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Collegiate triathlon is thriving on campuses around the nation.
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FAQs: USA Triathlon's NCAA Initiative

Details on the quest to establish triathlon as an NCAA emerging sport for women


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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon is working diligently alongside its NCAA Triathlon Advisory Group with the aim of helping establish the sport as an NCAA emerging sport for women. Triathlon is thriving on college campuses as a club sport, and NCAA inclusion would be beneficial for the sport of triathlon, aspiring student-athletes and collegiate athletic programs alike.

The following frequently asked questions address a number of topics related to the exciting possibility of NCAA triathlon as an emerging sport for women.

What is the current state of collegiate triathlon in the United States?
With more than 120 collegiate clubs, triathlon is thriving as a club sport on college campuses around the United States. 2013 USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals is expected to draw nearly 2,000 athletes to Tempe, Ariz., in April to compete in Olympic-distance, draft-legal and mixed team relay events. Many current elite and Olympic-hopeful triathletes got their start competing with collegiate clubs.

How could NCAA inclusion help the sport of triathlon as a whole?
By gaining NCAA emerging sport status, we establish a legitimate progression of growth for competitive triathletes in the United States from the youth level, to juniors, to collegiate and to the Olympic/professional level. NCAA institutions will begin to allocate valuable resources and create high quality competitive opportunities for the sport. With this development, triathlon would receive added interest and mainstream media exposure. More fitness-minded individuals would be exposed to the sport, and participation numbers would grow. This growth means more athletes, coaches, races, etc. for the sport.  

How could NCAA triathlon help USA Triathlon identify the next crop of Olympic hopefuls?
With the scholarship opportunities gained by NCAA inclusion, up-and-coming triathletes will not be forced to compete as runners and swimmers on the collegiate level to gain access to scholarship dollars. The elite competitive and developmental gap that triathlon currently experiences between the junior level and the elite/Olympic level will be bridged.

Talented, well-rounded triathletes will begin to surface as potential elite triathletes because of the attractive training and competition opportunities being created at the collegiate level. Competing at the collegiate level, while earning a degree, would be tremendous motivation for pre-collegiate youth and junior athletes to continue with the sport. Identifying exceptional talent would be done on a large scale across the nation through collegiate programs. Cultivating that talent with professional, full-time, varsity-level coaches at prestigious academic institutions would advance USA Triathlon’s goal of building a stronger elite program to challenge for the podium at the Olympic Games and beyond.

What is the NCAA emerging sport for women program?
An emerging sport is a sport recognized by the NCAA that is intended to explore new sports and grow participation opportunities for female student-athletes. Institutions are allowed to use emerging sports to help meet the NCAA minimum sports sponsorship requirements, minimum financial aid award requirements, and gender equity standards. To use other sports as a gauge, four emerging sports have grown in sponsorship and been approved as NCAA championship sports — water polo, bowling, ice hockey and rowing.

The process for achieving emerging sport status includes a full proposal and obtaining 10 letters of commitment for triathlon as an NCAA emerging sport for women before it can be considered for adoption by the NCAA membership.

Where is triathlon in the process of becoming an NCAA emerging sport for women?
USA Triathlon has secured the majority of the 10 letters of support needed to be considered an NCAA emerging sport for women. We are working toward obtaining the remaining letters before an important spring deadline. Institutions who have currently submitted letters of commitment to triathlon’s NCAA emerging sport initiative are:

• Adams State University (Alamosa, Colo.)
• The U.S. Air Force Academy
• University of Arizona
• University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
• Monmouth University
• Marymount University (Arlington, Va.)
• Stanford University

When is triathlon likely to become an NCAA emerging sport for women?
This process to become an NCAA emerging sport for women is lengthy. USA Triathlon has been working toward this goal for nearly three years and will continue to work with the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics through the proposal process to recruit institutional commitments and meet the needed requirements as quickly as possible.  

Why is men’s triathlon not being considered as an NCAA sport?
The emerging sports for women process was developed in the mid-nineties to help schools address low female athletic participation numbers on campuses and evaluate new potential championship sports that are popular with women.

Men’s and co-ed sports do have a route to NCAA championship status, but it is different than the emerging sport for women process. To start a men’s or co-ed sport, 50 NCAA institutions must sponsor varsity programs. Once 50 programs are independently up and running, they must submit a petition for adoption to the NCAA membership before competition is official, student-athlete participation opportunities and program resources are credited to the institutions and the sport becomes an NCAA National Collegiate Championship sport.  

Compare this to the requirements established for emerging sports for women: To start an emerging sport for women, a proposal for the sport must be submitted to the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics along with 10 letters of commitment from institutions. Once this milestone is achieved, the emerging sport is moved to be considered for adoption by the NCAA membership. If adopted, institutions sponsoring varsity programs can immediately receive credit for the participation opportunities and resources they allocate to their emerging sport team.  

NCAA emerging sports for women are given 10 years to become sponsored and funded by at least 40 institutions at the varsity level. Once 40 institutions sponsor the emerging sport, the petition can be submitted to the NCAA membership to become an NCAA National Collegiate Championship sport.

Achieving emerging sport status for women is a starting place for a new sport like triathlon. It is a realistic process that will enable institutional athletic programs to gradually develop the structure and traditions of the sport. Once the institutional program and competition event models are proven successful, the men will hopefully get an opportunity to participate in triathlon at the NCAA varsity level.

What is the proposed structure of an NCAA triathlon team?
USA Triathlon is proposing the following squad formats for NCAA triathlon:

    • Novice (non-drafting): 5-7 athletes
    • Varsity (draft-legal): 5 athletes

How many scholarships will likely be available?
Women’s triathlon at the NCAA level would start with 3.5 scholarships with the planned growth of additional scholarships over a two- or three-year period. Approximately 7-10 scholarships would be the total number of available scholarships based on the final structure of the sport.

What is the length of the proposed NCAA triathlon season?
NCAA triathlon is proposed as a fall sport with competition in September through the beginning of November.

What is the proposed competition format for NCAA triathlon?
USA Triathlon is proposing an extremely flexible structure:

Open Water Swim Options:
Swim: 600m-1k / Bike: 20-30k / Run: 4-6k

Pool Swim Options (Team Invitational Event featuring 2-3 Teams):
Swim: 600m-1k / Bike: 20-30k / Run: 4-6k

Team Relay Event (2-16 Teams): Each member of the four-person relay team completes a full swim/bike/run:
Swim: 300m / Bike: 10k / Run: 2k

NCAA Championship Event:
Open Water Swim:
Swim: 600m-1k / Bike: 20-30k / Run: 4-6k

Why would NCAA triathlon be contested in the draft-legal manner?
USA Triathlon is proposing triathlon be categorized as a team sport with a focus on team scoring. The cycling portion of NCAA triathlon races would incorporate the draft-legal format utilized by the International Triathlon Union and in the Olympic Games. This style of racing emphasizes team tactics and is extremely spectator friendly. Courses will feature multiple loops (on the bike and the run) allowing fans to easily follow the drama of the event.

How can I help triathlon become an NCAA sport?
If you have a strong connection with an NCAA athletic department and would like to see triathlon added at your institution, please contact USA Triathlon COO Tim Yount at 719-955-2831 or