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Is Bowling an NCAA Sport? The Surprising Journey of College Bowling

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Bowling remains one of the most popular recreational activities in the United States, with over 73 million Americans heading to the bowling alley to throw a few games every year. But does the sport’s widespread casual participation and professional tournaments translate to serious college athletics governed by the NCAA?

Despite bowling’s long history and mass appeal across generations, its status as a varsity collegiate sport sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has remained in question.

While powerhouse sports like football, basketball, and baseball have shaped athletic culture on college campuses for well over a century, bowling has yet to receive the full backing of the NCAA apparatus.

So is bowling actually considered an NCAA sport today? What exactly does that designation mean and what would it take for college bowling to achieve official NCAA championship status? This article will investigate bowling’s standing within college sports’ preeminent governing body.

The Complex World of NCAA Sports Classification

In order to evaluate bowling’s progress towards NCAA recognition, it helps to understand the landscape of sanctioned college sports and the process used for approving emerging athletic programs.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association oversees some 500,000 student-athletes across over 1,100 North American colleges and universities. Made up of three divisions (I, II, and III), the NCAA governs competitions and championships for dozens of varsity sports across these schools.

While sports like basketball, track, swimming, and others have been embedded in the NCAA framework for generations, the organization does have a pathway for elevating newer activities through two special designations:

  1. NCAA Emerging Sports for Women
  2. NCAA Emerging Sports for Men

These categories allow developing varsity sports to gain valuable experience and exposure through NCAA-run events and championships. For a sport to even be considered for emerging status, it must meet set criteria around number of varsity teams, competitiveness, budget, fan interest, and standardized rules. Golf, ice hockey, and water polo have all leveraged emerging sports status to eventually ascend to full NCAA sports recognition.

So how does college bowling measure up?

The Current Status of NCAA Bowling

The NCAA has taken formal steps to cultivate college-level bowling, starting twenty years ago. Based on bowling’s growth at varsity programs around the country, the NCAA designated “NCAA Women’s Bowling” as an emerging sport back in April 2003.

This marked an important milestone that opened new opportunities for female bowlers and teams even if full sport recognition remained on the horizon.

As an NCAA emerging sport, competitive bowling events and championship tournaments are now organized and marketed under the NCAA umbrella, albeit on a separate tier from official varsity staples like basketball or softball.

Since 2003, women’s bowling has made the most of its emerging platform to expand varsity participation and sharpen its NCAA appeal, including:

  • 11 NCAA Bowling Championships held for Division I, II and III schools
  • Over 35 colleges and universities have established women’s bowling teams
  • 500% increase in NCAA women bowlers from 2004 to 2016 (750 to 4,500)
  • The creation of two major conferences: East Coast Conference and Southland Bowling League

This progress reflects substantial grassroots development that has elevated bowling far above an informal campus club activity. Established varsity programs now offer bowling scholarships and resources on par with major NCAA sports.

Yet despite two decades of growth in participation and organization, bowling still faces an uphill climb to join other major sports that command resources and attention across higher education.

Why Hasn’t Bowling Become a Full-Fledged NCAA Sport Yet?

Given the rising student interest and governance structure enabled by the NCAA emerging status, why hasn’t college bowling ascended to the top echelon of sanctioned sports?

While the trajectory remains positive, there are still substantial hurdles that keep competitive bowling from standing alongside titans like Division I basketball or winning equal media coverage and university investment as an officially recognized sport:

Lacking Competition Infrastructure

Unlike mainstream sports that have been ingrained in academic calendars for generations, bowling lacks established seasons, standardized schedules, and an extensive network of head-to-head matchups between powerhouse programs. Emerging status has strengthened this infrastructure but gaps remain compared to major varsity staples.

Insufficient Varsity Programs Across NCAA

Despite bowling’s emerging sport designation for over twenty years now, only 35 varsity programs have been established nationwide across over 1,100 NCAA institutions total – likely not enough critical mass momentum for full sport approval. Many promising club programs still lack NCAA varsity status at their own universities.

Title IX Compliance Complexities

Since the NCAA emerging sport distinction was established only for women’s bowling, expanding to fully sanction the sport introduces tricky Title IX compliance implications that schools would need to navigate carefully around roster quotas, program funding levels and more.

Reliance on External Funding Sources

Unlike major college sports that generate tremendous revenue potential through massive fan interest, media rights and sponsorships, bowling lacks those financial resources. Varsity bowling programs rely heavily on fundraisers, facility partnerships and other private funding channels – a precarious financial model.

Administrative and Standardization Hurdles Across Conferences and Divisions

As a relatively newer varsity offering that spans hundreds of campuses across multiple NCAA regions and divisions, bowling still faces red tape around eligibility criteria, competition guidelines, and championship event logistics for athletes and coaches.

The Quinnipiac Controversy

In addition to organizational challenges, bowling’s NCAA appeal took a PR hit in 2015 when Quinnipiac University attempted to manipulate regulations by passing off its successful women’s bowling team as a competitive cheer squad.

This highlighted Administration skepticism around emerging sports as budgetary gambits rather than prestige varsity programs on par with basketball or football worthy of institutional investment and branding.

Future Outlook for NCAA Bowling: Primed to Strike Soon?

There is no doubt that elevated NCAA status remains the “Holy Grail” for college bowling athletes and varsity programs seeking the competitive clout and resources afforded to leading sports like basketball across divisions and conferences.

However, considering the strong participation growth bowling has achieved across 35+ varsity programs nationwide under the NCAA emerging sport banner, the future looks bright for potential championship status recognition.

As young, talented bowlers choose to pursue the sport competitively in middle school, high school, and at elite levels, many will soon have opportunities to extend their amateur careers with bowling scholarships at varsity programs rather than hanging up their bowling shoes post-high school. This will only help strengthen the NCAA talent pipeline.

With two successful decades under emerging status and models like women’s ice hockey which leveraged similar springboard designation in the 2000s before ascending to become an officially-sanctioned NCAA championship sport with 63 Division 1 programs, expect women’s bowling to follow suit – especially as media exposure through platforms like ESPN has boosted bowling’s profile.

The Southland Bowling League’s outspoken goal of achieving NCAA championship status for women’s bowling by 2025 also demonstrates fierce determination from within the ranks. While obstacles around budget constraints, Title IX navigation, and standardization across conferences remain, the momentum is real.

Look for the NCAA Bowling Championships to start generating increased buzz and enrollment spikes at powerhouses like Arkansas State, Vanderbilt, and McKendree University in the years ahead.

True varsity icons could soon emerge from program rosters as well thanks to emerging status. Don’t be shocked if an electrifying bowler lands a Wheaties box in the not-so-distant future either as NCAA sponsorship dollarsinkle in!

The path to the upper echelon remains challenging but after deftly navigating its NCAA emerging period despite the pandemic challenges, all signs point to women’s bowling knocking down the final pins in route to coveted NCAA championship sport status soon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is men’s bowling an NCAA sport?

No, at this time men’s bowling is not recognized by the NCAA as an emerging or championship sport. Only women’s bowling has received emerging sport status since 2003. There is no official NCAA involvement with men’s college bowling programs or oversight of competitions and tournaments.

Is women’s bowling an NCAA sport?

Yes, women’s bowling has been designated an NCAA emerging sport since 2003. This status has allowed NCAA sponsorship of championships and oversight over schools with varsity programs, fostering growth. But it is still not yet considered a fully-sanctioned NCAA championship sport.

When did bowling become college sport?

Bowling first emerged as an organized intercollegiate activity in the 1930s but remained mostly at the club level for decades. After female participation in high school bowling began growing exponentially in the 1990s, NCAA emerging status followed in 2003 to cultivate more competitive opportunities at the college level through varsity programs and events.

How many d1 men’s bowling teams are there?

While there are some promising men’s club bowling teams, currently no Division I schools offer varsity men’s bowling programs. Division II and III schools like Lindenwood, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Robert Morris-Illinois field competitive men’s teams outside NCAA governance. But nouniversity men’s bowling yet at the D1 NCAA level.

Is bowling an official sport?

Beyond recreational activity status, competitive bowling is recognized as an official sport globally under governance of the World Bowling organization and World Bowling Tour. Regionally, it is recognized in the Pan American Bowling Confederation, European Bowling Tour and more. But NCAA recognition still developing through emerging status for women.

Is bowling a sport yes or no?

Yes, bowling meets classifications as a sport, requiring physical skill and athleticism combining strength, dexterity, precision and strategy. Its broad competitiveness, professional tournaments, rankings and global/regional governance qualify bowling as an official sport by most metrics even if NCAA status remains limited.

Can men get bowling scholarships?

Yes, some leading varsity bowling programs offer scholarship opportunities including for men. However, without official NCAA status, men’s bowling scholarships generally come from discretionary athletic funding or external donors rather than typical sports scholarship budgets. Amounts can vary greatly between schools and programs.

How many colleges have men’s bowling teams?

Estimates indicate around 25 colleges nationwide currently have men’s bowling teams, though the sport lacks NCAA emerging status sponsorship. Top programs include Lindenwood, Calumet College of St. Joseph, St Ambrose University, Robert Morris-Illinois and more, mostly across Divisions II and III outside top D1 colleges.

What sport is bowling considered?

Bowling is categorized as a precision target sport, requiring great hand-eye coordination. It can also be considered a type of ball sport that involves rolling balls down lanes to hit targets. Competitively, bowling is recognized as its own individual sport globally with professional tournaments governed by World Bowling at elite levels and USBC domestically.