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Women’s Acrobatics & Tumbling, Wrestling Added to NCAA Emerging Sports

11 Feb, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Expect an Uptick in Events for Both Sports; Equestrian Fails to Win Vote, However

Plenty of people might have been a little distracted by happenings on the football field (or, just as likely, in the political arena) and missed the news that two sports are in the process of being added to the NCAA’s list of emerging sports for women.

One thing’s for sure, though: it’s going to become a lot more difficult to miss any news from now on since the number of competitive events will likely see an uptick.

Acrobatics and tumbling, as well as wrestling, cleared the hurdle of approval in the Division II and III sessions at the 2020 NCAA Convention, held recently in Anaheim. Division I will take its vote in April.

Back in the beginning of last summer, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics has recommended that all three divisions of the NCAA governance structure add the two sports to the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women program. The sports join the program at the Division II and III levels as of August 1, 2020. 

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

Sports do not need to have the support of all three divisions, however, in order to go on the emerging sports list. Gail Dent, Associate Director, Public and Media Relations for the NCAA, notes that in this case, sports “Can go on the emerging list with independent divisional support. Sports that have full support of all three divisions generally have a smoother path as they combine to generate the needed sponsorships.”

To date, five women’s sports have moved from NCAA Emerging Sports Status to Championship Status: rowing, ice hockey, water polo, bowling and, most recently, beach volleyball.

Acrobatics and Tumbling

Acrobatics and tumbling is a discipline of USA Gymnastics. The sport is an evolution of the various disciplines of gymnastics, combining the technique and power of tumbling with the grace and balance of acrobatics gymnastics. It was created to provide a competitive option to the women who have trained in gymnastics at the youth level but find few opportunities to use their training in college.

Unlike cheer competitions, which generally involve multiple squads competing one at a time throughout the course of a day, acrobatics and tumbling meets are set up as contests for either two or three teams. Each team has up to 28 competitors on their game-day roster and compete in six events throughout the meet, including Compulsory, Acro, Pyramid, Toss, Tumbling and Team. According to the NCAA, the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA, the current governing body) currently has 29 NCAA colleges and universities sponsoring the sport.

The 2020 competition season is already underway and will finish with the three-day NCATA National Championship event at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon. The 2020 national championships will be the 10th anniversary of the event and will take place from April 23-25. Oregon will be hosting the championship for the second time in program history. UO hosted the inaugural NCATA Championships back in 2011.

Between now and the April DI meeting, the NCATA expects increased interest and program announcements following the DII and DIII votes, as well as interest within conferences to add Acrobatics and Tumbling as a championship sport. Current membership includes 30 NCAA programs across all divisions. 

Wrestling

Wrestling for women has been making enormous headway at the collegiate level. According to two organizations, Wrestle Like a Girl and USA Wrestling, there are 23 NCAA schools currently sponsoring the sport.

Spurring that growth along is a rising population of women of all ages getting into the sport. In early 2018, Phil Andrews, USA Wrestling’s executive director, told SDM, “It been noticeable (and great!) to see more women coming in. Now, 47 percent of our senior athletes are female, which is something we are proud of. That’s showing effects on the achievement of our national team too. We have had consistently more women than men participation in our events. The last eight events had, at least, 53 percent female athletes. That’s a reflection of our membership growth among women.”

At the NCAA level, the committee noted 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. Another aspect of the sport that is earning the favor of the NCAA is the two organizations’ commitment to increasing opportunities for a more diverse student-athlete base and to expanding coaching opportunities for women.

One of the big projects of the coalition is the creation of the First Annual Cliff Keen National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships (NCWWC), set for Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, on March 6-7. This event serves as the national championship event for all NCAA-affiliated women’s wrestling programs unless and until championship status is achieved. All NCAA varsity women’s wrestling programs at the DI, DII, and DIII levels are eligible to enter.

One sport which failed to win the approval at the DIII Division meeting was equestrian.

The NCAA website noted, “The equestrian proposal shaped more than 30 minutes of discussion and debate with 10 attendees expressing their opinions to the delegates. Those in support of the legislation argued to create new opportunities for women in the Association while those in opposition cited the need to resolve additional issues for current sponsors and how the sport in the NCAA would look compared with how it’s operated now. The proposal was defeated 174-195 with 109 delegates abstaining. Equestrian has been designated an emerging sport for women in Divisions I and II since 2002, but it has remained independent of the NCAA in Division III.”

The sport is currently governed by the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) which continues to focus on its strategic plan, which centers on four priorities: growth, financial stability, brand awareness and an enhanced athletics experience.

Equestrian is currently 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 participating.

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