Triathlon as an NCAA sport. maybe.

USA Triathlon has an interest in training the next generation for the Olympics. The NCAA has an interest in student-athlete well-being and education. This sport is a perfect blend  Marymount Athletics Director Debbie Warren

I couldn’t decide what to think when I say the article on adding triathlon to the NCAA list of championship sports in the near future. So I organized my thoughts, then wrote a blog about it. There are still a lot of questions, and no doubt it will take a few years, at the very least, to get programs rolling and attract talent to foster high level competition. My question is, can we train the next generation of Olympians through the NCAA system?

I’ve lived the NCAA reality for 4 years now, and I had my first taste of what triathlon racing at the highest level is all about over the last few months. (it’s ridiculously challenging but utterly addicting). I’ve experienced the sheer amount of rules rules imposed on athletes in order to be eligible in the NCAA. Totally ridiculous. No rides from the coach, wear team gear at all times, can’t tweet about anything, minimum credit hours every semester, progress towards your degree, etc.The one that might be a problem in this case is the 20 hour rule. 20 hour training week. 8 hours in the off season. That’s not very much. Half of what Frodeno does, maybe?. Also, even if there were no 20-hour rule, how many hours can you fit in around 12 or 15 credits worth of classes a semester? I tried to be a full time student and a triathlete for about 3 weeks last December (yes, that is during exam time, good timing sarah). I ended up in tears in the middle of the living room one day. Not good.

Looks like they are aiming at a sprint distance, draft-legal format. That would accommodate a lighter training load, and allow the sport to be accessible to more athletes, as all the junior racers would stay at the same distance for an extra 3 years. Let’s look at who’s winning the Olympics. Spirig, Norden, Snowsill, even Brownlee2 and Gomez. Mostly endurance beasts. Endurance is built with miles. Miles take time. It’s not going to be an easy balance. To stay eligible, you can’t just take a semester off, go train at altitude for a while and travel all around the world for races. Oh, but you won’t need to because you’ll have quality races around the country to race for your school! For a few years, the level just might not be quite high enough. Let’s say we reach about the level of a solid North American continental cup. Decent swimmers, a few fast runners, and a fairly unexciting bike leg. That’s all good, but it’s nothing compared to what you’re up against you reach the big leagues; a mid-level world cup or the WTS circuit. Is 4 years of mediocre competition a good way to built future Olympic champions? Then lets have the NCAA season be sometime in the spring, which would allow all the north American athletes to have their regular ITU season during the summer, even race worlds in the early fall, and go back to school to do base training, maybe complemented by racing cross country for their school. The only hitch will be finding a way around the 8 hour rule, which is done regularly, but will require a lot of smart planning from everybody involved. Easier said than done.

On the positive side, college campuses are where all the best runners and swimmers can be found in America, racing a lot but also training hard. If triathletes can take advantage of that, maybe coaches working together with an emphasis on a long term plan, those alliances can turn into gold (medals). College Campuses also tend to be in small towns, pretty areas with some trails for running and some country roads. It might not be Wanaka, but most colleges would be conducive to logging lots of quality miles.

The one thing I got me the most excited about the idea of NCAA triathlon is the team aspect of it. Even track and swimming manage to add a strong team component to their championships, and with the push for the team relay in Rio, what better stage to not only practice the short relay races but also include team tactics in the standard distance race. Every Olympics, there is talk about how team tactics are going to help win medals, and then we don’t hear about them again for 4 years. Practice makes perfect, tactics are going to work if we practice implementing them early. I owe one medal at least partially to team tactics; it adds another dimension to the race and is a whole lot of fun. (maybe less so if you’re on the wrong team...).

I think it would be good for the sport as a whole if this goes through, if they get enough schools to sign and get the support staff in place. Extra exposure for the sport, opportunity for juniors to keep triathlon as a part of their lives and development opportunities. bigger base tends to lead to better results at the top. But there are still a lot of kinks to work out, and the NCAA route might never be the best road for those aiming for those ITU mdeals. My two words on the issue, that’s it, nothing to take too seriously. Now I can go back to calculating cash flows and cheering for our mountaineer football  team...

Until later,

whats a blog without pictures? Go WVU and the yellow house crew.