Should Triathlon Qualify as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women?


Triathlon has been steadily gaining in popularity among younger athletes—especially females. What’s more, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), at least 160 triathlon “club” programs are already in existence in colleges throughout the country. So it’s no surprise that for the past few years, USA Triathlon has been making a case for the sport to become an NCAA emerging sport for women. And just this past spring, in an effort to showcase collegiate triathlon, more than 1500 triathletes from collegiate club programs—both male and female—participated in the 2012 USA Triathlon College National Championship.

I for one would love to see triathlon offered as a varsity sport at colleges and universities around the country for several reasons.

First, triathlon offers alternative opportunities for success for collegiate athletes that might not have otherwise shined in individual sports like track and field (I know this is especially true for me). This opinion was echoed by Zane Castro, the new head coach of Men’s and Women’s Cross Country and Triathlon at Marymount University—the very first schools to offer a fully supported varsity triathlon program in 2013.

I think Castro summed it up best in a recent quote: “As a coach I am always looking for ways to make an athlete’s experience as enjoyable and beneficial as possible, and triathlon presents another option for success. A cross country or track coach might look at an athlete and realize that while she may have a role on the track team, she is never going to be a great runner and probably won’t compete after college. As a triathlete, she can compete during her four years of college and be better prepared for the next level after college.” (

Second, triathlon truly embodies the ideal image of a healthy, balanced lifestyle for college students. Triathletes are notoriously type-A personalities—an extremely well-organized, driven, goal-oriented, and dedicate bunch. When you think about it, all of those things make for a great student, don’t they? So why wouldn’t we want to support a new triathlete generation?

Finally, this would provide an excellent opportunity for female collegiate athletes to receive scholarships and other financial support. But why focus on women? I found a great answer here: Basically, it all comes down to achieving a balance between gender gaps on campus. As the previously mentioned article states, an institution must comply with Title IX gender equity requirements. For example, if a college or university has an undergrad gender ratio of 55 percent females to 45 percent males, it needs to have 55 percent of its funds and athletic participation opportunities going to female student athletes. And of course a large amount of scholarships and funds already go to more mainstream sports like football, so collegiate departments must achieve this balance by offering women-specific varsity teams.

So how close are we to seeing varsity triathlon programs in higher educational institutions around the country? For triathlon to first qualify as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women, 10 institutions must submit official letters of support to the NCAA stating their desire to consider triathlon as a varsity sport ( Thus far, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics already has six of the 10 letters needed. According to, the six letter-writers are: Adams State, Air Force, Arizona, Colorado-Colorado Springs, Marymount (Virginia) and Monmouth. Navy also has indicated an intent to sign on, which would leave just three others needed by the next deadline of June 1, 2013.

And as I mentioned previously, Marymount University is the very first offering a varsity-level triathlon program: The university is anticipated to field its first team—made up of five men and five women athletes—in the fall of 2013. I’m very eager to see how Marymount’s program does in the coming year.

Now as for what a collegiate level triathlon would look like, it most likely will not resemble the races we’re used to seeing today. Unfortunately, this is where I disagree with the current collegiate plans for the sport. The NCAA is favoring an Olympic-style race that allows draft-legal racing, which is where I take issue. According to the NCAA, they’d prefer promote the team aspect that college athletic programs are after rather than the “every-woman-for-herself” approach. It’s also been said that draft-legal racing on the collegiate circuit would make for a more exciting spectator experience.

I strongly disagree with collegiate programs that wish to offer draft-legal races. While the argument for a team experience is a strong one, I believe collegiate athletes would still develop and experience a strong team bond. What’s more, I feel as though we’d be doing these young athletes a disservice if we trained them to ride in draft-legal races. After all, most opportunities for draft-legal racing are very limited to only elite pros. Therefore, most of these athletes would be competing in non-draft races as they take their careers in triathlon to the next level.

However, all drafting issues aside, I hope we see those three needed letters of support come through this year. I feel as though triathlon has a very good chance of succeeding at the collegiate level and look forward to seeing varsity triathlon programs spring up at colleges and universities in the very near future.

One response to “Should Triathlon Qualify as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women?

  1. The whole driving force of triathlon in NCAA is to improve the pipeline from junior to elite in the US. Thus, it’s a no brainer it will be draft legal and it also allows for much better viewing options. Most of these athletes that will be on scholarship will in fact be good enough to race the ITU circuit. So the focus needs to be on proper development and within the sport, ITU is the premiere development pathway/step. Not to say they won’t also be doing non-draft races, but it’s a great thing that the focus is on draft legal racing.

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