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#9: The old college tri
And gossip, gossip, gossip. So much gossip.
issue 9: Nov. 16, 2022
This past weekend, I sent out the first of the more in-depth pieces we’re planning for Triathlonish: Q&As, race reviews, and odd stories that don’t get told elsewhere. I also quietly opened up paid memberships—huge thanks to the handful of you who already upgraded, I love you, and you’ll be getting a special gift.
The idea is that this weekly Wednesday newsletter will always stay free and go to everyone. The Sunday afternoon pieces will ultimately go to just paid members, especially the detailed race reviews, which will stay open to everyone for a week or two but ultimately will be available in an archive to paid members as a kind of unbiased detailed resource that we’ll update.
Why paid memberships?
First, so that I can pay people somewhat fairly to contribute and do stuff. (If you have an idea for a Q&A, story, or race review, send me an email.) Second, so I can expand and spend more time on the kind of fun coverage we all want for our sports. Third, ultimately, to give members access to extra things and eventually a non-douche chat community talk triathlon (see:gossip below). And fourth, just because you want to support Triathlonish and you’re awesome.
But, to get us started, I’m running a LFG discount through the end of the month. I’ll also be sending the first 50 people “all sports, no balls” swim caps if you didn’t get one in Kona. And if you can’t afford it, just email me (email@example.com).
So, you all will get one or two more Sunday evening emails, but then I promise I won’t overload your inbox if you don’t want me to, and you’ll just get the regular Wednesday newsletter.
Today’s being all about: the pros & cons of collegiate triathlon, and of course the gossip that isn’t really gossip going around.
LISTEN: In this week’s podcast we talk with USA Triathlon’s new CEO and the first woman to hold the job, Vic Brumfield.
Just like the college kids do it
This past weekend, Arizona State University won its sixth “NCAA” national women’s triathlon title over Queens University—to which your reaction is: 1. Queens University? 2. Why is NCAA in quotations?
Well, let me tell you. And also, just to answer your secret 3rd question, I’m also going to tell you why you, yes you, should care.
Photo: Thomas Fernandez/Courtesy of USAT
A very short timeline
- 2014: Women’s triathlon is approved as an NCAA emerging sport—basically meaning there’s an easier pathway for women’s sports to become fully fledged NCAA sports because history, access, and also Title IX
- 2022: Women’s triathlon officially gets the necessary 40th school to sign on with a varsity program; this triggers the official approval process
- 2024: Women’s triathlon could become a for real NCAA championship sport as soon as fall 2024 (depends on a number of things)
As discussed last week, there is an important difference between the existing college triathlon clubs and what’s being built for NCAA teams.
Collegiate club tri: Sprint and Olympic-distance, largely non-drafting, typically no scholarships or NCAA perks, not considered a university student-athlete, exists as a club extracurricular, generally clubs are no cut/all-welcoming (though can be very competitive), championships in spring
NCAA tri: Sprint draft-legal women’s race, fall championship season, NCAA scholarships and regulations apply, considered an official student-athlete for all university rules and benefits, and of course there are NCAA standards for practices and team cuts (especially at the DI and DII level)
What happens next + this weird transition period
All of this matters because if women’s draft-legal sprint triathlon becomes the next NCAA championship sport, then the hope is with that will come all the things that come with NCAA status: money, scholarships, high-performance Olympic pipelines, media attention, etc. For our non-US audience: This is a big deal. It’s also likely that once it’s official, then you’ll actually see more of the large DI programs sign on. (This is the general expectation and word on the triathlon street.) Already, University of Arizona and Texas Christian University have announced programs.
All of this is a big bet on the NCAA.
USAT has put a lot of time and money into this bet—about $3.5 million in grants, to be precise. It’s incredibly rare for a governing body to back an NCAA sport bid in this way, and it could pay off big for them.
However, there’s been a tension during this transition period, when it’s not quite an NCAA sport yet and it’s not a club sport anymore either. If you talk to coaches and athletes, it’s no secret that it’s been challenging to find and flesh out draft-legal collegiate races for the “NCAA” teams to compete in, it’s been hard to recruit (for some schools more than for others), it’s been a bit hard to create rules as they go and navigate the always present complexities of university bureaucracy and NCAA regulations without yet fully being NCAA. Add in COVID complications and budget issues and whew.
NCAA pros & cons
This matters for the future of the sport because it is the future of the sport. For a long long time, I was skeptical about the push for NCAA. I came into triathlon through the college club programs. I love the club programs. I was worried that they would get gutted and that pushing for triathlon to be NCAA would hurt its (for lack of a better term) vibe. Now, I’ve come around to agree there could be a lot of upside, it just depends on how it works out from here. There are, as they say, pros & cons.
Pro: NCAA triathlon will create a pipeline to keep elite high school and junior triathletes in the sport, instead of them moving over to swimming or running for college scholarships.
Con: Many varsity spots, so far, however, have gone to foreign elite juniors. It may take some time for an elite junior pipeline to develop fully in the U.S.
Con: Elite youth development is notoriously fraught. Let’s get it right if we do it.
Pro: NCAA championship approval will mean more media attention and excitement for the sport.
Pro: With the new NIL rules allowing NCAA athletes to sign sponsorship deals, this could also end up meaning more opportunities for those athletes—female college athletes in less mainstream sports were expected to benefit the most from the NIL rules. USAT has actually launched a really interesting NIL collective that will pool donations to the collegiate athletes.
Con: The NCAA doesn’t exactly always get things right, though.
Con: There are many (many!) more athletes in the college club teams, and many of them are likely to stay active or involved in some capacity later in life. The money behind NCAA could grow these programs instead.
What I think it comes down to is that we need them both. USAT will ultimately hand off the NCAA program to the NCAA to run. They’ve also handed off the collegiate club national championship to a third-party race director (in much the same way many of the national championships are not directly produced by USAT). And I’d like to see that club race grow now, ideally with some grant funding and support, at the same time we grow a pathway for those who want an elite NCAA experience.
We can do both. We have to. The world is not zero sum. I hope. I think.
One of the oddities of triathlon is that it’s really not a very big sport. This can be good and bad. For good and bad, gossip spreads quickly. A few weeks ago, there was a lot of talk that a two-day Kona next year was unlikely to happen due to local government concerns about the impact on the town. This isn’t gossip so much as it is information. Many alternative options have been floated out there in the tri space by many people, and I’m sure lots of work has been going into figuring out what’s feasible. I actually expected some kind of 2023 announcement at St. George, but no one asked and it didn’t come.
Those conversations and that logistical planning can’t happen, though, without people starting to hear about it. Conversations have to happen with other people, and then those people tell people who tell people. At what point does that information become gossip?
The answer is probably now, with the leading rumored alternatives breaking out into social media: rotate world champs locations, with separate men & women’s days in separate places.
Now, of course, the triathlon world is taking a minute to really think about these options within the constraints, to weigh the long-term pros and cons of the choices and how to build up the sport, and pause before just falling back on a knee-jerk ‘Kona or die’ reaction.
Kidding, of course triathletes aren’t doing that.
P.S. I’ll wait until whatever is official is official before explaining why (regardless of what happens) I’ve always been for rotation and separate days. I mean, what even is the alternative, going backwards?
Mark your calendar
Just giving you this weekend’s events for watching purposes.
Ironman Arizona: Sunday, Nov. 20 - Which I usually think is a terrible, miserable boring race, but has a super fascinating start list this year: Sam Long, Ben Kanute’s debut, Sarah True, and Skye Moench. Watch @ 6:30 MT on Facebook Watch or Youtube.
Ironman Cozumel: Sunday, Nov. 20 - See also similar feelings as above, except last year a world “record” was set and it also has an interesting start list this year: Magnus Ditlev (though I think he maybe wants a break), Rudy von Berg, Lisa Norden. I don’t think it’s available to watch.
Also happening is the Laguna Phuket Tri, which is quite famous among the kind of people for whom a triathlon is famous. Sounds like you may be able to watch on Facebook.
Everyone’s also been waiting waiting waiting for the 2023 PTO events calendar—since the understanding is both that there’s a new Asian Open race coming and that the Collins Cup is finally moving. But, hopefully, the reason it’s taking a long time to announce is because all the different race organizations are actually talking to each other to sort out dates….
Speaking of: Ironman and Roth were able to reach an agreement to not have their races in Germany conflict in 2024. So see, it can be done. (Triathlon Magazine Canada)
USA Triathlon announced their 2023 National Championship calendar, and I’m semi-eyeing the winter tri nationals. (Endurance Sports Wire)
Results from this past weekend: Ellie Salthouse and Steve McKenna won Melbourne 70.3, which was on Outside Watch because they needed to flesh out the broadcast calendar. And Chile hosted its first ever World Cup, which was interesting to my American-focused fans for two reasons: Morgan Pearson is back racing after a year of being out with injuries and he’s got some room before he gets back to his 2021 performances, and Gina Sereno took second in her first World Cup podium. If you were looking for an up-and-coming star who could be big at the Paris or L.A. Olympics, I’d keep my eye on Gina; with her running pedigree and the progress she’s been making in World Tri, she’s been on a lot of short lists. (Tri-Today/OutsideTV/Instagram)
Ben Hoffman is racing Patagonman Xtri, because Heather Jackson’s not the only one into off-the-beaten-path adventures. (Instagram)
People who are not into random adventures: Those trying to move up in the PTO rankings before the end of the year for the extra bonus money. Sounds like Vince Luis is signed up for two non-drafting races for exactly that reason. (Tri247/Instagram)
If you were still in the Ironman Virtual Club, 1. why and 2. this is sad for you: Ironman announced this week it’ll be ending its virtual club. The last virtual race will run this weekend. Which is interesting not because virtual things were a semi-fad, but because when Ironman purchased FulGaz my guess, looking at their hires and acquisitions, had been they were positioning to create a kind of Ironman training team community platform. Maybe I was wrong. (Ironman VR/Slowtwitch)
There is, however, a virtual tri festival. Who knew. (Tri-Today)
There are also two things you can donate to: The Ironman Foundation for a Mike Reilly package or the USAT Foundation for a chance to be on a call with Andy Potts on Dec. 15. (Ironman Foundation/USAT Foundation)
The Outspoken summit for women in endurance sports was this past weekend. (I was visiting my sister.) And they announced their annual awards. (Instagram)
Also appreciate: I’ve always said you could just salt to taste (ie. unless you screw it up or conditions are extreme, you generally know if/when you need more salt in a race and when you don’t) and now science says I’m right. (Outside)
And because a triathlon brand asked me for a sample pregnancy clause for athlete contracts—and it’s that time of year—may I present: Oiselle’s sample pregnancy clause and template. (Oiselle)
Don’t forget: Listen to this week’s podcast for our first interview—a chat with the new USAT CEO Vic Brumfield—and Sid will be back next week! (Triathlonish)
One last thing
An accurate graph. His entire take on this year’s NY Marathon is accurate: We Interrupt Your Expectations to Bring You Your Actual Marathon.