The Buzz: Missy's Decision
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Earlier this week, Missy “The Missile” Franklin announced her commitment to Cal-Berkeley. Though Franklin is one of the biggest recruits ever in the history of the sport, she made her announcement with little fanfare. There was no overwhelming press conference. There was no ESPN “The Decision” hour-long special. Missy tweeted her announcement to her followers, and that, pretty much, was that. (Well, there was a great appearance on “The Morning Swim Show” where Missy greets host Jeff Commings donning a Cal Bears shirt, Cal sunglasses, and Cal hat.)
To make an announcement without huge amounts of fanfare is just Missy’s style. This is a girl who has already given up hundreds of thousands of dollars in post-Olympic endorsements and prize money. Though she does participate in media events (including an appearance on her favorite show, “Pretty Little Liars”), Franklin, a multiple-time Olympic gold medalist, still swims for her high school team. She craves the team atmosphere. And now, she wants the college experience.
No question, Missy’s decision to swim at the NCAA level will enhance the sport. Though Missy announced she will not compete her junior and senior years (she will turn professional before the 2016 Olympics), she will still be able to contribute to her NCAA team, score points, and possibly win an NCAA title or two. This desire to be part of a team makes Missy unique.
"The friends I swim with in college will be the bridesmaids at my wedding," she told local NBC affiliate 9News. "You can't put a price on friendship. You can't put a price on being part of a team."
Franklin has already made waves. She’s a fan-favorite. People love her, and she, seemingly, loves people. (She smiles about every opportunity she gets.) But people also like her because she has authenticity. You get the impression she swims because she loves the sport. You get the impression she competes on teams because she loves being around teammates. While there’s nothing wrong with forsaking the NCAA experience, somehow, there’s a wholesomeness when an athlete forsakes millions for a swim team.
The Biggest Recruit in Swimming
There’s no underscoring that Missy Franklin is a “game changer” recruit. Over her NCAA career, she could, presumably, contribute 12 individual collegiate titles to her team. Based on last year’s results, if she won 3 NCAA titles, “Missy Franklin” could end up 17th in the nation. Pat Forde, a sportswriter for Yahoo Sports, speculated that Missy’s potential NCAA impact is LeBron-esque. He asked sports fans: if LeBron went to an NCAA institution, who would be the bigger recruit – LeBron or Missy?
The answer is simple: number of world titles by age 18: Missy 7, LeBron 0.
While it’s still yet-to-be-determined the impact Missy will achieve at the NCAA level, she has already made one. She has proved to future swimming talents that it’s OK to crave the NCAA experience over dollars and endorsements. This summer, the media often quoted a running tally of how much money Missy turned down. With each big swim, the number increased.
Now, Missy will get both worlds: the NCAA experience, and in a few years, the professional life. She’ll turn pro just before the 2016 Olympics, in time to secure endorsements and prize money. Reports say Franklin went into the recruiting process notifying coaches of her decision. Of course, two years with Missy Franklin wearing the Cal-Berkeley NCAA swim cap is like Michael Phelps moving to Ann Arbor to swim. A move like that is dynasty-solidifying. Though it’s “only” two years, it’s a lifelong endorsement.
On A Mission
It’s hard to fathom that Missy Franklin has already accomplished the pinnacle of sport – winning an individual Olympic gold medal – before graduating high school. But that’s what she’s accomplished. How did she get there? In addition to talent and work ethic, good coaching. Good teammates. Good atmosphere. You could argue she’s gotten there through the very thing she seeks more of: “the team.”
At the 2012 Olympics, Missy was on the same USA Team as one of her role models, Natalie Coughlin. Those Games were a passing of the torch from one elite USA backstroker to the next. There’s little question that Natalie’s affiliation with Cal, and head coach Teri McKeever, helped sway Missy’s decision. But Missy has always been one to flock towards strong team atmospheres: She swims high school (she credits her teammates as some of her best friends). She flourished under Natalie’s wing this summer (whom she credits with being a role model). And now, she’ll belong to a new, younger dynasty at Cal, swimming alongside friend, backstroke phenom, and 2012 Olympian Rachel Bootsma, world champion Elizabeth Pelton, and two-time NCAA champ Cindy Tran.
Missy is on a mission. Swimming is widely seen as an individual sport. But Missy’s decision to swim alongside some of the best up-and-coming swimmers in the world shows one thing: She understands the value of “the team.”
Missy’s career has been carefully managed to provide adequate amounts of balance. She has fun. She hangs with friends. She visits the set of “Pretty Little Liars.” She swims. Missy’s mission now carries her to another supportive, balanced atmosphere, the Golden State, where more golden success surely awaits…