In the past month, USA Triathlon and the NCAA welcomed three new schools to its emerging varsity triathlon program: Lenoir-Rhyne University, Mary Baldwin University, and Texas Christian University (just announced today), bringing the total number of NCAA triathlon programs to 34.
To reach full-fledged NCAA-sport status, USAT must recruit a total of 40 schools across Division I, II, and III to add women’s triathlon to their varsity sports offerings. At 34, USAT is mouth-wateringly close to that 40-school goal.
“Our goal is to try to reach 40 schools by the end of the year,” says USAT CEO Rocky Harris. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a ton of responses from [school] leadership positions across the country saying ‘even if we can’t start a triathlon program now, we’re going to in the near future.’”
One such school to take the leap and add a triathlon program is Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina.
“Women’s triathlon is a great fit for both our campus and our community,” says Vice President for Athletics, Kim Pate. “We are blessed to live in an ideal location for student-athletes to train, compete, and develop in all facets of the sport. Women’s triathlon is an increasingly popular collegiate sport, and we are excited to add it this fall.”
Lenoir-Rhyne will be competing at the DII level with other North Carolina-based DII triathlon teams like: Belmont Abbey College and Queens University of Charlotte.
Tim Yount, USAT’s chief sport development officer, has met with roughly 40 athletics conferences across the country to educate athletic directors, presidents, and chancellors about triathlon.
“The neat thing is, some schools who had said ‘not yet,’ have come back to us and said ‘we’re ready now,’” says Harris. “A lot of [Yount’s] work a few years ago is starting to pay dividends now.”
Mary Baldwin University, a formerly all-women’s college in Staunton, Virginia, is the 33rd school to bring on varsity triathlon—and they’re doing it for both academic and athletic reasons.
“Two of our prominent majors are exercise science and health science majors, and we felt that those academic components combined with our offering of varsity triathlon would be attractive,” says Mary Baldwin University Director of Athletics Tom Byrnes.
Increasingly, schools are looking to include varsity women’s triathlon because triathletes are markedly good students.
“The best part about this sport from a university perspective is that our student athletes get incredible grades,” adds Harris. “The Arizona State University women’s team had roughly a 3.8 GPA recently.”
Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas is the most recent to announce it will field its first Division I women’s triathlon team in the fall of 2021. Texas Christian University is the second school from a Power Five conference to welcome triathlon to its varsity offerings. Arizona State University is the other school from a Power Five conference to field a varsity women’s tri team at the Division I level.
“A myriad of factors goes into not only adding a sport, but also finding the right one for your university and athletics profile,” says Jeremiah Donati, TCU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, in a statement to USAT. “Triathlon checks all the boxes for us.”
As the ambition of 40 varsity triathlon teams grows near, Harris makes it clear that 40 schools is just a starting place—expect to see plenty more universities catch the triathlon bug in the near future.
“After 40 programs, we’re going to see a lot of schools sign on because triathlon is a sport that can now impact their Director’s Cup rankings,” comments Harris. “We’re not going to stop at 40 programs—I have pretty good indications that we’re going to go well above that.”
If you’re at a school whose current offering is collegiate club triathlon, know that, even at the club level, your school’s tri team is the foundation for generations of collegiate triathletes to come.
“The reason why we even had a chance with NCAA is because our collegiate clubs are so successful,” says Harris. “We wouldn’t have had the NCAA approve triathlon as an emerging sport If we didn’t have strong collegiate club programs.”