Since the National Collegiate Equestrian Association received news last October that the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Committee on Women’s Athletics had recommended dropping equestrian as a sport, the NCEA’s been working to prevent that potential decision. They recently took an even bigger step by naming a new executive director, Dr. Leah Holland Fiorentino, and creating both an Executive Committee and the NCEA Foundation Advisory Council to steer the NCEA committees.
“We have a national advisory board that’s tasked with the job of getting us financially solvent, so that the coaches don’t have to worry about fundraising,” said Fiorentino. “The national advisory board has some financial experts, some public relations experts and some communications/media experts, and they’re really terrific people who don’t just have a vested interest because maybe their daughter rides on a team. They’re very interested in maintaining these opportunities for women who might not have been able to afford to go to college. It’s really exciting that we have that up and moving.”
Equestrian, which the NCAA classified as an “emerging sport” was recommended for dropping as it had 23 institutions involved at the time of the decision. NCAA gives programs 10 years under emerging sport status to get to 40 participating schools.
Since October two schools—University of Tennessee-Martin and Kansas State—elected to discontinue their programs at the end of the 2015-2016 season. But so far the CWA’s recommendation hasn’t moved forward, and Fiorentino is hoping to prevent it from doing so.
“They hit 24 [colleges involved in equestrian], and then it leveled off,” she said. “The Committee on Women’s Athletics, they were well within their right [in recommending that NCAA drop the sport], and they followed the guidelines in submitting the recommendation they did. It’s unfortunate, but it did make everyone within the organization say, ‘OK, let’s regroup and figure out how we can move forward.’
“I look at the NCAA structure, and I think these are really good people who really care about opportunities for women in sports,” Fiorentino added. “It’s more than their job; it’s their passion. We have almost 800 scholarship opportunities for women [within equestrian], and I can’t imagine some of these strong advocates for women in sports, when they look at the landscape, allowing these opportunities to go away.”
Even if NCAA does officially drop equestrian, Fiorentino explained there are still steps the NCEA can take. In the meantime, she’s working with the NCEA to provide support for the coaches within the program, networking, increasing awareness and fundraising. Since she started her new position about four weeks ago, Fiorentino has been meeting with representatives from the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, and she has more meetings scheduled.
“The very worst case scenario, should the recommendation move forward, is that the guidelines within the CWA say that if you’re removed from the emerging sport list, you can reapply for it as long as you have 15 letters of support from NCAA DI and II schools,” Fiorentino said. “Right now we’re at 23 participating schools. We’d just really like that dark cloud removed so we can begin to expand.
“A lot of it involves speaking with people who will try and get the good word out, and not just going, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going away,’ ” she added.