An NCAA emerging sport is defined as: “A women’s sport recognized by the NCAA that is intended to help schools provide more athletics opportunities for women, more sport sponsorship options for institutions and help that sport achieve NCAA championship status.”
Unfortunately, beginning in 2017, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics (“CWA”) has recommended the NCAA no longer recognize women’s equestrian as an emerging sport. Archery, badminton, team handball, and synchronized swimming are four examples of other emerging sports that have suffered the same fate. Women’s equestrian failed to reach the 10-year benchmark set by NCAA bylaws for emerging sports. During an emerging sport’s first 10 years it must reach “championship status,” which means the sport must establish 40 varsity programs or steady progress toward that goal. Currently, there are only 19 division I varsity women’s equestrian programs with only 719 participant athletes.
Even if collegiate athletic programs want to continue varsity equestrian at their schools, it may not be feasible due to NCAA bylaws. NCAA Bylaw 20.9.6 requires that NCAA athletic programs maintain 16 NCAA recognized sports. Without the NCAA’s recognition of equestrian, schools will be forced to add a different NCAA recognized sport to meet the bylaw requirement. Ultimately, this may mean the end of women’s equestrian programs because without NCAA recognition, there is no incentive to continue to fund this expensive sport.
As a 4-year letter winner in equestrian at South Dakota State University with All-American honors, the loss is unfortunate, though understandable. Equestrian requires more than just facilities; it also requires well-trained operational staff, 40-50 horses, and other considerations when dealing with a barn. However, despite the cost, varsity equestrian was more than just a fun activity during college for me. It was an excellent motivating factor to work hard both in and out of the classroom and to contribute to the community around me. Varsity equestrian positively impacted my life in an indescribably positive way.
“Varsity Equestrian provided great opportunities for both equestrian athletes and the equestrian community as a whole,” noted former varsity equestrian Kelsey Byrnes. “I’m worried for the future of the athletes – both human and equine.”
Kansas State University (“KSU”) is the first of the 19 programs to discontinue the sport. However, KSU will continue to honor its financial commitments to both the athletes and coaches. To meet the NCAA’s 16 recognized sport threshold, KSU will establish a women’s soccer program in the 2016-17 school year. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for other programs to follow suit. Hopefully, other schools will honor their financial commitments to both athletes and coaches as KSU has done.