mission is to provide a place where professionals can come together and race against the best. We want to bring excitement to the sport!” Savulich said. “We decided to go with this format because Dual Meets are the most exciting type of meet. There is nothing better than two teams going head-to-head as opposed to 1,500 swimmers individually competing at a 5 hour meet. Our meet will feature the best and be fan friendly.” The event schedule will include all World Championship individual events except for the 800/1500 free and the 400 IM, and each day will be capped with a sprint relay (the 200 medley on Wednesday and the 200 free on Thursday). Prize money for each event will be as follows: 1st place – $300 2nd place – $150 3rd place – $50 Those are pretty healthy sums for a brand-new meet series in it’s pilot-edition. The enthusiasm of the Club Wolverine meet organizers, along with that prize money and the recognition for just such a series as this, has brought an impressive lineup to Ann Arbor.

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By: Mike Gustafson

USA Swimming

For years, the swimming collective has clamored, banging pots and pans, for a professional swim league. Jealous of our “mainstream sports” cohorts, with their fantasy leagues, message boards, and extensive media coverage, many swim fans around the nation (and world) have requested for some sort of professional league to be organized within the swimming community. So we could draft our fantasy teams. Root. Cheer. Just like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and so on. “Where is swimming’s pro league?!” many have questioned. And that’s a pretty good question, too. With more “professional swimmers” in the pool these days, competing for sponsorships and endorsements, there seems to be avenues for more exposure for these swimmers. There seems to be, for the first time ever, need for a professional swim league. Turns out, this may happen after all. Lost in the whirlwind of the mega-events taking place this fall (Golden Goggles, Minneapolis Grand Prix, AT&T Nationals, and the Duel in the Pool) is a small but exciting event taking place in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The event itself looks to be a small gathering of current and former National Team swimmers. But the ramifications of this event could be huge. As in… could this be the start of a professional league? Imagine: “North Baltimore vs. Club Wolverine.” “Tucson Ford vs. FAST.” “Gator Swim Club vs. Texas Aquatics.” The event, taking place November 16-17th in Canham Auditorium, is called “Professional Dual Meet 1.” Simple. Clear. It is a gathering of professional swimmers – no amateurs or high schoolers allowed – and will offer prize money for first, second and third place. The prize money is relatively significant, especially for being a first-year event ($300 for first). While there are no women involved in the meet (which is odd?) the meet does feature big names like Darian Townsend, Wu Peng, Davis Tarwater, Clark Burckle, Nick Brunelli, Elliott Keefer, Eugene Godsoe, and Chris Brady, among others. The event itself, I have no idea what it will be. Or what it will look like. But the ramifications are huge. The fact that some guys are going out there, putting this together, and making this happen – and labeling it a “professional swim meet” – could have effects that are long-reaching and unending. The fact that there is no other “professional swim league” out there, and that this could, in effect, be the start of swimming’s version of the NFL is exciting. Though I doubt this will really happen, you just never know. The organizers of this event are labeling it an “East vs. West” swim meet, which is something I’ve been advocating for years. It’s almost like an All-Star swim meet, which is sorely lacking domestically. The NBA’s All Star Game is one of the most celebrated and successful weekends in sports in the country. There is no centralized, “East vs. West” All Star weekend in swimming. So that’s a start. Another thing this meet attempts to do correctly is reaching out to swimmers who truly need the exposure. Michael Phelps will probably not attend this meet. Nor will Ryan Lochte. They don’t need to. They have their sponsorships and endorsements. The swimmers attending are the ones who probably have other jobs, in addition to training full-time for 2012. They are hungry for exposure. They are ready to start something. And you should never underestimate a collective with nothing to (financially) lose. Whether or not there is a “Professional Dual Meet 2” is yet to be seen. And if this flies and dies, it will stack itself on the shelf with numerous other attempts to start a professional swim league. (And there have been many.) But this isn’t about the beginning of something new. It is about the celebration that we’ve gotten this far – that we’ve come this far with our sport. That swimmers can even envision something like this. Twenty years ago, this would have never existed. Many of these swimmers would have (likely) been retired already. But through efforts of USA Swimming’s Athlete Partnership Agreement, swimmers now have the ability to continue on. And where are they going? We may just see.

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USA Swimming

Bobby Savulich believes he knows what professional swimmers are looking for when they go to meets. 

They want tough races, they don’t want to sit around for five hours between events and they want the opportunity to swim fast and earn some money. 

With this in mind – and based on his own experiences as a post-graduate swimmer and meet organizer with the annual Eric Namesnik Grand Prix – Savulich is convinced he has what swimmers are looking for with the creation of the Pro Dual Meet he’s putting together next month in Ann Arbor. 

The meet takes place Nov. 16-17 at 8pm at the University of Michigan's Canham Natatorium. Talks are already in the process for future stops to continue this professional swimming movement. 

“I am really excited about this,” said Savulich, just a week removed from the Pan American Games. “Swimming has been calling for professional swimming for a number of years, and we are providing the answer.” 

The Pro Dual Meet was something Savulich and several of his Club Wolverine teammates had talked about for some time but had never pursued. 

This past summer, they took steps to initiate the process, and as a current competitive swimmer, Savulich had the connections and resources to reach out to other swimmers to get their take on the idea for a professional swimming league and if they would be interested in participating. 

“This event is unique because it is coming from swimmers,” said Savulich, who is currently studying for his masters in Sport Management at Michigan. “The idea came from a bunch of us just causally talking about how great it would be for the sport to have a place where only professional swimmers could compete. The meet would have exciting music, lighting and an overall high-energy and fun atmosphere that lacks at most meets. 

“At the University of Michigan, our coaches teach us to be proactive in making changes not only in our swimming but in our lives. Mike Bottom is always talking about using what we learned from swimming to change the world, so we decided to just go for it.” 

If all goes as planned, Savulich is hoping Pro Dual 1 meet in Ann Arbor will be the kick off to many more. Right now, he is inviting all pros from around the country and will split them up into two teams (East versus West). In the future, he is planning to have swimmers compete as teams they train for, i.e. Club Wolverine Elite versus MAC Elite, etc. 

Initial funding for the idea came from Wei Wu, the owner of the Pacific Industrial Development Corporation. Savulich said Wu believes in the project’s mission and that with more professional swimming, more money will be filtered into the sport. 

“Swimming is a sport where financial support is sparse,” Savulich said. “This meet creates an opportunity for new businesses to get interested in swimming.” 


Pro Dual is the first enterprise for Savulich’s company, Athletovation, which prides itself on being innovative and thinking outside of the box. The company focuses on introducing new ideas, products and techniques using real swimmers and coaches. Athletovation also has a platform where swimmers can submit video of themselves swimming to be critiqued by Olympic level athletes and coaches. 

Savulich credits his teammates and coaches for their determination and creativity in getting professional swimming meets off the ground. 

“I would like professional swimming to get on the map,’ Savulich said. “Kids dream about being professional basketball, football and baseball players. A professional swimmer is not something most people even know exists. 

“With the increasing amount of post-graduate swimmers training, there is a need for a professional series of meets. We want kids to aspire to be professional swimmers, too.” 

Savulich admitted this undertaking was a risky venture because they initially didn’t know who would want to compete. But with any new enterprise, he said they were willing to put themselves out there for something as revolutionary as Pro Dual. 

“As soon as word got out, I received a ton of inquiries from Olympians and National Team members asking if they could be a part of the meet,” Savulich said. “Any prize money is great because 99 percent of meets in the United States do not have it. Professional swimmers work too hard not to be paid. 

“The reason this meet is happening is because the swimmers are asking for it. They miss competing as a member of a team. Swim meets are difficult to be engaged in when fans have to watch 1,500 individuals competing for themselves. Pro Dual 1 will have 40-50 professionals and two teams dueling it out.” 

The meets will focus on sprint events to keep things moving quickly and to keep the excitement levels high, Savulich said. This meant eliminating the mile, 800 free and 400 individual medley events while adding the 50s of stroke and short relays. 

“We have an amazing line-up currently committed,” Savulich said. “It is constantly growing, too. I think that the ultra-superstars of the sport will participate if they want to see the growth of professional swimming continue. While we do have a purse (1st- $300, 2nd- $150, 3rd- $50), the meet is not about the money. It is about doing something progressive, creating new swimming fans and racing against the best. 

“At the end of the season, the swimmers competing in this meet will have experience racing at the top level. It is invaluable experience a professional swimmer cannot gain from racing high school and college athletes.” 

Tickets are $10 at the door. Opportunities will be provided for fans to mingle with the athletes before the meet, and the meet itself will be webcast live on Swimming World. 

Savulich said they continue to look for interested sponsors, who can contact him at Meet updates – including swimmer additions and more future meets, dates and locations -- can also be found on twitter @Athletovation and at

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