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Division II vote gives new life to equestrian

Members reject proposal to remove equestrian from emerging sports list

Division II delegates voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to keep equestrian as an emerging sport in Division II during the NCAA Convention in San Antonio.

Nearly 200 college administrators at the NCAA Convention voted Saturday to let equestrian’s ride continue in Division II.

The sport, which has been designated an NCAA emerging sport for women since 2002, was on track to be removed from the Division II emerging sports list after failing to meet requirements to continue in the program. Sports in the emerging sports program are expected to grow to 40 varsity teams within 10 years – the minimum level of sponsorship needed to be considered for the ultimate goal of becoming a full-fledged NCAA championship sport.

In January 2015, the Division II Management Council supported a recommendation from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics – the committee that oversees the emerging sports program – to drop the sport from Division II in 2017. Six months after that, the Division I Strategic Vision and Planning Committee tabled the same recommendation, keeping the sport alive in Division I.

In Division II, due to the Management Council’s support, the recommendation became part of a larger “noncontroversial” legislative package that needed to be ratified by the membership at the 2016 NCAA Convention.

“In light of the lack of growth in sponsorship at the Division II level, it was appropriate to pass legislation to remove equestrian from the emerging sports list,” said Julie Beeman, a faculty athletics representative from Belmont Abbey College who is also a member of the Management Council and the Committee on Women’s Athletics. “It is important to note this change does not preclude a Division II institution from continuing to sponsor equestrian as a varsity sport for purposes of gender equity. However, equestrian could not be used to meet NCAA sport sponsorship minimums.”

But when the time came to vote on the noncontroversial package at the Division II business session Saturday, a member requested the equestrian proposal be pulled from the noncontroversial package and voted on separately. Around 67 percent of Division II delegates went on to vote against ratification of the proposal – meaning equestrian will remain in Division II.  

“I do not sponsor equestrian, but I have witnessed this week a passion from colleagues that do,” David Hicks, athletics director at King University, told the Division II crowd before the vote. “If this proposal is ratified, there is a good likelihood that institutions that do sponsor equestrian could drop the sport from varsity status.”

Four Division II schools now sponsor the sport, while 19 others sponsor it in Division I. Division III has never sponsored equestrian as an NCAA sport.

The Committee on Women’s Athletics has formed a subcommittee that is taking a closer look at whether updates to the emerging sports requirements are warranted. The conversation will continue at the committee’s next meeting in April.