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Women’s Wrestling, Acrobatics and Tumbling Among NCAA Emerging Sports

Business • June 10, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA (June 3, 2019) – The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics has recommended that all three divisions of the NCAA governance structure add two sports — acrobatics and tumbling and women’s wrestling — to the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women program. If adopted, the sports would join the program Aug. 1, 2020. 

The committee identifies sports to be added to the Emerging Sports for Women program, which is a pipeline supporting the advancement of women’s sports to NCAA championship status. The program also provides athletics opportunities for women and sport-sponsorship options for colleges and universities. Schools also may use an emerging sport to help meet membership minimum sports-sponsorship requirements and financial aid requirements. 

A sport must have a minimum of 20 varsity teams and/or competitive club teams that have competed in a minimum of five contests to be considered for the emerging sports program. The sport must reach 40 varsity programs to move forward to the NCAA governance structure for championship consideration.

The National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association currently has 29 NCAA colleges and universities sponsoring the sport, which is a discipline of gymnastics involving tumbling, tosses, acrobatic lifts and pyramids. The Committee on Women’s Athletics commended acrobatics and tumbling for showing how its student-athletes already were integrated fully within athletics departments; how they are enjoying experiences comparable to those of other NCAA student-athletes; and how the sport could grow. 

The Wrestle Like a Girl organization, in conjunction with USA Wrestling, indicated there are 23 NCAA schools currently sponsoring the sport. The committee applauded the groups for the overall continued growth of women’s wrestling, and specifically for the potential growth of the sport at colleges and universities that currently sponsor men’s wrestling. They also noted the relatively low cost to sponsor women’s wrestling and the organizations’ commitment to increasing opportunities for a more diverse student-athlete base and to expanding coaching opportunities for women.

“On behalf of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, I would like to commend the leaders of both the acrobatics and tumbling and the women’s wrestling communities and thank them for their extensive work to ensure young female athletes in these sports are able to continue their participation at the collegiate level,” said Julie Cromer Peoples, committee chair and senior deputy athletics director for administration/senior woman administrator at Arkansas. “The CWA worked with representatives of both sports for several years to prepare them for advancement to NCAA emerging sport status, and we encourage all three divisions to support this expansion of opportunities for young women on NCAA campuses that choose to sponsor these sports.”

The Emerging Sports for Women program has been in existence since 1994. In the past 21 years, several sports have reached championship status, including beach volleyball, rowing, ice hockey, water polo and bowling. The program currently has three sports: equestrian, rugby and triathlon.

Equestrian Updates

The National Collegiate Equestrian Association recently held its collegiate championship in Waco, Texas, with Auburn taking home the overall team title. NCEA continues to focus on its strategic plan, which centers on four priorities: growth, financial stability, brand awareness and an enhanced athletics experience.

NCEA is working to provide a structure for regional contests and postseason opportunities to encourage more growth in the 2019-20 academic year. NCEA also notes that the Eastern College Athletic Conference will sponsor an inaugural ECAC Collegiate Equestrian League for the 2019-20 academic year. The championship will be March 26-28 at Delaware State.

NCEA also is having discussions with Division III administrators to support equestrian as an emerging sport at the Division III level. The sport currently is supported by Divisions I and II in the emerging sports program with a total of 24 schools. More than 1,300 female student-athletes are benefiting from current opportunities to compete in equestrian.

Rugby Updates

Dartmouth captured its first women’s rugby national title in November at the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association championship, with the match being broadcast on ESPN+. USA Rugby also conducted a Tier 2 conference “Cup” championship in the fall. Mount St. Mary’s won the event, which was broadcast through Mount St. Mary’s athletics streaming service.

New England College and Queens (North Carolina) have added rugby programs and will join the NIRA in the 2019-20 academic year to bring the rugby total to 19 schools. Since September, the NIRA has engaged more than 20 schools in dialogue about adding rugby or elevating existing programs to NCAA status. 

In January, NIRA administrators voted to create a true Division III subconference within the NIRA competitive structure. NIRA anticipates transitioning to a three-tiered competition structure using NCAA divisional designations by 2020-21. USA Rugby also plans to hire a scholastic rugby manager to oversee the high school and college games and will aim to align growth at both the state high school and NCAA levels.

Triathlon Updates

Arizona State claimed the NCAA Division I team title in November for the third consecutive year, with Queens (North Carolina) defending its Division II title and North Central (Illinois) defending its title in Division III.

USA Triathlon added nine programs, including its first historically black university with Hampton joining its ranks. USA Triathlon also noted that it is closing on adding a second historically black college or university. The sport currently has 30 varsity schools in its grant program, which provides funding for colleges and universities to add the sport.

USA Triathlon notes that numerous schools have expressed interest in the sport through telephone calls and emails, and it has created a “Hot 150” list for tracking. It is supporting its colleges and universities with updates every six months that include relevant information pertaining to survey results and growth. There are also feasibility studies that have been completed that include costs to add a program and costs to maintain it over a three-year period.

USA Triathlon presented information to 10 conferences in 2018 and has more presentations slated for this year. It also added additional dollars to its grant pool, which will help fund more programs over a two- or three-year period.