Row, Tide!

Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore was joined by University and community leaders when he announced a new Crimson Tide sport Tuesday. In addition to the expected athletics department personnel, President Robert E. Witt, Mayor Walt Maddox, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Johnny Aycock and others were on hand for the announcement.

Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore held the press conference on the bank of the Black Warrior River. While the announcement of the additon of women's rowing as ithe 21st varsity sport at The Capstone was the topic, the addition of rowing may mean more than just another minor sport.

The primary reason for adding a sport is to help meet gender equity considerations of Title IX, which require athletics opportunities for women. Football and men's basketball are the cash cows of the athletics department, paying for 18 (soon to be 19) sports that do not carry their own weight.

Alabama intends to spend $300,000 on the sport before competition begins in the spring of 2007.

One thing the Mal Moore era of athletics will be long-remembered for is facilities. Moore was the first to admit that there isn't much to be done in that area to start a women's rowing team. He said a coach from an Ivy League school had seen the Black Warrier River where it flows below campus and the River Walk Park that has been constructed there and pronounced it as good as any in the nation for crew.

"After thorough consideration, we are adding women's rowing to our slate of sports beginning with the 2006-07 season," Moore said. "The more we looked into it, the more it seemed a natural fit for Alabama. There is an active rowing community in the Tuscaloosa area, and the state as a whole, and we have a tremendous natural facility for this sport on the Black Warrior River and the recently completed River Road Park gives us an outstanding venue for watching events."

But Moore actually sees some infrastructure additions in conjunction with the new sport. "I can see a club house with workout equipment and storage, and perhaps with a restaurant on top, like a Calypso Joe's," Moore said, pointing just upstream from River Road Park. He also challenged the mayor to provide a walkway across Jack Warner Parkway from The University to the park.

There has been an active and vibrant rowing club on campus since 1987 and there are club teams in Huntsville, Birmingham and Auburn.

"Women's varsity athletics at The University of Alabama provide great opportunities for student-athletes to compete at the highest level of competition in 11 different sports," said UA President Witt. "Rowing has enjoyed great success as a club sport on campus and is a natural choice for our 12th women's varsity sport."

In the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee sponsors a varsity program while Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn and Vanderbilt all support club teams.

"And most importantly to us, rowing will provide the most opportunities for University of Alabama students to participate in one of the greatest traditions in collegiate athletics," Moore said.

A spring sport, collegiate rowing has enjoyed a tremendous growth spurt over the past decade. Since 1997, more than 30 teams have been added at the NCAA Division I level, which translates into almost 2,000 more student-athletes. The average Division I program fields between 50 and 70 student-athletes.

There are some 90 Division I women's rowing teams," Moore said, noting that the number is "quite a bit more than gymnastics. It's an opportunity for many women."

Although a team has "only" 20 scholarships, they can be broken up and as many as 60 women could receive aid to participate. This is helpful in meeting gender equity goals.

The search for a coach to bring rowing to The Capstone begins immediately and will be conducted by Moore and Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator Marie Robbins.

"We are looking for a coach who embodies our commitment to excellence in all facets of collegiate athletics," Moore said. "The sports we have added most recently have gone on to enjoy tremendous success both on the field and the court as well as in the classroom and we are hoping to duplicate that success with rowing."

NCAA Division I schools are allowed 20 full scholarships for women's rowing. Rowing is an equivalency sport, meaning that scholarships may be divided in any manner among student-athletes so long as the total awards do not exceed the limit for the sport. Alabama will start with five full scholarships and will phase in scholarships over a span of years until it reaches the maximum.

The last three sports Alabama has added, volleyball, soccer and softball, have all won SEC Western Division titles. Soccer and softball have both advanced to NCAA competition with softball, in its 10th year, making three World Series appearances during that span.

Of the Tide's 21 sports, rowing is the 12th women's sport. Softball was added in 1996. Soccer was a varsity sport from 1982-89 and was reinstated for the 1994 season. Similarly volleyball first competed in 1974 before being disbanded in 1982. It returned to campus as a varsity sport in 1989. Women's basketball, golf, gymnastics, swimming and diving and tennis were all added during the 1974-75 school year. Women's indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country was started in 1977.

Football is the oldest of the Tide's nine varsity men's teams, starting in 1892. Swimming and diving is the youngest men's sport, joining the Tide ranks in the fall of 1959.

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