Women’s college rowing is an NCAA sanctioned sport and enjoys some of the largest roster sizes of any women’s sport, especially at the Division 1 level. While D1, D2 and D3 teams compete as part of the NCAA, lightweight women’s programs compete as part of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA), which is not part of the NCAA. Additionally, there is a sizable number of college club teams that are part of the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA). These teams can range quite a bit in speed, with top clubs holding their own against varsity programs at the high end and functioning more like recreational teams on the bottom end. However, college rowers competing on a varsity team have a good opportunity to receive athletic scholarship money and do not have to pay for most expenses, while club rowers have to fund their team with out-of-pocket fees.
One of the reasons why women’s rowing teams have large roster sizes is because of federal Title IX regulations, which make sure colleges are allocating a proportionate amount of their athletic budgets to women’s sports as compared to men’s sports. Especially for colleges that have football teams, a D1 women’s rowing team with 47 or more athletes helps them to balance their athletic budget. This has provided tremendous opportunities for women’s rowers in the U.S. and is one of the reasons why the U.S. National Women’s Rowing Team has dominated the international rowing field in recent years.
In this section, we provide more information about women’s rowing teams and break down how many teams there are.
There are currently around 156 varsity programs competing in college women’s rowing. Additionally, according to the cMax in-season rankings, there were more than 40 American College Rowing Association (ACRA) teams competing during the 2018–19 season. For rowing teams in general and especially for club teams, roster numbers and team budgets may go up and down from year to year, partially due to rowing being an expensive sport. This can make it challenging for smaller programs to put together competitive boats in certain years. Some years, a college may choose to develop their rowers and focus on regional races rather than entering boats at championship regattas where the competition is fierce. This partially explains why the number of women’s college rowing teams fluctuates from season to season.
There are currently 89 Division 1 colleges with rowing teams that compete in the NCAA. Division 1 colleges have the largest roster sizes, with an average of 47 athletes per team. There are also up to 20 full athletic scholarships that can be awarded per team, though these scholarship amounts can be divided by the coach as they see fit. The coach can choose to give a bit of money to all rowers or give out full rides to a few top rowers.
The top tier of Division 1 women’s rowing teams is the cream of the crop of the women’s rowing world, stocked with powerhouse programs that make consistent appearances at the NCAA national championship. According to the final cMax rankings for 2019 (select Combined tab to see rankings), the top 20 women’s rowing teams were all D1 teams, with the top lightweight team appearing at #26 (Stanford), the top D3 team appearing at #30 (Bates), the top D2 team appearing at #49 (University of Central Oklahoma) and the top club team appearing at #70 (University of California – Santa Barbara). Here are the top 20 women’s rowing colleges for 2019 according to the final 2019 CRCA/USRowing Coaches Poll.
Even though the competition among the top tier of women’s lightweight rowing colleges can be fierce, there are not many women’s lightweight rowing colleges available. In fact, there were only 7 women’s lightweight teams racing during the 2019 spring championship season, according to cMax rankings (select a women’s ranking and then the Lwt tab to see rankings). However, this number fluctuates from year to year, so there could be more teams competing in the near future.
With more than 150 varsity women’s rowing programs across the country, it can be difficult to decide on which one is best for you. Fortunately, NCSA’s Power Rankings consider several factors when evaluating women’s rowing colleges—including athletic performance, academic standards, and affordability and graduation rates— to recognize the best schools for student-athletes. Here is a list of NCSA’s current top 20 and you can check out the list of best rowing colleges for more.
Additionally, there are several different women’s college rowing rankings that readers can reference in order to see how rowing teams are performing. In American rowing, the most important measurement of a program is the success of their varsity eight boat and rankings throughout spring racing season can be found on Row2k. These include the CRCA/USRowing Coaches Poll.
In women’s college rowing, top Division 2, Division 3 and club teams can be just as competitive as some Division 1 teams. To provide a more complete snapshot of college rowing, cMax rankings provide a relative estimate of how fast college women’s 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 and show Division 3, lightweight and even club teams outperforming several Division 1 teams.