Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NCAA Voting on Women's Triathlon as a varsity sport!

Over the past two years, a required number of NCAA institutions submitted letters of commitment endorsing the proposal to create varsity triathlon opportunities for women at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels. This has opened the door for a vote that will take place at the NCAA National Convention on January 15, 2014, in San Diego.

In 1994, the NCAA created the Emerging Sport for Women Program to address low female athletic participation at the NCAA level and generate more opportunities in sports that are proven to be popular with prospective female student-athletes. Inclusion in this program will significantly increase the visibility of triathlon on the national landscape, keep promising athletes in our sport and expand the U.S. Olympic pipeline, and increase exposure for schools that pioneer this effort with us.

The NCAA votes takes place on Jan. 15, and could represent a watershed moment for triathlon in this country.

Institutions that submitted letters of commitment to Triathlon’s NCAA emerging sport initiative are: (However, these schools are not bound to add the sport, once approved.)
  • Adams State University
  • The U.S. Air Force Academy
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
  • University of Denver
  • Drake University
  • Maine-Farmington
  • Marymount University, Arlington, VA
  • Monmouth University
  • University of North Carolina Asheville
  • Northern Iowa
  • Stanford University

Pending the NCAA membership votes in January of 2014, NCAA varsity programs could be established and competing as early as August 1, 2014.

The proposed structure of an NCAA triathlon team is as follows;
  • Draft-legal (Varsity): 5 athletes
  • Non-Drafting (Novice): 5-7 athletes- developmental squad used to prepare athletes appropriately for draft legal style racing – the key here is for these athletes to gain the experience needed for draft legal competitions and over time, elevate them to a higher status as skill sets are advanced.
Women’s triathlon at the NCAA level would start with 3.5 scholarships with the planned growth of additional scholarships over a three-year period. 6.5 Equivalency scholarships per institution would be the total number of available scholarships based on the final structure of the sport. Note that triathlon in the early stages would not be broken down into divisions – it would be one grouping for all those teams that support a program. Offering scholarships is not a requirement but certainly the biggest tool an institution can use to attract talent. Also, no scholarships = no Title IX financial contribution for that school.

NCAA triathlon is proposed as a fall sport with competitions taking place between September through the beginning of November.

The proposed competition structure is extremely flexible:
  • Open Water Swim Options: Swim: .5km-.6km / Bike: 15km-20km / Run: 3km-5km
  • Pool Swim Options: (Team Invitational Event accommodating 2-4 Draft Legal Teams): Swim: .4km -.6km (two athletes per lane) / Bike: 15km-20km / Run: 4km-6km
  • Mixed Team Relay Event (2-16 Teams): Each member of the four-person relay team completes a full swim/bike/run: Swim: 200m - 300m / Bike: 7km - 10km / Run: 1.5km - 2km
  • NCAA National Championship Event: Swim: .5km-.6km / Bike: 15km-20km / Run: 3km-5km
The Olympic format of triathlon allows for drafting to be done in each phase of the event. Standard triathlon allows for drafting to occur in two of the disciplines – the swim and run – but not on the bike. The format that we will be supporting here is draft legal racing in all three disciplines (further explanation below).

Varsity races would incorporate the draft-legal format utilized by the International Triathlon Union and in the Olympic Games (for varsity races only). Team scoring, similar to cross country scoring, would be used to value the performance of all members of a team. This style of racing emphasizes team tactics, particularly on the bike, and is spectator friendly. Courses will feature multiple loops (on the swim, bike and the run) allowing fans to easily follow the drama of the event.

Novice races will be conducted separately from the varsity races. They will be conducted using a hybrid of draft legal rules (only drafting tactics allowed with a teammate), and will institute draft legal bike restrictions for safety and development purposes. Organizers believe this is an appropriate, controlled, safe way to prepare novice triathletes for progression to varsity competition.

NCAA institutions taking advantage of the unique event structure that triathlon has to offer as they showcase exciting varsity, draft legal races as well as integrating race opportunities for their communities.

Costs vary based on the individual and level of sponsorship acquired but a rough overview would be to take the cross country budget line items for student athletes and add the non-traditional equipment such as wetsuit, bike shoes, bike helmet and bike case (optional). Purchasing a bike would be an institutional decision as many triathletes already have a bike suited for draft legal competitions. There COULD be some considerations for some budget money for simple bike upgrades.

The reason for having triathlon as a fall sport is primarily for weather and water temperature concerns but there are a few other reasons:
  1. Student-athletes have a better chance coming into the fall season in shape from a summer of training and competition than they do in February from the holiday season and winter training. In the fall, they are prepared for competitions and practices can be more efficient and time appropriate with focus on tactics, strategy, and skills, compared to a spring sport scenario where water temps are not conducive to open water swimming until April for most schools in the northern part of the country. This means more time would be spent on fitness and less on concerns about weather. Also, with graduations being held in May, an April championship would press most student-athletes for time.
  2. A fall season allows schools in the north to host a regular season event in an open water venue because of warmer waters from the summer and wetsuits. September and October are better options than February and March in most regions of the country. Therefore, we conclude that the fall will allow us to be more inclusive with the sport and an attractive varsity option for more schools.
Benefits of Supporting a Varsity NCAA Triathlon Program
  • Create athletic opportunities that are popular with females
  • At the 2013 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships
  • 1015 triathletes qualified and contended for a national championship
  • 404 of them were Females making up 40% of the participants
  • Triathletes are not swimmers. They are not bikers. They are not runners. They are Triathletes.
  • An Olympic sport with broad national participation
  • USA Triathlon has held Collegiate National Championships since 1992
  • Currently more than 160 collegiate clubs are registered with USAT on campuses nationwide, in each of the continental states
  • If an institution OR community has a pool and a track, facility costs associated with a triathlon program are low, manageable and sustainable compared to other non-revenue championship sports.
  • Equipment restrictions will be put in place to reduce the overall cost to outfit a squad while also increasing safety.
  • Hosting a Triathlon Event consisting of a collegiate/community sprint, followed by the featured varsity women’s draft legal race, is a model that most RDs can support with the right mix of roads and water. The design is intended to generate funds for an athletic program through community participant registration fees and event sponsorships. Participation numbers for local triathlons traditionally range from 250-750 participants with registration fees of $50 - $75 per participant.
  • Triathlon can create attractive fundraising opportunities with donors who participate in, or simply enjoy, the sport.
The sport is comprised of 2.2 million people who are not only passionate about triathlon but support a $126,000 average annual family income.

Triathletes are also highly educated with nearly 80% having at least a college degree.

Many have placed the international appeal of triathlon equal to golf and tennis (some call it the new, “golf” in that it keeps people coming back with interest in improving their “score/time”).
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