BY ED MORAN
PHOTO BY ADAM REIST
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Even as the Intercollegiate Rowing Association works to determine if it can hold a championship regatta this spring, the association’s leadership has approved the addition of a Division III championship beginning in 2022.
According to IRA Commissioner Gary Caldwell, the IRA stewards voted unanimously Thursday, Feb. 10, to approve a preliminary plan to include the new DIII championship, and will finalize the details of qualification, and structure of the event, at the association’s summer meeting this August.
Caldwell said there have been talks to include a DIII championship since the IRA moved to exclude club programs and restructure the regatta in 2009, but without enough member programs able to compete beyond their regular seasons, the addition was not feasible.
That changed in 2015 when the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) voted to remove a ban on post-season competition and provide for championship racing for both the men’s and women’s crews in the conference. Following the change, DIII membership in the IRA increased from 5 to 12 schools, making the addition of a new championship event possible.
“I’m really excited for this for two reasons,” Caldwell said. “From the IRA’s perspective, I think it’s an opportunity to be responsive to the needs and wants of a portion of our membership constituency, and an opportunity to add to the DIII membership and become a more robust advocate for DIII inclusion in the regatta.
“And, as an ex DIII program director and coach (Tufts University), I think it’s terrific, and long overdue, that DIII men’s programs have the same kind of access to post-season competition that the women’s programs do.”
According to Caldwell, the discussions within the IRA leadership to possibly add the new championship ramped up after the NESCAC schools voted to allow post-season competition, and some of those programs reached out to the IRA about the possibility of including the DIII championship.
Planning for the addition was moving forward in 2019, but was scuttled by the Covid pandemic. “We were making plans for possibly adding it into the 2021 regatta but then Covid hit and wheels came off,” Caldwell said.
Last fall, planning began again and Caldwell contacted DIII programs that were not yet IRA members to gauge their interest in participation. According to Caldwell, nine additional schools indicated they were interested.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Preliminary plans for the new event include setting selection and qualification guidelines and establishing the initial structure for the 2022 regatta, which will limit entries to six schools and require a minimum of six programs participating.
Should the event become popular, the number of entries will be expanded over the following three championships. Historically, a small number of DIII programs have “played up,” as Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) member schools, or competed primarily against Division I opponents.
According to Caldwell, those schools will have to decide if they want to compete as DIII schools or continue competing on the DI level by the 2021-2022 academic year.
Caldwell said that while it is still unknown if the 2021 IRA Championship can take place because of the ongoing pandemic, the new event will be added to the 2022 regatta.
“There will be a DIII event in 2022, the only thing that will happen in August will be to finalize the details for how folks will qualify for the event and the actual structure of the event. But I doubt that there will be any significant changes from what we have already planned,” Caldwell said. “I think regardless of what happens this spring, it is important that we start out the next academic year fresh with the hopes that by 2022 we will be dealing with a set of circumstances that are more normal, and what we’re used to,” he said. “Certainly, that is everybody’s goal at the state, local and federal level.”