Why NCAA Tri Needs To Replicate Super League Triathlon
Updated: Nov 21
Over the past ten years, NCAA Triathlon has made strides toward achieving full recognition as an NCAA championship sport. In the year 2022, NCAA Triathlon hit a milestone by having their 40th institution introduce varsity women's triathlon, with 40 schools being the requirement by the NCAA wants in order for the sport to enter championship review. However, in 2023, only 36 programs compete at Nationals, a small step backwards for the sport. Some of this comes due to the current sprint distance format. In any emerging sport, formats and scoring requirements are likely to change multiple times in the "emerging sport" phase. This is how the sports grows and adapts to present its best version of the sport prior to reaching championship status. Three important components are: 1. Sustainability
2. Compliance 3. Marketability
Learn From Super League Triathlon
Super League Triathlon has completely revolutionized professional triathlon in a spectator friendly, high paced, team centered format that can attract diverse audiences of those who love triathlon and also those who do not know what triathlon is. Why? Because it's short, spectator friendly, and incredibly exciting to the general public: both in person and also via livestream. I am going to make a prediction: NCAA Triathlon will not reach championship status if it stays in the standard sprint triathlon format. Instead, it must adapt the Super League format and if possible look to partner with Super League Triathlon. My proposal is to change the race format at Regionals and Nationals to super sprint distance, and also have a additional 3 woman super sprint relay at Nationals. Why?
Sprint distance is not sustainable for 75% of DIII programs. DIII programs can not offer scholarship money so their sole job is to recruit runners and swimmers to join the triathlon team. If we lose the DIII's then the sport will not hit compliance and the sport will completely fold within 5 years. Teaching someone without a swim background to swim 800m or someone with no run background to run 3 miles is a difficult task. Especially when these programs often have very tight budgets. However, convincing a swimmer or runner already at the school to try super sprint distance is a lot more appealing. This will help DIII's field rosters and hit compliance. It will help grow the sport.
Sprint distance cannot scale. The sport cannot "copy" the NCAA Cross Country model. Pretend the sport does reach championship status and 40 DI's are on the start line. 40x 7 athletes = 280 athletes in one draft legal wave. The sport obviously cannot have 280 athletes on a start line for safety reasons. Even this year, having 99 was not good. Super sprint format allows multiple ways to scale without a massive beach required for a start line or a massive transition. Waves realistically should not have more than 50-70 depending on the format. One suggestion I have is to take the heat / finals format similar to some Super League events and similar to how NCAA Swimming Championships are held. This allows the sport to scale to huge numbers and not have problems with changing the format at a later date. NCAA Triathlon needs to adapt quickly. Sprint distance will not get the sport to championship status.
Super sprint distance is vastly more marketable than sprint distance. This matters when AD's decide if they will add triathlon to their school. Pitching to 3rd parties to get a livestream deal will attract a much larger audience in the super sprint format. I study racing sports, and when Supercross (dirt bikes) figure this out in the early 2000's, by changing their format to a 8 minute heat / and 20 minute final in a stadium, their sport exploded with popularity due to media coverage and now has a worldwide audience. Most people outside of the sport will not watch a 1 hour race, but they will watch a 20 minute format. Scaling the marketing increases the demand for future generations of the sport.
NCAA Triathlon needs help with hosting events and also needs help promoting the events. Historically, the event promotion has not been very strong. This implicates that someday, Super League could actually be a event-production and live streaming partner for NCAA Triathlon. Why not partner with someone already doing both very successfully (if Super League Triathlon is indeed interested)?
Super sprint format makes hosting non-national championship events much easier. This will greatly help with compliance for low budget programs who struggle to travel host races on campus and have dual meets. It also opens the door to "on campus" racing, a format many schools need to implement in order for the sport to take off in popularity. It can even be done in a pool, similar to Super League's stadium format. If we can bring NCAA Triathlon duel meets onto campuses, this sport will explode.
Changing the format will also makes the top end of DI more competitive and the racing tighter and more exciting. It will attract more internationals to come compete in NCAA Triathlon, and help the sport scale to championship status. It also puts less "sprint distance" races on the athletes bodies after many of them compete all summer long for their federations. Remember that NCAA is after the summer where many athletes compete. Changing the format helps NCAA Triathlon continue to emerge as a high-performance development pipeline for women aged 18-22, without putting as many standard distance races on their bodies.
Two Day Format isnt feasable
Then make it into one day. Heats in the morning, and finals after the heats finish.
3x heats of 33 athletes, and top 10 of each heat + 10 best times qualify (40 total).
2x heats of 40 athletes, and top 15 of each heat + 10 best times qualify (40 total).
5 heats + 2 Finals.
Start heats every 30 min = 3 hours and 30 minutes for all events.
*Optional: add 3 woman relay with 1 hour gap after finals = 5 and a half hours of road closure.
3 separate sprint heats @ 2 hours blocks each = 6 hours of road closure (2022 format)
The Clock is Ticking
I've said this before to coaches and operations behind the scenes, NCAA Flag football is going to be a emerging sport, and 100's of schools are going to add it. 1, They can put it on campus and sell tickets.
2. It is a cheap sport for operations.
3. It is a very diverse sport.
4. The NFL is going to put millions of dollars into it.
5. It is marketable and exciting to the general public.
So NCAA Triathlon and those in power to make decisions better get proactive, and quickly, and be a pioneer of the Super Sprint + Relay format that is exciting and makes . If NCAA Triathlon does this they can be added in addition to flag football, because they will not win the "pick us instead of flag football" pitch.