Amid the constant cheers and splashing of water, murmurs surrounding controversial swimsuits could be heard all around the Women's NESCAC Swimming and Diving Championship Meet last weekend at Bowdoin. The two suits, the LZR made by Speedo and the Nero Comp made by Blueseventy, are thick and increase the buoyancy of the swimmer, thus making it easier for them to cut through the water.

"If the question is, 'Do they help?' The answer is, 'Yes, they do,'" said Director of Athletics Jeff Ward, who once coached the swim team at Columbia University.

The suits, which both made their first appearances in the NESCAC this season, were always bound to raise conversation, but became controversial when the disparity between what teams were wearing became apparent.

"We had heard a couple of the teams in the conference would have more suits than others," said Coach Brad Burnham. "I guess I wasn't expecting any teams to all be wearing suits."

Burnham said that the entire Williams team wore LZR's, Amherst had many suits, a mix of LZRs and Blueseventys, and Middlebury and Tufts had a good amount of the suits as well.

"It's not a level playing field by any means," Burnham said.

The suits are expensive, running at about $400 each.

"Four hundred dollars for 20 to 25 athletes is a lot of money," said Burnham.

In addition to their price, the suits are fragile and are not designed to last beyond just a couple of races.

"They were ripping apart," said Allison Palmer '11. "Teams were asking for clear nail polish. If you patch [them] with nail polish it keeps the rip from becoming worse."

For the most part, Burnham felt that the suits did not influence who won the races. "I think it was a lot of the same people, they were just faster," he said.

However, he did feel that in some cases other teams wearing suits had a negative influence on Bowdoin swimmers' standings.

"We had some kids I thought were going to be in the point scoring," Burnham said. "There were a few people from other teams that probably got there because of the suits."

Despite not being able to outfit its whole team in high-speed suits, Bowdoin was still able to get its hands on four Blueseventys. The issue, Burnham said, was both a cost and availability one. Burnham said he was unable to find any available LZRs, getting the four Blueseventys alone was difficult, and the order for two more for the men's NESCAC meet this weekend had fallen through.

Burnham said that Williams was able to get as many suits as they did because its swim team is sponsored by Speedo.

Regardless of the difference in suit availability for different NESCAC teams, some of the Bowdoin swimmers felt there was a greater issue at hand.

"I know that they were legal for this year, but for me, it changed the meet," Palmer said. "It's like putting on seal skin. I called it the 'cheater suit' all weekend."

Palmer was one team member that took particular issue with the suits, and she even elected not to wear hers in one event, despite knowing she would probably go faster with it on.

"I chose not to wear the suit for the prelims and finals for the 50 free, because I felt I wanted to 'own' one event," she said. "I was the only swimmer in the finals who didn't have a LZR or a Blueseventy." Palmer finished in 6th place in the event, with a final time of 24.44 seconds.

Burnham concurred with Palmer, not shy about his opinion of the suits.

"I agree with her," he said, "I hate them, as well."

"Just because it's not illegal doesn't mean it's OK," he added.

Burnham also mentioned that the team's top male sprinter, Nathan Mecray '12, has said that even if a LZR or Blueseventy is available to him, he will not don the suit.

Palmer even questioned the school record she set during the meet in the 100-meter freestyle, a race she wore a Blueseventy in.

"I'm having moral issues about whether I think it's fair I get the record," she said.

While Palmer struggled with the idea of using the suit, others on the team were less concerned. Mac Routh '12, who will be swimming the men's NESCAC meet this weekend, was able to acquire a LZR through his father from a store in Virginia.

"Some people, including me, think that while they're legal, we might as well use them because it seems the teams that don't are at a disadvantage," Routh said.

The debate among NESCAC swimmers seems timely; on Friday, February 20, Fédération Internationale de Natacion (FINA), the worldwide swimming body, met with 16 swimwear manufacturers in Lausanne, Switzerland to discuss the fate of suits like the LZR and Blueseventy, according to FINA's website.

Ultimately, the group made a recommendation to the FINA Bureau to ban suits that, among other things, have a thickness greater than one millimeter or provide a buoyancy effect more than 1 Newton.

Both Ward and Burnham said that after this past decision on Friday, they fully expect FINA to adopt the policies in March, when the FINA Bureau will meet in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

"My sense is the NCAA will adopt the very same rule," said Ward. "I don't expect it to be a problem [next year] like it was this year."