By Gary Brown
The Committee on Women’s Athletics is asking all three NCAA divisions to submit proposals in the 2013-14 legislative cycle to add triathlon as an emerging sport for women.
The committee made the request after receiving a dozen letters of support from schools in all three divisions that either already sponsor triathlon as a varsity sport or are committed to considering it if it is approved as an emerging sport.
Marilyn Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano, associate athletics director at Hawaii and chair of the Committee on Women’s Athletics, said the committee was comfortable forwarding triathlon for consideration after conferring with triathlon representatives at the committee’s recent meeting in Indianapolis.
Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano said the normal legislative process will apply, and that all schools will have a chance to comment, suggest amendments and participate in each division’s regular voting process related to the draft proposals.
“We are asking the membership to think in the macro, not micro,” Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano said. “A school shouldn’t vote ‘No’ just because they do not intend to add the sport on their campus. A ‘No’ vote only limits the freedom of choice for all other member schools in their division to add the sport if it makes sense for their female student interests, sponsorship needs, budget and athletics mission.”
Triathlon, which combines running, swimming and bicycling, is the first sport to be considered for emerging status since sand volleyball in 2009. Sand volleyball has since been added as an emerging sport in Divisions I and II and has almost 30 varsity programs.
The NCAA emerging sports for women program was developed in the mid-1990s when the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force recommended identifying sports that have the potential to grow participation opportunities for women and are of interest to NCAA member schools and their communities. The ultimate goal is for the identified sports to become NCAA championship sports.
To achieve championship-sport status, emerging sports must gain at least 40 varsity NCAA programs for individual and team sports (except in Division III where 28 varsity programs are required for team sports) within 10 years or show steady progress toward that goal. Institutions are allowed to use emerging sports to help meet minimum sports-sponsorship requirements. Divisions I and II schools can use emerging sports to meet minimum financial aid requirements as well. Women’s ice hockey, women’s bowling, women’s water polo and women’s rowing are examples of sports that successfully achieved championship status after starting out as emerging sports.
Advocates for triathlon believe the sport is a natural fit for colleges and universities. More than 150 club programs already exist on campuses throughout the country.
At the 2013 collegiate national event in Tempe, Ariz., sponsored by USA Triathlon, collegiate athletes from 46 states participated, including more than 400 women. The sport’s governing body says that women consistently represent more than 40 percent of the collegiate participants. Nearly one-third of all USA Triathlon members (more than 40,000) are under the age of 20.
Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano said the committee was impressed with USA Triathlon’s support. USAT currently conducts an extensive certification program for coaches and a grass-roots program called Splash and Dash in 50 locations across the country to introduce triathlon to new communities and participants.
“The Committee on Women’s Athletics has been working with USA Triathlon for several years as it developed its proposal,” Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano said. “The triathlon community and NCAA staff have discussed the concepts for the sport at multiple events and meetings, gathering suggestions from all divisions of the membership for potential rules related to the sport as an NCAA offering.”
The draft legislation for triathlon positions it as an individual/team sport conducted in the fall. Thus, the playing-and-practice season parameters and policies for dates of competition for fall sports would apply.
The legislation proposes a maximum of six competition dates (minimum of four). If the legislation is adopted, Divisions I and II programs that offer athletics grants-in-aid will have 3.5 equivalencies for 2014-15, 4.5 for 2015-16, 5.5 for 2016-17, and 6.5 for 2017-18 and thereafter.
Triathlon events can be conducted in various distances and locales. Dual and multi-team events can be conducted in a pool or any sanitary open body of water. The cycling portion must be on a closed course, but those courses can be “loops” instead of a continuous stretch. That not only helps for spatial purposes but also for allowing schools to set up a spectator-friendly race.
Michelle Mehnert, who presented on behalf of the sport to the Committee on Women’s Athletics after having won this year’s USAT collegiate national, said triathlon is a natural for the college community, especially given the sport’s popularity at the grass-roots level. Mehnert, who s wam at Illinois from 2008-12 and is now in graduate school at Colorado, said schools would benefit from staging the varsity races in conjunction with open events to build community support.
Mehnert said she would have jumped at the opportunity to be a varsity triathlete. She competed in swimming because triathlon was not available. She said plenty of athletes out there just like her are looking for a chance to compete in triathlon at the college level.
“More than 400 women competed at the USAT collegiate nationals,” Mehnert said. “There’s no shortage of potential triathletes for college programs if the sport were to be varsity.
“Triathletes are good enough in running and swimming to be competitive in those individual sports, but few would be able to perform at an elite level in either one,” Mehnert said. “Triathletes are focused on competing in triathlon, and not specifically in just running or swimming. And right now, they don’t have an opportunity to do that at the collegiate level.”
Mehnert said part of triathlon’s appeal is that collegiate waves can be added to existing triathlon events rather than schools needing to create their own. The format would include both a “draft-legal” and novice wave for the cycling portion. The current collegiate championships conducted by USA Triathlon are modeled after the Olympic format that allows individuals on teams to “draft” off each other during the bicycle segment. The proposal for triathlon at the collegiate level includes both the draft-legal and non-draft-legal to allow participants new to the sport to gain experience in the cycling portion of the race.
Suggested event lengths range from 600 meters to 1K for the swimming portion, 20K-30K for the bike and 4K-6K for the run.
The legislative cycles in Divisions II and III culminate in a vote at the NCAA Convention in January 2014. In Division I, the Legislative Committee will consider the proposal in January 2014, with adoption possible at that time or at the end of the cycle in April 2014.
For more information about triathlon and how it would be conducted as a varsity sport, click here.