BY CHIP DAVIS
PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
In our sport, we define the best as the first boat to cross the finish line.
First one across the line wins. Rowing is that simple. It’s a racing sport, and the winners cross the line first. The second boat across the line is second. There are neither style points nor judges scoring degree of difficulty or creativity. If the race was fair, the umpire raises a white flag after all the boats have crossed the line, and the results become official.
In men’s collegiate rowing, both lightweight and heavyweight, as well as women’s collegiate lightweight rowing, the national champion is the winner of the first varsity eights race. Columbia, Cal, and Princeton are the respective reigning national champions, following their victories at the 2022 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship last June on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J.
The University of Texas women captured the NCAA National Championship in May on the waters of Nathan Benderson Park by winning the first varsity eight grand final but only because they were tied on team points with Stanford, with the final places of the first eights serving as the tie-breaker. Mercyhurst University won the Division II title, and Wellesley College was victorious in Division III.
But which college overall— accounting for all four categories (as well as club crews at schools without a varsity)—was the best in the country in 2022?
To determine college rowing’s pecking order, Rowing News took the official results of the separate national championships for each school, sorted and weighed them, and arrived at this list of the top 25. Coaches, leagues, and administrators have developed, debated, and decided ways to determine each national champion and the points system for team trophies, as well as the national champion in NCAA divisions I, II, and III for women’s rowing. Those methods were honored by Rowing News to formulate our rankings.
Using decades of experience, in-person regatta observations, and privileged behind-the-scenes access to the people and information in each category, Rowing News devised a proprietary formula for gauging relative competitiveness. Fastest is best, and order of finish is definitive.
The best overall rowing colleges for 2022 are:
Tied-25 – Duke women, Drexel heavyweight men, Mercyhurst
Three schools tied for 25th overall in 2022, and they wound up there based on very different results.
—Duke University’s women, the third of three ACC programs at the NCAAs and the school’s only varsity category, carried their placing.
—Drexel University’s heavyweight men were the best part of the school’s program, with a 16th-place finish at the IRA.
—Mercyhurst University is the only college with a Division II varsity women’s program to make the top 25. Its NCAA national championship in that division, combined with the lightweight men’s eighth-place finish at the IRA, tied them for 25th overall in 2022.
#24 – University of Southern California
USC’s varsity women finished fifth at the Pac-12 championships and became the fifth program from the powerful conference to be invited to NCAAs, making the Pac-12 the strongest women’s rowing conference in 2022. The Trojans finished 15th overall at the NCAA regatta, earning their 24th-overall ranking for 2022.
#23 – Rutgers University
Rutgers University’s varsity women’s program raced to a 13th-place finish at the NCAAs, earning the Scarlet Knights a 23rd-overall standing for 2022.
#22 – Columbia University
The national championship, won by the Lions’ men’s varsity lightweights, was the brightest spot this year, and the 18th-place finish by the varsity heavyweight men’s crew contributed to the Lions’ making the top 25.
#21 – Southern Methodist University
SMU joins the nation’s top rowing schools led by coach Kim Cupini’s women’s varsity program. Successfully defending their American Athletic Conference champion status earned the Mustangs an automatic-qualifier spot at the NCAAs, where their 12th-place final ranking lands them 21st overall for 2022.
#20 – University of Michigan
The University of Michigan’s varsity women finished 10th at the NCAA Division I championship regatta. That result, combined with the Wolverines’ best-in-the-nation men’s club program, land them 20th overall for 2022.
#19 – Oregon State University
Oregon State University’s 19th-overall 2022 standing stems primarily from the performance of Coach Kate Maxim’s varsity women. Maxim returned to Oregon State four years ago after serving on Lori Dauphiny’s staff at Princeton and has led the Beavers to their best-ever finishes in the Pac-12.
#18 – The University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin’s lightweight women finished sixth at the IRA, and their heavyweight men were 12th, earning the Badgers 18th overall for 2022. Their varsity women’s program did not qualify for the NCAAs.
#17 – University of Virginia
UVA’s only varsity program is its women’s, which placed ninth at the NCAAs after winning the 2022 Atlantic Coast Conference Rowing Championships. The Cavaliers’ club program is one of the best in country, contributing to Virginia’s 17th-overall 2022 ranking.
#16 – Dartmouth College
Dartmouth’s rank is based solely on the results of Coach Wyatt Allen’s heavyweight men, who finished seventh at the IRA. The Big Green women have not yet been to the NCAAs under second-year women’s coach Nancy LaRocque and the lightweight men went to the IRA in a four, having failed to qualify for the national championship portion of the regatta. Dartmouth currently does not boat an IRA varsity lightweight women’s crew.
#15 – Cornell University
Cornell University’s lightweight men carried the Big Red to an overall standing of 15th with their fifth-place finish at the IRA. Cornell’s heavyweight men finished 10th at the national championship and the women were among the four Ivy League schools not invited to the NCAAs. Cornell does not have an IRA varsity lightweight women’s program.
#14 – The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University women are the top-ranked overall college in the Big 10, outperforming Wisconsin by two spots despite lacking a men’s or lightweight varsity. The Buckeyes’ NCAA performance—eighth—accounts for most of their 14th-overall standing, supplemented by an active club program.
#13 – Northeastern University
Northeastern University ranks 13th overall in 2022 after placing 8th at the IRA and 20th at the NCAA. The Huskies have neither a women’s nor a men’s lightweight varsity.
#12 – United States Naval Academy
Annapolis has a long rowing tradition, and Navy crews have been especially fast among lightweight men’s programs. This year, the Midshipmen lightweights raced to a second-place finish at the IRA, which, paired with their heavyweights’ 11th place, makes Navy the 12th-fastest overall in 2022.
#11 – Boston University
Boston University crews raced to an overall top-10 standing with consistent placing led by their lightweight women’s fourth-place and heavyweight men’s 14th-place IRA finishes. The BU women qualified for the NCAAs—where they finished 19th of 22—by winning the Patriot League, whose championship regatta is an automatic ticket.
#10 – Harvard University
In the not-too-distant past, Harvard would have earned a finish among the top spots based on racing among the best in every aspect of college rowing, open and lightweight, men’s and women’s. The Radcliffe lightweight women posted the best results of Harvard’s two varsity boathouses with their fifth-place finish at the IRA. The heavyweight men made their grand final to finish sixth, but both the open women and lightweight men’s varsities failed to qualify for their national championship regattas.
#9 – University of Texas
How does a national champion in the most competitive category rank only ninth overall? By having only a single varsity program, Texas illustrates how this overall college ranking works. A popular club program also earned the Longhorns some points, but Texas lacks a varsity heavyweight men’s program and also has no lightweight varsities. The Texas club crew remains popular and relatively successful.
#8 – University of Pennsylvania
Penn appears to be a program on the rise, especially with the ascendancy of the women’s program under coach Wes Ng. The Quakers were the last of the Ivy crews to make it to the NCAA championship, returning the storied league to four-school representation after a lapse in recent years. Penn raced up to the competition and finished in the top half of the final NCAA Division I team ranking. The Penn lightweight men’s seventh-place finish at the IRA and the heavyweight men’s 15th make the University of Pennsylvania the eighth-best overall rowing college.
#7 – Syracuse University
Syracuse ended its 2022 season strong, doing more at the national championships than just showing up. The Orange women, one of three Atlantic Coast Conference programs at the NCAAs, finished 17th. The men did even better, with a fifth-place final performance at the IRA—ahead of Harvard and less than a second behind Washington—even though its crew entered the regatta ranked eighth.
#6 – Stanford University
Stanford University finishes sixth in our 2022 rankings after tying Texas on points at the NCAAs, finishing third in the IRA National Championship for lightweight women, and having a heavyweight men’s varsity that came in 13th.
#5 – Brown University
On the other side of the country, Brown University continues to achieve success with a similarly consistent even longer-serving coaching tradition in John (38th year) and Phoebe Murphy on the women’s side, and Paul Cooke (21st year) on the men’s. The Brown women won the majority of national championships—seven—in the first 13 years of rowing as an NCAA sport. Even as scholarships and international recruiting are increasingly key to success, Ivy League Brown, which, like Princeton and Yale, can’t offer true athletic scholarships and maintains higher academic standards for recruits, continues to feature in the grand finals of national championship regattas and rank among the best. Brown finished seventh at the NCAAs and third at the IRA.
#4 – University of Washington
Fierce rival Washington ranks just behind Cal for 2022. The Huskies have been so fast so often recently that a fourth-place finish at both the NCAA and IRA regattas seems like some sort of “off year” to those spoiled by Washington’s success. That’s irrational. Both men’s and women’s collegiate rowing has never been faster than it was this year, and the fact that UW can keep pace with the recruiting might of fellow big-time-football state schools Texas and Cal as well as the academically elite like Princeton and Stanford at the top of the overall rankings—without the benefit of lightweight programs—speaks to the tradition of excellence coaches Michael Callahan and Yaz Farooq continue to foster in Seattle.
#3 – University of California, Berkeley
Cal’s heavyweight men’s 2022 IRA National Championship, combined with sixth—only one point off Yale in fifth—at the NCAAs in May at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., lands them third on this year’s list. Lack of either a men’s or women’s lightweight varsity program cost the Bears a higher spot at the very top, but Cal is the best public university as well as the best Pac-12 school in rowing this year.
#2 – Yale University
Yale’s heavyweight men’s program, winners of the IRA’s Ten Eyck points trophy, produced the second-fastest varsity in the country, while the Eli women raced to a strong fifth-place finish in the Division I NCAA final rankings. The lightweight men followed their Eastern Sprints championship with a fourth-place finish at the IRA. That, combined with Yale’s lack of a lightweight women’s program, cost them the title of best-overall rowing school for 2022.
#1 – Princeton University
From the multi-million-dollar Shea Rowing Center on the shore of man-made Lake Carnegie, Princeton boated the fastest overall rowing program in 2022. Led by their IRA national-champion lightweights and third-place NCAA Division I women, the Tigers scored the highest in the Rowing News ranking, which included their sixth-place IRA varsity lightweights and ninth-place varsity-heavyweight men.
Princeton’s place at the top of all rowing universities coincides with the 25th, 50th, 100th, and 150th anniversaries of lightweight women’s, women’s, lightweight men’s, and heavyweight men’s rowing at the university, an occasion celebrated in November. In 1872, Princeton men took to the Delaware & Raritan Canal in a straight six, a common boat of the time.
Lake Carnegie was built through the generosity of alumni in the Class of 1887, and the core of the current boathouse was erected in 1913. The Tiger rowing facilities were renovated and expanded to create the C. Bernard Shea Rowing Center in 2000.