When George Washington University and Brown University announced that they were adding women’s water polo to their athletic programs, it moved the sport to within one institution of qualifying for an NCAA sponsored championship. As one of nine emerging sports named by the NCAA several years ago, at least 40 institutions must sponsor the sport for it to be granted a National Championship.
“The growth of women’s water polo has been truly phenomenal,” states Peggy Carl, Assistant Athletic Director of Occidental College. “In 1994 there were only four NCAA institutions sponsoring the sport (Harvard University, University of California-San Diego, Pomona-Pitzer Colleges and Slippery Rock University). Today there are 39 and I think it is safe to predict we will reach 40 sometime this year, with a full NCAA Championship for the sport by the year 2000.”
Carl, who is also chair of the Women’s Collegiate Rules Committee for Division III institutions, credits USA Water Polo, the NCAA/USOC liaison committee, and the dramatic increase in female participation in sports, with the incredible rise in popularity of women’s water polo.
“2000 will really be a landmark year for women athletes in the sport of water polo,” Carl said. “Not only should we see the first NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship, but women’s water polo will be played in the Olympic Games for the first time as well.”
The benefits of reaching 40 will be substantial. First and foremost, teams participating at the championship will have all their expenses paid for by the NCAA. Second, the NCAA Championship will provide a greater incentive for institutions considering its addition as a new sport. Previously, USA Water Polo sponsored the Collegiate Championship and teams had to pay their own way.
At the rate of more than eight new varsity programs per year, in addition to similar numbers in the collegiate club ranks, women’s water polo appears to have lived up to its billing as an emerging sport.
The only question left to answer is which institution will receive the honor of making women’s water polo a bona fide NCAA Championship sport?