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NCAA Emerging Sports for Women Program Continues to Increase Opportunities

Rules • March 16, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA (March 16, 2023) – In a year where the celebration of Title IX’s 50th anniversary is front and center in college athletics, the NCAA’s Emerging Sports for Women Program continues to be a catalyst for increasing opportunities for female student-athletes. 

Since the program was established in 1994, based on a recommendation from the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force, five women’s sports have earned NCAA championship status: rowing (1996), ice hockey (2000), water polo (2000), bowling (2003) and beach volleyball (2015). In the 2021-22 academic year, those sports collectively included more than 13,000 student-athletes, about 6% of the total student-athletes competing in NCAA women’s championship sports, according to the most recent NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates data released in December by NCAA research. Women’s rowing accounted for more than 6,800 of those student-athletes, per the data.

“Since implementation of the Emerging Sports for Women program, we have seen an increase in opportunities for our young women to participate at the DI, DII and DIII levels,” said Ragean Hill, executive associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Charlotte, who chairs the Committee on Women’s Athletics. “It also has provided institutions the opportunity to pick the best sports that fit within their athletic programs that are already being offered. The CWA has been and will continue to be committed to creating opportunities for our young women through the emerging sports process. Without the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women process, the membership misses out on athletic and academic talent for our universities.”

Kelley Kish, director of athletics at Wingate, said the Emerging Sports for Women program is a “helpful guide” for NCAA schools looking to add women’s sports. Wingate, a Division II school, sponsors two of the sports in the program currently: triathlon and acrobatics and tumbling.

“Having added two emerging sports in the past three years, we value adding these opportunities for women to compete in DII athletics,” she said. “Adding sports provides more opportunities and access to higher education through athletics. Each student-athlete that is part of a new sport’s roster brings their experience, knowledge and competitive nature to our campus and truly enhances our athletic department and Wingate University. It’s a special thing to see the impact that growing your athletic department has both individually to our student-athletes and collectively to our institution.”

Three sports in the Emerging Sports for Women program — acrobatics and tumbling, triathlon and women’s wrestling — are nearing the sponsorship threshold required for CWA to consider whether the committee will recommend them to the NCAA governance structure for championship consideration.

To be legislatively considered for an NCAA championship, sports in the Emerging Sports for Women program must be sponsored at the varsity level by at least 40 schools, based on the NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates data, and must meet their sport’s minimum competition and participant requirements. If legislation is adopted, the NCAA governance structure works to establish a championship. That process can take two years or longer to work through logistics such as budgeting, site selection and other details. 

Five sports are currently in the Emerging Sports for Women program: acrobatics and tumbling, equestrian, rugby, triathlon and women’s wrestling. Stunt was approved as an emerging sport by Division II at the 2023 NCAA Convention and will be added to the program in August. Divisions I and III, at the 2023 Convention, referred the proposal to add stunt in their divisions back to the Committee on Women’s Athletics — an Association-wide committee that oversees the Emerging Sports for Women program — for further review and discussion. At its Feb. 14 meeting, the committee voted unanimously to recommend stunt move forward as an emerging sport in Divisions I and III. Both divisions will review the latest recommendation at future governance meetings. 

Below is a summary of the sports currently in the program, including the 2021-22 sports sponsorship numbers schools reported to the NCAA.  

Acrobatics and tumbling

In 2021-22, 33 schools reported sponsoring acrobatics and tumbling, which was added to the program in 2020-21. Currently, two Division II conferences — the Mountain East Conference (nine members) and Conference Carolinas (11 members, including affiliate members from the Peach Belt Conference and South Atlantic Conference) — sponsor a conference championship in the sport. In total, 22 schools in Division II sponsored the sport in 2021-22. 

Acrobatics and tumbling rosters range from 22-42, with nearly 900 student-athletes reported in the latest NCAA participation data. 

Equestrian (Divisions I and II only)

In the 2021-22 academic year, 22 Division I and II schools sponsored equestrian as a varsity sport. Equestrian is not an emerging sport in Division III, which voted down proposals to add it at the 2020 and 2022 NCAA Conventions. Currently, three conferences — the Big 12 Conference, Southeastern Conference and the Eastern College Athletic Conference — host a conference championship in the sport. 

According to NCAA research data, more than 800 student-athletes participated in equestrian in 2021-22 across Divisions I and II. The average roster size reported is roughly 40 in Division I and 20 in Division II.  


In 2021-22, 23 schools reported sponsoring rugby — nine more than in 2016-17. Of those 23 schools, eight are from Division I, six are from Division II and nine are from Division III. The 2021-22 data shows more than 650 student-athletes participated in rugby, with roster sizes that range from 21-35. 


In 2021-22, 35 schools reported sponsoring triathlon. Of the schools that sponsored it in 2021-22, eight are from Division I, 15 from Division II and 12 from Division III. In 2016-17, only nine schools reported sponsoring the sport at the varsity level, which was added to the emerging sports program in 2014. 

More than 250 student-athletes competed in triathlon at NCAA schools in 2021-22, with roster sizes of six to nine. USA Triathlon reported that student-athletes competing at NCAA varsity programs were recruited from more than 24 countries. 

Women’s wrestling 

Women’s wrestling has rapidly grown since becoming an emerging sport in 2020-21, when 30 schools reported sponsoring it. In 2021-22, 39 schools sponsored women’s wrestling, with more than 550 student-athletes competing among them. Of the schools reporting women’s wrestling in 2021-22, 22 were from Division III, 15 from Division II and two from Division I. 

The College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin became the first Division III conference to host a women’s wrestling championship in January. Conference Carolinas and the South Atlantic Conference in Division II plan to host their first combined women’s wrestling championship in 2023-24.


Rowing Water Polo Bowling Beach Volleyball Equestrian Rugby Triathlon Title IX Emerging Sports Women's Sports Ice Hockey Acrobatics Wrestling Tumbling NCAA