While the NCAA braces for potential changes to the conference landscape, Kansas University’s rowing program has joined Conference USA as an affiliate member.
The move, which was announced Monday, is an attempt to climb one step closer to receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship in rowing.
Currently, the rowing championships are made up of at-large teams, making rowing the only team sport without automatic qualifiers. The NCAA recently announced, however, that, beginning in 2013, conference rowing champions would begin to receive automatic bids. One problem: In order to get the bid, teams have to be part of a conference, which is defined as a minimum of six teams.
That’s where the recent merger comes into play. KU will join the three other Big 12 teams — Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas — along with Tennessee and Alabama from the SEC, and Tulsa, SMU and Central Florida from Conference USA in rowing only. This nine-team conference will compete under the Conference USA flag, but with each institution remaining a member of its current conference.
“One of the conditions of our doing this was that we did not want to lose the Big 12 moniker,” KU coach Rob Catloth said.
According to the NCAA, a conference must host two conference championships before it can qualify for automatic bids into an NCAA Championship. The first such event for Conference USA will be May 15-16 at the already-scheduled South-Central Regional Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Although schools from across the nation will compete at the event, the new Conference USA rowing conglomerate will crown its 2010 champion based on how the teams fare in the event.
For instance, if Kansas were to place fourth at the South-Central Regional but No. 1 among the nine Conference USA rowing schools, it would be crowned champion.
Next season, the plan is for the Conference USA rowing teams to host their own nine-team championship, according KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony.
The overall goal is for rowing to improve by inspiring schools and conferences to commit more money and resources to the sport, as lacrosse has in the past decade. Like rowing, lacrosse waited years before allowing automatic qualifiers into its NCAA Tournament.
“If you look on the bottom line on ESPN when the scores come across, you’ll see that a school like Fairfield is competing with a school like Johns Hopkins in lacrosse,” Marchiony said. “Twenty-five years ago, Hopkins would’ve beaten them 25-1. The point is, it’s made the sport better. It’s growing the sport, and that’s what they’re trying to do with rowing.”
Added KU athletics director Lew Perkins: “Our participation in the Conference USA Championship is a great opportunity for our program. The ultimate goal is to reach the NCAA Championships, and competing in the Conference USA Championship is a step in that direction.”
Marchiony also made sure to point out that the new conference alignment was in no way tied to the rampant rumors about superconferences that have dominated college sports talk in recent weeks.
“Not even in the same galaxy,” he said.