Collegiate triathlon, a sport that combines swimming, biking, and running, has its roots in the early 1980s in the United States.
Today, collegiate triathlon is a thriving sport with more than 150 schools fielding teams and over 3,000 athletes competing annually in the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships.
From Grassroots Racing to National Championships
One major factor is the sport's inclusiveness and accessibility. Unlike some other collegiate sports that require specialized facilities or equipment, triathlon can be practiced almost anywhere with a pool, a bike, and running shoes. This has allowed colleges and universities of various sizes and resources to field teams and offer the sport as a varsity or club program.
Another factor is the grassroots efforts of triathlon enthusiasts and student-athletes who have worked to promote the sport and establish new programs at their schools. Many collegiate triathlon teams have been started by students who were already involved in one or two of the sport's disciplines, such as swimming or running, and saw an opportunity to compete in all three.
Finally, the increasing popularity of triathlon as a recreational and competitive sport outside of the college ranks has also fueled its growth at the collegiate level. With more people participating in triathlons across the country, there has been a corresponding increase in demand for collegiate programs that offer the opportunity to compete at a higher level.
Triathlon Is Not An NCAA-Sponsored Sport… Yet.
Despite its growing popularity and presence at the collegiate level, triathlon is not currently a recognized sport by the NCAA, the governing body for intercollegiate athletics in the United States.
One reason for this is the NCAA's criteria for adding new sports to its official roster. In order to be considered for NCAA championship status, a sport must meet certain requirements, such as having at least 40 member schools sponsoring the sport and having a minimum of 20 schools participate in the regular-season competition. While collegiate triathlon has more than 150 schools fielding teams, it has yet to reach the threshold for NCAA championship status.
Another challenge facing collegiate triathlon is the lack of uniformity in competition formats and rules. Unlike established NCAA sports like basketball or football, which have standardized playing surfaces and rules across all schools and conferences, triathlon competitions can vary widely in distance, format, and course terrain. This can make it difficult to compare results and establish a clear hierarchy of teams and athletes.
Despite these challenges, some advocates for collegiate triathlon continue to push for the sport's inclusion in the NCAA. They argue that the sport's unique combination of swimming, biking, and running appeals to a broad range of athletes and could help increase diversity and participation in college athletics. They also point to the success of the sport's current governing body, USA Triathlon, in organizing national championships and providing support for collegiate programs.
How Title IX And Equal Scholarship Opportunities Could Help Triathlon
Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972, has had a significant impact on the growth and development of women's sports in the United States. Among other provisions, the law requires that educational institutions that receive federal funding provide equal opportunities for male and female athletes.
While Title IX does not specifically mandate the addition of new sports to NCAA programs, it has played a role in the expansion of women's athletics in general, and could potentially be a factor in the future inclusion of triathlon as an NCAA sport.
Advocates for collegiate triathlon have pointed to Title IX as a potential avenue for increasing the visibility and support for the sport at the college level. They argue that the addition of triathlon as an NCAA sport could provide new opportunities for female athletes and help address existing disparities in funding and resources for women's sports.
However, it is worth noting that the NCAA has not yet indicated any plans to add triathlon to its list of sponsored sports, and the current challenges facing the sport's inclusion in the NCAA go beyond Title IX considerations.
Triathlon Gains Popularity Through The Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had both positive and negative effects on the sport of triathlon. While it initially led to the cancellation or postponement of many triathlon events, including some collegiate races, the sport has seen a resurgence in popularity in some areas.
One positive effect of the pandemic has been the increased interest in outdoor and individual sports, as many people sought ways to stay active while avoiding crowded indoor spaces. Triathlon, with its focus on swimming, cycling, and running, was well-suited to this trend and saw an uptick in participation as a result.
However, the pandemic also had negative effects on the sport, including the cancellation of many races and the financial strain on race organizers and athletes. Additionally, restrictions on swimming in public pools and bodies of water limited the training opportunities for some triathletes, especially those who were new to the sport.
Overall, while the pandemic had both positive and negative effects on the sport of triathlon, it is clear that the interest in outdoor and individual sports has led to an increased popularity of triathlon in some areas.
Triathlon Has Gained Traction as a High School Sport
Triathlon has grown in popularity at the high school level in recent years, with an increasing number of schools and organizations offering opportunities for student-athletes to participate in the sport.
While triathlon is not yet recognized as an official sport by many state athletic associations, several states have started to offer state championship events and other opportunities for high school triathletes. For example, California and Arizona both have state-sponsored triathlon championships for high school students, and other states such as Texas and Minnesota have seen a rise in the number of schools offering triathlon programs or club teams.
In addition to state-level competitions, there are also several national organizations that offer events and programs for high school triathletes. USA Triathlon, the sport's governing body in the United States, hosts a High School National Championship event each year, and also offers coaching and development resources for high school coaches and athletes.
Other organizations, such as the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), have also started to incorporate triathlon into their programming or have recognized the sport as an emerging activity.
While the popularity of high school triathlon is still relatively small compared to more established sports, its growth in recent years suggests that there is a demand for the sport among student-athletes and that it may continue to expand in the future.
Triathlon Is Growing In Popularity at the High School Level
In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of high school and college athletes participating in triathlon. This growth can be attributed to several factors, including the sport's unique combination of swimming, cycling, and running, as well as its potential for individual achievement and competition.
Here are three factors that may help the sport continue to grow in popularity among student-athletes:
- Accessibility and inclusivity: Triathlon can be a more accessible sport compared to other popular sports, as it requires relatively little equipment or resources to get started. It also has the potential to be more inclusive, as it is a sport that can be adapted to a wide range of ages and abilities.
- Health and fitness benefits: Triathlon promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle, which is a growing concern among parents, educators, and health professionals. The sport's emphasis on swimming, cycling, and running can also provide a well-rounded fitness regimen, which may be attractive to student-athletes looking for a challenge.\
- Scholarship opportunities: As the sport continues to grow, there may be more opportunities for student-athletes to receive athletic scholarships at the college level. This could help attract more young athletes to the sport and provide them with opportunities to continue their athletic careers beyond high school.
Overall, while triathlon may face some challenges in gaining recognition as an official sport at the high school and college level, its unique combination of disciplines and potential for growth make it an intriguing option for young athletes looking for a new challenge.