Manatee County will soon have its first NCAA Division I sports program — and it will be women’s rowing.
On Sunday, during their 23rd annual Brunch on the Bay in Manatee County, University of South Florida officials announced they have been approved by the NCAA to start a women’s rowing team — they hope by 2018 — that will be headquartered at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and use Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota and Fort Hamer in Manatee as its home and training sites.
South Florida Athletic Director Mark Harlan made the announcement to a crowd of 900 under a white tent during the brunch and asked for rowing donations from the enthusiastic crowd.
“We don’t dip our toes into things,” Harlan said. “If we are going to get into something, we are going to win.”
Bradenton’s Byron Shinn, a USF system trustee and chairman of the Sarasota-Manatee board, said the university has already taken its first step into women’s rowing, finding the right person to lead the team.
“We are now recruiting a coach,” Shinn said. “We hope to get many of our athletes from the local area. We want to be nationally competitive and a top-10 team. We will be competing with New England schools and Stanford.”
The team will be built over several years and reach 40 athletes, Shinn added. The school has been given a four-year window by the NCAA to get the program started, Harlan said.
We are now recruiting a coach. We hope to get many of our athletes from the local area. We want to be nationally competitive and a top 10 team. We will be competing with New England schools and Stanford.
Byron Shinn on the University of South Florida’s new women’s rowing team
Asked if a men’s rowing team will follow, Shinn said fundraising will determine how far and how fast the program will evolve. Shinn said the university has to buy everything, including gear, oars, accessories and rowing shells, the latter of which can cost $40,000 for an eight-seater.
“Get one (program) and then get another,” Shinn said. “This is an early, first step into rowing.”
USF plans to compete in the American Athletic Conference, which currently has seven teams for rowing: Central Florida, Connecticut, Southern Methodist, Temple, Tulsa, Sacramento State and San Diego State.
The South Florida program would have plenty of teams nearby that it could compete against. UCF, Stetson, Jacksonville and Miami are the four Florida-based schools that already field a Division I women’s rowing program. Overall, the NCAA recognizes 88 Division I women’s rowing programs.
“It’s a great opportunity for the school,” said Brianna Fah, one of six members of the USF Sarasota-Manatee rowing club who displayed a 65-foot eight-person shell at the event for people to see.
Although Fah can’t be on the new team since she is a senior and will have graduated by the time it starts, she said she has already gotten her reward from rowing.
“There is no other feeling like it,” Fah said. “You are on the water and you just feel like you are flying. You forget all your worries. It’s a wonderful experience.”