Women Triathletes Get Chance at Varsity Status Under NCAA Plan

Dede Griesbauer said she might have bypassed her eight-year career as a Wall Street trader if Stanford University offered a taste of her current profession -- triathlon.

The sport wasn’t available at Stanford when Griesebauer was a student there 20 years ago. That might change as the National Collegiate Athletic Association considers a proposal to start the swim-cycle-run competition on the path to becoming an accepted intercollegiate sport.

Adding women’s triathlon would create as many as 10 spots for female athletes at each college that fields a team. The addition would help schools meet Title IX standards requiring women to be offered the same opportunities as men. It also could have a far-reaching effect on the sport in the U.S., college coaches, USA Triathlon officials and triathletes said.

“It brings focused, disciplined, mature young adults to our campus who are goal-oriented, which helps in the classroom and everywhere else,” Debbie Warren, athletic director for Arlington, Virginia-based Marymount University, said in a telephone interview.

Marymount is the only school currently offering triathlon as a varsity sport. Warren said she decided to add it this year at the Division III level, even though there is no championship or other varsity programs. The school competes against so-called club teams, which get no financial support from their universities.

“How often does a school get a chance to be the grass-roots leader of something that I think is going to be really great,” she said. “This must be what they felt like when they started basketball.”

Annual Budget

Warren said her annual budget for triathlon is about $54,000, which covers uniforms, travel and race entry fees. The school spends about $100,000 each on its baseball and lacrosse teams.

The NCAA Legislative Committees for Divisions I, II and III will vote at its annual convention in Indianapolis in January on a proposal to make triathlon a so-called emerging sport, a designation only given to women’s athletic programs.

An emerging sport gains full varsity status if 40 schools add it within 10 years. Other current women’s sports that have followed that route to varsity status include ice hockey, water polo and rowing.

“There’s a lot of interest out there in triathlon,” Marilyn Moniz-Kaho‘ohanohano, chairwoman of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, said in a telephone interview. “Wherever there’s opportunities for women to go to college and get scholarships and have that dream met, we’re all for it. That’s why we’re here.”

Supporting Schools

Stanford, along with Arizona, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Denver, Drake, Monmouth, North Carolina-Asheville and Northern Iowa have submitted letters to the NCAA in support of adding Division I women’s triathlon teams. Adams State and Colorado at Colorado Springs are seeking Division II teams, while Maine-Farmington has joined Marymount with support for a Division III team.

Men’s triathlon isn’t part of the proposal. If the sport is added for women, men’s programs will likely follow, Warren of Marymount said.

About 150 schools have club programs in triathlon and about 400 women competed in the 2013 collegiate national championship in Tempe, Arizona. The event, staged by USA Triathlon, isn’t an official NCAA championship.

Wall Street

Griesbauer, a 42-year-old Short Hills, New Jersey, native, stuck to swimming at Stanford and earned a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. She worked most recently on Wall Street for Boston-based MFS Investment Management, before returning to the sport and joining the professional ranks in 2005. She has won two Ironman triathlons and was the top U.S. woman finisher in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 2007 and 2009.

She said she wonders what her athletic career might have been like if she had competed in triathlon in college.

“One of the greatest things in my life was the four years I spent at Stanford as a student athlete,” said the 10-time All-American swimmer and captain of the Cardinal’s 1992 national championship team. “In the U.S., as good as our swimmers are, and as good as our runners are, we lag at triathlon. Making it a collegiate sport will help progress the U.S. in terms of being more competitive on the world stage.”