College rowing (United States)

College rowing (United States)

Rowing is the oldest in the United States.Fact|date=August 2007 Despite this, rowers comprise only 2.2% of total college athletes. This may be in part because of the status of rowing as an amateur sport and because not all universities have access to suitable bodies of water. In the 2002-03 school year there were 1,712 male and 6,690 female collegiate rowers. This is compared to the 2,037 male and 2,049 female high school rowers who competed in the 2003-04 school year.Fact|date=February 2007



*1852 - Yale challenges Harvard to a rowing race and the first Harvard-Yale Boat Race is held. This is also the first intercollegiate event held in the United States. Since 1864 this race has been held annually and since 1878, with few exceptions, it has been raced on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut.
*1875 - Wellesley College established the first women's rowing program.
*1894 -The Intercollegiate Rowing Association was founded by Cornell, Columbia, and Pennsylvania: its first annual regatta was hosted on June 24, 1895. Today Navy and Syracuse are also members of the association. Cornell dominates the early regattas winning 14 of the first 23 varsity 8 races.
*1903- University of Washington established a men and women's rowing program, and beat University of California in their first dual.
*1916 - Lightweight rowing was first introduced at the University of Pennsylvania.
*1920 - Navy wins the gold medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics in the 8 man (8+) boat. US collegiate boats would win the gold medal in the 8+ at the next 7 Olympics.
*1922 - The first Harvard-Yale-Princeton lightweight race is held on May 20.
*1923 - Washington is the first team from the west coast to win the varsity 8 title at the IRA regatta. Between 1920 and 1950, California, Navy and Washington would dominate college rowing winning 21 of the 25 varsity titles at the IRA and 5 Olympic titles in the eight man boat.
*1924 - Yale varsity men's 8 wins Olympic gold in Paris
*1936 - Washington varsity men's 8 wins Olympic gold in Berlin, Germany at the 'Nazi games'.
*1946 - The Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) is formed and the first Eastern Sprints is held for lightweights and heavyweights.
*1956 - Yale varsity men's 8 wins Olympic gold in Melbourne Australia
*1963 - Harry Parker becomes coach of Harvard.
*1971 - Collegiate women begin competing in the eight oared boat (8+) at the National Women's Rowing Association (non-collegiate) Championship.
*1972 - Congress passes Title IX which eventually causes a huge growth in women's rowing.
*1976 - The Yale women's rowing team strips in front of the Yale athletic director to demand equal opportunity under Title IX. The incident makes national headlines. The documentary film, "A Hero for Daisy", memorializes this event.
*1980 - The first Women's National Collegiate Rowing Championship is held.
*1997 - The NCAA establishes a rowing championship for women. Washington sweeps the NCAA tournament and IRA tournament.

Olympic Medals won by US Collegiate Boats

Up until the 1968 Summer Olympics, the United States had a trial system to pick the boats that would represent the United States in the Olympics. The top boats in the country, both collegiate and club, would participate in the Olympic Trials after the end of the collegiate calendar.

With the exception of 1964, a college boat won every Olympics Trials in the eight oared boat (8+) from 1920 through 1968. And in an amazing streak, all of the boats from 1920 through 1956 won gold medals. College boats also have had some success in the four man events (4+) and (4-) and the pair (2-).

Beginning in 1972, the United States has chosen its eight from a national selection camp. Numerous college athletes have made Olympic boats, but they were not specifically representing their University either at the camp, or at the Olympic trials for some of the smaller boats.

Below is a list of college boats that represented the United States at the Olympics:

8 Oared Boats (8+)

Olympic Gold Medals

* 1920 Summer Olympics Brussels -- United States Naval Academy
* 1924 Summer Olympics Paris -- Yale University
* 1928 Summer Olympics Amsterdam -- University of California
* 1932 Summer Olympics Los Angeles -- University of California
* 1936 Summer Olympics Berlin -- University of Washington
* 1948 Summer Olympics London -- University of California
* 1952 Summer Olympics Helsinki -- United States Naval Academy
* 1956 Summer Olympics Melbourne -- Yale University

Other Olympic Eight Man Boats

* 1960 Summer Olympics Rome -- United States Naval Academy (5th Place)
* 1968 Summer Olympics Mexico City -- Harvard University (6th Place)

4 Oared Boats w/Coxswain (4+)

* 1928 Summer Olympics Amsterdam -- Harvard University (eliminated)
* 1948 Summer Olympics London, Gold Medal - University of Washington
* 1952 Summer Olympics Helsinki, Bronze Medal - University of Washington
* 1964 Summer Olympics Tokyo -- Harvard University (eliminated)
* 1968 Summer Olympics Mexico City -- University of Pennsylvania (5th Place)

4 Oared Boats w/out Coxswain (4-)

* 1948 Summer Olympics London, Bronze Medal - Yale University
* 1952 Summer Olympics Helsinki, United States Naval Academy (eliminated)

2 Oared Boats (2-)

* 1948 Summer Olympics London - Yale University (eliminated)
* 1952 Summer Olympics Helsinki, Gold Medal - Rutgers University


Men's Rowing

Collegiate men's rowing consists of two squads, a varsity and a freshman team. The varsity squad typically fields a Varsity Eight (8+), a Second Varsity or Junior Varsity Eight (8+) and a Varsity Four (4+), but on occasion can field other boats. The varsity eight is the most prestigious boat, and teams try to make it the fastest boat possible. Oarsmen who don't make the varsity eight are usually placed in the Second Varsity eight followed by the Varsity Four. The term 'Junior Varsity' as used in rowing is a historical misnomer. It is not a separate team or squad like a typicial junior varsity team, but the substitutes for the varsity boat. Coaches often trade rowers between boats during the season trying to make the fastest Varsity 8 possible. Most major regattas use the term second varsity when referring to the second boat fielded by a college.

If a regatta has a point system for determining the overall champion, it is based on the showing of the Varsity 8, the Second Varsity 8, the Varsity 4, and the Freshman 8 plus other boats. The unofficial championship of Division I men's rowing is the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Championships, which are located on the Cooper River in Camden, New Jersey around the end of May or beginning of June.

Women's Rowing

Women rowers compete at the NCAA Rowing Championships in a Varsity 8, a Second Varsity 8, and a Varsity Four. Most teams also field one or more Novice Eights for novice rowers who have never competed at the collegiate level. Points are awarded for the overall championship based on the performance of those boats. Although NCAA National Championships only provide races for the aforementioned varsity boats, head races and regattas such as Head of the Charles, Pac-10 Championships and others allow a wide variety of competition for less-prominent boat classifications such as pair, sculls, and lightweight racing.

There has been a spectacular growth in women's rowing over the past twenty-five years. In 1985 the FISA and Olympic course distance for women was increased from the previous 1000 meters to 2000 meters (the same distance raced by men), marking significant progress in public perception of women's strength, endurance and competitive drive. Universities that have never had a men's team have added women's rowing to the athletic department and are providing funding and athletic scholarships for the expensive and demanding sport, contributing to a noticeable increase in the success and competitiveness of many collegiate women's rowing teams. This, in part, is to comply with Title IX; many of the football powers use women's rowing to help balance out the large number of scholarships awarded to male football players.

Lightweight Rowing

In rowing, taller, heavier individuals have a significant advantage. It is based on the same physical principle that causes boats with more rowers to go faster. To allow average-sized rowers to best compete against their peers, the rowing governing boards have set-up a category for lightweight rowing. For men, the maximum weight is 160 lbs. with a boat average of 155 lbs., and for women the weight limit is 130 lb.

There are races for both men's and women's lightweight rowing. However, many of the smaller colleges have limited sized programs and simply field open weight boats, which include rowers who would qualify as lightweights. And many of the larger university where the competition to make a boat is intense, do not have lightweight programs, and if they do, it is often an underfunded club sport. For women, the NCAA Rowing Championships do not have a lightweight event.

The exception is the Ivy League/EARC schools, who often have excellent well-funded men's lightweight teams. The lightweight men's events at Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship are fiercely contested.

Lightweight events have recently been added to the Olympics and it is possible that this might increase funding for these teams.

Freshman/Novice Rowing

Since rowing is such a technical sport, there is a separate category for novices (rowers with less than one year of experience). This is usually combined with freshman rowers, who may have rowed before in highschool, but it is their first year in collegiate rowing. The Freshman squad is sometimes open only to college freshmen. However, people who start rowing after their freshman year normally join the novice team as well. The novice squad usually fields a freshman eight oared boat (8+), and if the team is big enough, a second eight, and/or a 4 oared boat (4+). In some collegiate conferences excluding the EARC and Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA), collegiate freshmen/novice can also compete as part of the varsity squad.

A Year in Rowing

Rowing is one of the few collegiate sports where athletes practice year round and compete during both spring and fall. This culture of year round training is attributed to Harry Parker who became head coach of the Harvard heavyweight men's team in 1963.Fact|date=February 2007 In addition many athletes train at various around the country during the summer.


In the fall, most schools focus on building technical proficiency and improving physical strength and endurance. This is typically accomplished through long steady practice pieces, with occasional shorter interval pieces. In the United States fall is also the season of head races which are typically between three and six kilometers. These longer races are part of the foundation for the spring season, building the rower's endurance and mental toughness. The largest fall race is the Head of the Charles Regatta held in Boston, Massachusetts each October. This race includes rowers of all ages, abilities, and affiliations and features the best college crews in competition with Olympic level athletes from the US and other countries. The largest collegiate-only regatta in the fall is the Princeton Chase, typically in early November on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, New Jersey and hosted by Princeton University.


This is an intense building period for the spring racing season. The training regimen consists primarily of long interval training, which gradually becomes shorter and more intense as the race season approaches. This is done on the water for schools below the snowline. And for some of the northern colleges that practice on lakes and rivers which are frozen during winter, these pieces are done using ergometers and, if the college is lucky enough to have them, indoor rowing tanks. Additionally, most schools, regardless of whether they have water to row on, do ergometer testing (all out maximum performance test), weights, stadium stairs and long runs. A few colleges and universities send their fastest rowers to the CRASH-B Sprints in Boston. This 2,000 meter race is held on ergometers and features separate events for collegiate athletes. Many northeastern colleges have a winter training trip to a warmer state such as Florida or Georgia during either winter break or spring break to give students extra time on the water while the local rivers and lakes are frozen.


Spring is the primary season for college rowing, and the majority of schedule is composed of dual races. These 2,000 meter races take place between two, or sometimes three, schools.

There are also several large regattas, such as the San Diego Crew Classic and the Eastern Sprints, which may be on the schedule. In this case, the teams compete in either flights, in which the winner is final, or a series of heats and semifinals before the winners move on to the finals. Sprint races begin with all teams lined up and started simultaneously, as opposed to the time trials in the fall.

Performing well in these races is the most important selection criteria for the various post season invitation rowing championships. If the crew is in a league, the dual race and regatta results will also typically be used in determining the team's seeding for the league championship. The lightweight division becomes more prominent during the spring. Many head races lack separate categories for heavyweight/lightweight, but many spring races have a separate weight category for lighter rowers.

National Championships


The Intercollegiate Rowing Association, known as the IRA was founded by Cornell, Columbia, and Penn in 1894 and its first annual regatta was hosted on June 24, 1895. Today Navy and Syracuse are also members of the association. Each year these five schools choose who to invite to the regatta and are responsible for its organization along with the ECAC. The IRA is the oldest college rowing championship in the United States.

Since the 1920s, when the West Coast crews, notably California and University of Washington began to attend and regularly win, most crews considered the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's championship (know as the IRA) to be a de facto national championship. Two important crews, Harvard and Yale, however, did not participate in the heavyweight divisions of the event. (After losing to Cornell in 1897, Harvard and Yale chose to avoid the IRA, so as not to diminish the Harvard-Yale race. It soon became part of each school's tradition not to go). And beginning in 1973, Washington decided to skip the IRA because of change in schedule conflicted with it finals.

Even though rowing is the oldest intercollegiate sport, the men have always chosen not to join the NCAA. If they did, the NCAA would sponsor a championship, but it would also force the sport to abide by NCAA rules and mandates. Notwithstanding, collegiate crews generally abide by NCAA rules, and they also have to abide by athletic conference rules, which mirror the NCAA rules.

In 1982, a Harvard alumnus decided to remedy this perceived problem by establishing a heavyweight varsity National Collegiate Rowing Championship race in Cincinnati, Ohio. It paid for the winners of the Pac-10 Championship, the Eastern Sprints, the IRA and the Harvard-Yale race to attend. It was a finals only event and other crews could attend if they paid their own way and there was room in the field. The winner received an expense paid trip to the Henley Royal Regatta as a prize. After 1996, however, the race was discontinued.

Given Washington's return to the IRA in 1995 and the demise of the National Collegiate Rowing Championship, the IRA again was considered to be the National Championship. In 2003, Harvard and Yale, after an absence of over one hundred years, decided to participate.


Between 1971 and 1980, women's collegiate boats entered the National Women’s Rowing Association National Championships (what is now the USRowing National Championships). The college boats raced against club boats, including boats from outside the United States. The best finishing US collegiate boat was deemed to be the National Championship.

The first women’s collegiate championship was held in 1980 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This race was open solely to collegiate rowing teams.

Since 1997, the NCAA has hosted an invitational rowing championship for women. Unlike the former women's collegiate championship, the NCAA does not have a championship race for women's lightweight rowing. In response, the IRA hosts a women's lightweight event.

The NCAA currently hosts championships for Division I, Division II and Division III colleges, Division II and III having been added in 2002.

NCAA Division I requires colleges to enter two eight-oared shells and one four-oared shell in the team championship. The championship is restricted to 12. Four other colleges are selected to enter an eight-oared shells tournament. The NCAA Division II championship consists of an eight-oared shells and four-oared shell competition . The Division III championship involves both varsity and second varsity eights in the same event.

Conferences (Partial List)

Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges

The Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) was formed in 1946. It is composed of the Ivy League schools plus other select universities. Each year the EARC schools race at the Eastern Sprints regatta on Lake Quinsigamond in Massachusetts, which, for the men, is generally considered the most important race of the year aside from the IRA. The Pac-10 championship, with California, Stanford, Oregon State and the University of Washington is also highly competitive.

On the women's side, the conference is called the Eastern Association of Women's Rowing Colleges (EAWRC). It's Eastern Sprints, held on the Cooper River in New Jersey, are highly competitive, but because of the huge growth in women's rowing, the Aramark Central Region Championships and Pac-10 Championships are deep and highly competitive as well.

The Eastern Sprints also serve as the Ivy League Championship, with the best placed boat from an Ivy League school being crowned Ivy League Champion.

Colonial Athletic Association

The Colonial Athletic Association is a small conference composed of several universities and colleges in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. The Kerr Cup Regatta serves as the conference championships; however, non-conference schools participate in the regatta as well. The Kerr Cup is hosted by Drexel University and takes place on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Though the winner of each race is awarded medals, points trophies are awarded to conference schools only. The winners of the men's varsity 8 are awarded the Thomas Kerr Cup, while the winners of the women's eight receive the Lela H. Kerr Cup.

Liberty League Conference

The Liberty League is a small athletic conference composed of small to medium size private colleges and universities in upstate New York. The Liberty League Rowing Championships is the conference championship and is held every April. It is usually either hosted by Skidmore College at Fish Creek, NY or by St. Lawrence University at the St. Lawrence River in Waddington, NY.


* [ NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report]
* [ 2003-04 high school sports participation summary]
* [ NCAA Championship Handbooks]
* []
* [ Row2k Collegiate Polls]
* [ 100 year history of the University of Washington Men's Crew]
* [ Fight in the Dog] - Coverage of US women's collegiate lightweight rowing

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