We get an update on triathlon's status as an emerging NCAA sport five years after the initiative was first announced.
In 2014, the NCAA approved women’s triathlon as the next “emerging sport” eligible for National Championship status. With that designation, USA Triathlon (USAT) would have to get 40 schools to add a varsity triathlon program by 2024. That’s no small task. Luckily, USAT Chief Operating Officer Tim Yount was up to the challenge of making NCAA triathlon a reality.
For the past five years, Yount and his team have proudly built a varsity triathlon infrastructure that just committed its 30th school. And from what Yount says, fulfilling the 40-school requirement isn’t too far away.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In January 2017, USAT finalized a plan encouraging schools to add triathlon to their sports offerings. With an outline for recruiting in place, Yount says, his team “just started grinding.”
“We’ve added roughly 20 programs since January 2017,” Yount said, and having 30 schools signed on is tantalizingly close to that magic number: 40.
Forty isn’t an arbitrary number. With 40 varsity triathlon teams solidified, the NCAA will cover the cost of triathlon national championships at the Division I, II, and III levels. Not to mention the fact that achieving NCAA championship-status will bring triathlon legitimacy and notoriety as a bonafide collegiate sport, potentially propelling swim, bike, run into a new era.
“I don’t get much sleep,” Yount joked. “Because we are that close [to hitting 40 schools].”
But getting that close to 40 programs didn’t happen by accident. USAT invested time and resources for the past half-decade to connect with more than 400 higher education institutions across the nation. Currently, Yount’s team is conversing with about 15 schools that are looking to move forward with obtaining varsity status.
To incentivize these schools, USAT added an $895,000 grant that can be divvied up between the remaining 10 institutions. This grant can assist with everything from equipment procurement to a coach’s salary.
Thanks to the USAT grant and Yount’s hard work, it won’t be long before the tri community hears about more newly minted triathlon teams.
“We’ve got two programs that have been approved for grants,” Yount told Triathlete. “And we’ve got another three programs that have said they’re going to add the sport, [but] just can’t give [us] a timeline yet.”
Yount went on to say he is confident that, by the end of 2019, the number of schools with a varsity tri team will be sitting pretty at 35, if not more than that.
It’s still at a cautious state, though, as securing the final five schools will undoubtedly be the hardest. Due to many institutions’ frequent turnover of athletic directors, it can be difficult to solidify a commitment to adding a new NCAA sport.
Yount told Triathlete that he and his team have been close to securing a school “three or four” other times, but turnover in the athletics department led to a dead end.
Regardless, the folks at USAT are pushing on, determined to achieve not only the 40-school goal but to transform the entire sport of triathlon.
“It’s really not stopping at 40 and being content and letting ourselves be complacent,” Yount stated. “We’re going to set the next aggressive goal. We’re going to get to 50 [programs]. It’s about getting to the next level of support [for varsity triathlon].”
This is a quest that isn’t going to end any time soon. Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of 2019 to see if your alma mater is the next school to support varsity triathlon.