Many people may not know this, but rowing is one of the oldest sports in the world. It is referenced in ancient Egyptian carvings, and the Harvard-Yale Regatta remains the oldest active college sporting event in the United States, dating back to 1852. Men’s college rowing can offer student-athletes tremendous opportunities, including an education at some of the best universities in the country, the chance to row out of impressive boathouses and an opportunity to compete at the highest level.
To get recruited for college rowing, student-athletes not only have to be talented rowers with strong academics who have managed to find access to the sport in high school, but they also have to understand how the men’s collegiate rowing recruiting process works. From discovering which colleges offer men’s collegiate rowing and reaching out to college coaches, to attending college rowing camps and improving 2k erg times, this is a multi-year journey with several milestones along the way.
While the men’s college rowing recruiting process can seem daunting, we’ve created this college rowing recruiting guide to help outline the steps athletes and families need to take to get recruited. Use this rowing-specific information alongside the NCSA College Recruiting Guide, which outlines the recruiting process from start to Signing Day, to learn everything you need to know to successfully navigate the men’s collegiate rowing recruiting process.
Do you know when athletes should expect contact from college coaches? The NCAA created recruiting rules and calendars to show when college coaches can initiate contact. And even though men’s collegiate rowing is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) member programs follow most NCAA recruiting rules. Therefore, it’s still in your best interest to know what the NCAA calendar looks like in order to make the most of the recruiting process. Read up to find out what rules college coaches follow and how they are regulated.
College rowers are generally tall, strong, move well for their size and have a tremendous motor. And while college coaches may have different height and weight targets for their recruits, at the end of the day, 2k erg times is what they zero in on. That’s because college coaches may not be able to determine the quality of a recruit’s competition in a specific region or the quality of a recruit’s technique outside of an eight, for example, but they can always compare a 2k erg time against other recruits. Additionally, coaches put much more emphasis on championship racing in the spring than head racing in the fall, so 5k or 6k erg times for college are not referenced nearly as much as 2k erg times.
Are there men’s rowing scholarships? College rowing scholarships are available for men, but only at specific division levels and colleges. As a recruit looking for college rowing scholarships, you’ll have to find a college that isn’t NCAA Division 3 or Ivy League (a subset of Division 1), as those colleges do not offer athletic scholarships. Additionally, college coaches can choose to give out partial or full-ride college rowing scholarships to athletes on their roster. In this section, we explain more about scholarship and financial aid opportunities for men’s college rowing.
College rowing camps offer student-athletes a chance to improve their skills and get evaluated by college coaches. College rowing camps are especially helpful for rowers and coxswains who may not have a lot of access to the sport in their region but are set on rowing in college, allowing athletes to hone their skills, see how a college team trains and potentially check out a college they’re interested in. Camps are not only a great experience for seasoned rowers, but they can also offer a tremendous benefit for beginners who are concerned about rowing in college with no experience.
High school athletes who row for well-known teams and local clubs can start the college recruiting process at an early stage and can work towards earning a roster spot before attending college. However, a significant portion of men’s college rowing team rosters is composed of walk-on athletes who learn how to row in college. Hence, walk-on athletes will have a different experience than recruited athletes and will have to compete for roster spots at tryouts. Tryouts tend to be an intense, multi-day process during which participants will learn a lot about rowing technique, equipment and endurance fitness. Tall athletes who impress with great erg (rowing machine) times will get interest from coaches and priority placement for open roster spots. To prep for tryouts, potential walk-ons can attend a learn-to-row camp over summer and spend time on improving their erg times.
What colleges have men’s rowing? There are approximately 84 varsity men’s collegiate rowing programs across the U.S. However, this number fluctuates from year to year and includes varsity and IRA programs, none of which are sanctioned by the NCAA. Outside of this number, there are more than 70 club teams that also compete against varsity programs at championship regattas. Additionally, while the majority of programs focus on racing in the heavyweight 8+ category, a handful of programs may highlight the 4+ because they don’t have the depth for an 8+ or simply focus on small boats. This section breaks down how college men’s rowing teams are organized.
Want to know which college rowing programs are the best? Row2k is a great resource for collegiate rowing polls, which include the IRA/USRowing varsity eight coaches’ poll that ranks the top varsity programs in the country and the ACRA poll that shows coach rankings for the top club teams.
In men’s college rowing, club teams are very competitive on an annual basis, with top club teams outperforming varsity teams at national regattas and even qualifying for the Henley Royal Regatta in England (arguably the top regatta in the world) and occasionally developing future Olympic rowers. To provide a more complete snapshot of college rowing, cMax rankings publishes a relative estimate of how fast college crews are by including both varsity and club teams and comparing race results from across the country. While not definitive, the rankings are helpful in ballparking where teams stand. It’s not uncommon to see top club teams making an appearance in the top 25, meaning that the top club team can be ranked higher than 60+ varsity teams.
Additionally, to determine which rowing teams offer the best fit athletically and academically, you’ll want to reference the NCSA Power Rankings, included below.
Insider tip: Despite the impact that coronavirus had on college sports, as of June 1, 2021, the NCAA resumed its regular recruiting rules and activity! Coaches are actively working to fill their rosters, so student-athletes should be proactive in reaching out to coaches. Read up on how the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes who were most affected by the pandemic in 2020 will impact future recruiting classes.