Women’s Triathlon—An Emerging NCAA Sport

The Stanford Triathlon club team swam, biked, and ran to win a 10th place overall finish at USA Triathlon (USAT) Collegiate Nationals

in Tempe, Arizona in mid-April while the men’s team took 4th place. Since the club team’s inception in 2000, its membership has continued to grow. Today, Stanford Triathlon boasts about 80 dues-paying members. This growth reflects a greater trend. Since beginning in 1974, triathlon has since become popular internationally, and it made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000. The sport has been particularly well-received by college-age students. More than 150 club programs already exist on college and university campuses across the country, and nearly one-third of all USAT members are under 20 years old.

With this welcoming reception in mind, the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics (CWA) has recommended that all three divisions propose triathlon as the next “emerging sport” for women. In an effort to address low female athletic participation, the Emerging Sports for Women Program was developed in the 1990s to identify sports that have the potential to grow participation opportunities for women and ultimately become NCAA championship sports.

To receive this recommendation from CWA, it had to receive 10 written letters of support from NCAA schools, signed by the university president and athletic director. This step was completed when 12 schools, including Stanford University, pledged their support to the program. The full list includes in Division III: Maine-Farmington and Marymount; in Division II: Adams State and Colorado at Colorado Springs; and in Division I: U.S. Air Force Academy, Arizona, Denver, Drake, Monmouth, UNC at Asheville, Northern Iowa, and Stanford.

There are several steps to achieving champion-sport status. Within 10 years, triathlon must gain at least 40 varsity programs or show steady progress towards that goal, and schools may use financial aid to attract athletes to Division I and II emerging sports. The three currently emerging sports—Equestrian, Rugby, and Sand Volleyball—have shown this to be a tall order. However, while this is a grueling process, four sports—rowing, ice hockey, water polo, and bowling—have successfully earned full-fledged championship status. With so many club programs already going strong across the country, advocates argue that triathlon is a natural sport to be chosen for this path.

In an interview with TriTrackers, Lukas Verzbicas, one of triathlon’s brightest hopes for Rio in 2016, said “I think triathlon is definitely ready for the NCAA… Just look at how the sport is growing. If you look at Stanford and Colorado Boulder… they are at that level already.”

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