Next spring, when women’s beach volleyball serves up the NCAA’s newest championship, it will join the sporting ranks of a unique few. Women’s ice hockey, women’s water polo, rowing and bowling might not appear to have much in common with beach volleyball – nor each other – but the sports’ NCAA championships all share the same roots in a program designed to increase athletics opportunities for women.
Created in 1994, the NCAA’s emerging sports program provides a track for eligible female sports to become full-fledged NCAA championship events. An emerging sport has a decade to grow to 40 varsity programs – a lower threshold than nonemerging sports – in order to reach championship status. In the meantime, schools can use emerging sports to meet NCAA minimum sport sponsorship and financial aid requirements.
Beach volleyball reached the threshold in only four years, making it the NCAA’s 90th championship sport and the fifth to graduate from the emerging sport program. Other sports – archery, badminton, synchronized swimming, squash and team handball – fell short of the 40-school requirement and are no longer on the emerging sports list.
Then there is the current trio of emerging sports, with fates yet to be determined:
The start: Boosted by its debut in the 2000 Olympic Games, triathlon has ridden a path to popularity. In 2014, all three divisions voted to add it to the NCAA’s emerging list for women.
The status: Before that vote, 12 schools indicated they would sponsor varsity triathlon programs. The first season begins this fall.
The latest: USA Triathlon, the sport’s national governing body, is committing $2.6 million for a multiyear grant to assist schools in developing an NCAA triathlon program.
The start: Rugby became an emerging sport for women in 2003. Though it got off to a slow start, significant growth in programs over the past two years has bought the sport extra time on the list.
The status: Fourteen schools now sponsor women’s rugby at the NCAA level, with most located in the eastern part of the country.
The latest: Divisions I and III adopted legislation in January 2014 that modified the competition format and required number of contests. Since then, nine schools have added the sport.
The start: Equestrian joined the emerging sports list in 2002. Despite passing the 10-year mark, the sport showed growth and remained on the list.
The status: School sponsorship of equestrian stalled in recent years; 21 schools in Divisions I and II now offer an NCAA program. Division III offers equestrian only as a club sport.
The latest: Division II voted to remove the sport from the emerging list in January, and Division I has not yet determined a plan of action. Sports removed from the program can return after one year.