Rowing Is Hard. Making A College Roster Is Even Harder

Thanks to the so-called College Admissions Scandal and one notoriously staged photo, the sport of rowing faces a number of misconceptions. One of those misconceptions is that any athlete can be a rower. As such, many people think every school offers a rowing program. And given the first two misconceptions, it’s also commonly assumed that rowing scholarships are plentiful. In reality, all of the above assumptions are wrong. Consider that:

Rowing Is Hard

Most rowing programs are broken into varsity and novice or freshman levels. In many programs, the varsity rowers are in school with some form of scholarship while the novice or freshman crews are comprised of less experienced athletes. So, while that means a rowing team often has open roster spots, some of those spots are filled by walk-ons.

However, to fill those walk-on spots, many programs host open houses to attract athletes who may not have considered rowing previously. Depending on the size of the school, that means, as many as 400 athletes could show up to compete for a spot on the roster.

That said, being an athlete isn’t the only qualification to make a rowing team. The vast majority of athletes may not realize that rowing requires a unique set of physical and mental skills. A good rower not only needs the physical coordination to fully utilize their upper and lower bodies, but also the technical ability to synchronize their physical effort with the rower in front of them. On top of that rowers also need the mental strength to push themselves farther than they’ve ever thought possible, and then even further past that.

Few Colleges Offer Rowing Programs

Consider that 2,021 colleges offer some form of men’s or women’s basketball program. There are 1,733 collegiate soccer teams and, in swimming, 691 schools have sponsored teams. However, only 232 schools sponsor varsity rowing.

So, while the number of rowing teams is small, it’s even smaller if you’re male. Of those 232 schools with rowing programs, only 76 are men’s programs. For the most part, that’s because men’s rowing isn’t affiliated with the NCAA, and only a small handful of colleges offer any form of scholarship for men’s rowing.

Rowing Scholarships Are Limited

With few rowing programs for men, that leaves 156 schools with rowing programs for women. However, since only NCAA Division I and Division II schools can offer athletic scholarships, the number of schools shrinks to 104. Now, though an average rowing team roster has 62 athletes in DI and 33 in DII, only 20 scholarships are available per team. And, as women’s rowing is considered an equivalency sport, those 2080 scholarships are most often divided up and spread among the team, though not always in equal amounts.

So, while the ratio of female rowers who earn scholarships is favorable when compared to that of other women’s sports, the odds of actually earning a scholarship may still be long if you’re not considered an elite rower. That said, most rowing teams bring in walk-ons every year and landing some form of a rowing scholarship as a walk-on is not unheard of.

So, if you’re a high school athlete who wants to make a college rowing team, start working hard now. The physical and mental demands are taxing, the spots are few, and the competition is fierce. Do you have what it takes to make the team?

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