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NCAA Triathlon Summit

After ground-breaking news earlier in 2014 that the NCAA approved triathlon as an Emerging Sport for Women, athletic administrators, more than 50 prospective varsity coaches or club coaches from Division I, II or III gathered at the Tempe Mission Palms on Friday, April 4, to learn more on the historic move for the sport.

USA Triathlon Holds First-Ever NCAA Summit
How much will it cost to create and sustain an NCAA triathlon program? What are the benefits for colleges and universities that might want to start such programs? How can USA Triathlon-certified coaches be trained to coach NCAA teams? And what kinds of races are being planned for the inaugural 2014 NCAA triathlon season, which will start in August and run through November?

The answers to those and other burning questions were provided to more than 50 triathlon coaches and others who gathered in Tempe, Ariz., for the first-ever NCAA Triathlon Summit. The briefing, put together by USA Triathlon officials on the first day of this year’s USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships, was intended to address the many queries from coaches since the NCAA voted overwhelmingly in January to make triathlon the next NCAA Emerging Sport for Women at Division I, II and III schools.

NCAAThe NCAA decision paved the way this year for colleges and universities to begin adding an NCAA-sanctioned women’s triathlon program, complete with scholarships for female athletes eligible to compete in an NCAA draft-legal triathlon championship in November. These NCAA programs won’t supplant the rapidly growing number of men’s and women’s collegiate club teams, which will continue to compete during the winter and battle for bragging rights each spring at the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships. But as athletic directors at colleges and universities have begun to weigh the pros and cons of adding a varsity triathlon team, many questions remain.

Tim Edwards, head coach of Cleveland State University’s triathlon club team, said that when he raised the idea of a varsity triathlon program with the athletic director at his university, “his first question was where are we going to hold an Ironman? Don’t they do that in Hawaii?”

As proposed to the NCAA, varsity women’s triathlon events will consist of draft-legal sprint races, as well as non-draft sprint and relay events, with an NCAA national championship during the first full week in November consisting of the top 60 athletes in a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run format. While NCAA races can begin as early as this August, an NCAA triathlon national championship won’t be held until some 40 institutions at the Division I, II and III can field teams, said speakers at the meeting.

Craig Hanken, USA Triathlon’s Draft Legal Event Specialist, said three different kinds of events are being planned this year for the NCAA-specific races—open-water events, pool events and relays. The open-water varsity events, he said, will consist of a 750m swim, 20k bike and 5k run, with a limit of 75 athletes, while a non-varsity NCAA event can be a non-draft race of the same length with a 105-athlete limit. Relays, meanwhile, will be organized around two to 16 teams consisting of four athletes sequentially doing a 200-meter swim, 5K bike and 1.25K run in an open-water venue or pool.

Jess Luscinski, NCAA and Collegiate Triathlon Coordinator at USA Triathlon, said those NCAA races are initially expected to be part of existing USA Triathlon-sanctioned triathlons in order to minimize costs as the first collegiate varsity programs begin. To assist USA Triathlon-certified coaches considering careers on NCAA teams, she said USA Triathlon also plans to provide certification for coaching NCAA programs and will conduct its first webinar on NCAA triathlon on April 17. A “Collegiate Triathlon Coaches Association” is also being planned to represent NCAA triathlon coaches and to provide them with a voice.

Justin Pollnow of Arizona State University said current plans are for each school planning to begin a varsity program to have two paid coaches and three volunteer coaches, each of whom would be responsible for one of three disciplines — swim, bike or run. In addition, the number of athletic scholarships each school can divide among its athletes will grow from 3.5 this year to 4.5 in 2015 to 5.5 in 2016 and hit a maximum of 6.5 by 2017.

Although the equipment costs for women’s NCAA triathlon should be minimal compared to other varsity sports, starting and sustaining a varsity triathlon program could run from $300,000 to $500,000 per year, estimated Brad Hecker, the director of women’s basketball for the ACC Conference, who initiated and was the driving force behind getting the women’s triathlon proposal approved by the NCAA.

Ryan Riell, former triathlon coach at Arizona State University, said that amount wasn’t considered unreasonable when he raised the possibility of women’s varsity triathlon with the athletic director at ASU. The reason? There were major benefits, such as providing more scholarship opportunities to women athletes to balance men’s football scholarships (which are needed to satisfy Title IX, gender equity) and of being at the forefront of showcasing a sport within a community of triathletes that many wealthy donors participate in and would support.

As Edwards of Cleveland State University pointed out to his school’s athletic director and to the gathering of coaches: “We have a lot of triathletes who are doctors, lawyers and businessmen.”

Learn more about triathlon as an NCAA sport at