The NCAA website reports that its Committee for Women’s Athletics has proposed to add triathlon to the list of Emerging Sports for Women. The Emerging Sports list promotes the development of new collegiate athletic opportunities for women by allowing them to count towards NCAA requirements even in their provisional status. If forty institutions add the emerging sport in a ten year period, it becomes an official NCAA championship sport. Ice hockey and rowing are examples of women’s sports that have “graduated” from the Emerging Sports list. Sand volleyball is the most recent sport added to the list, in 2009.
The CWA based its triathlon proposal on letters from a dozen institutions that have expressed plans to add or at least strongly consider adding triathlon as a sport in the near future. These twelve schools are: Air Force, Arizona, Denver, Drake, Monmouth, UNC-Asheville, Northern Iowa, and Stanford in Division I; Adams State and Colorado-Colorado Springs in Division II; and Maine-Farmington and Marymount in Division III. Another good indication of the sport’s popularity is that over 150 club programs already offer participation opportunities for female triathletes, and that USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body, already holds a collegiate competition.
Supporters of varsity triathlon advocate that the sport is easy to add, by simply adding a college wave to existing triathlon events. That said, it will be important for athletic directors to keep in mind that in order to count for Title IX purposes, the sport would have to ensure a similar level of college-varsity level competition that other sports receive. The most recent Quinnipiac decision, for example, refused to let the university count rugby, notwithstanding its inclusion in the Emerging Sports list, because the team competed mostly against clubs and did not have enough varsity competition. Athletic departments should not get the idea that they can simply shuttle a group of athletes to a nearby USAT event and then count them for Title IX purposes as members of the school’s triathlon team. The sport will need a competitive season, dedicated coaching and resources, and all of the other indicia of varsity status that institutions bestow upon their other athletic teams.