The men's collegiate rowing landscape, which just saw the addition of a proper D3 National Championship at last year's IRA, will have another new element in play starting in 2023: a new league designed to create competition and foster growth amongst east coast colleges outside of the EARC Sprints League.
The Atlantic Association of Rowing Colleges (AARC), which will start with seven programs, was born out of conversations amongst coaches at a number of non-EARC schools, according to Marietta College Head Coach Greg Myhr.
Currently, the seven schools involved include Myhr's program in Ohio, Colgate and Marist from New York, Loyola Maryland and St. Joe's in the Mid-Atlantic, and Jacksonville and Stetson in Florida.
That group is just a start, said Myhr, who has already talked to other programs and sees the league as a potential home for any varsity men's rowing programs in the eastern half of the country not already aligned with the EARC or opting into the D3 Championship event at the IRA.
"I believe there are 17 or 18 programs total that fit those parameters," Myhr said, noting that the recently reinstated FIT men's program would be another possible candidate.
In the first year, the goal is to hold a championship race--the Atlantic Sprints--on Sunday May 14th at the Occoquan. That date puts the championship on the day after the Dad Vail Regatta, so that many of the programs involved can race at both the Vails and the new championship just by adding a stop to an already planned road trip this year.
The hope down the line, said Myhr, would be that the schools in the AARC could schedule each other regularly, and begin to build their season around meaningful intra-league competition in addition to any traditional races the member schools schedule from year to year.
For Myhr, the major traditional fixture he would keep on his schedule would be the Dad Vail Regatta, a race most of the founding members of the AARC compete at regularly.
"Marietta is, and always will be, a Dad Vail program," said Myhr. "We are a founding member of the regatta, as well as the original Dad Vail champions, in 1934. It really is an unparalleled event. The Dad Vail is an open regatta, while the AARC and the Atlantic Sprints are a league and league championship. The ways in which these separate entities can coexist are essentially endless."
The key advantage of the AARC for Marietta and these other programs would be that league identity.
"The programs involved here are currently not in a league, and there is a real need for that," Myhr noted. "Many of us do race each other during the regular season, but not necessarily comprehensively. Within the framework of intercollegiate athletics, it's really important to have peer institutions. The formation of this league is our attempt to address this.
"Most college sports teams and even most collegiate rowing teams are part of a league," he reflected, "entailing some regular season competition within that league, a league championship, and the potential to qualify for a national championship."
Khaled Sanad, the Head Coach at Colgate was part of the initial conversations last summer, with Myhr and St. Joe's Head Coach Mike Irwin.
Sanad told row2k that the idea of having organizing a league for the non-EARC schools goes back a few years; he first talked about it in 2019 with then-FIT coach Jim Granger, who had been looking into the idea before the FIT program was cut.
Many of the schools involved in the new league have been racing separately in the latter stages of their seasons, at SIRAs, the Dad Vail, and the NIRC--all "open" regattas which mix varsity and club programs to create great racing--but have not had the kind of structured, single regatta that a league championship would create.
"The AARC Sprints is supposed to be a race that will get the Dad Vail and NIRC people together in one league," said Sanad, who also talked about the fact that, in the early discussions about this idea during the pandemic, there was a sense that having a united group amongst these schools would be helpful if men's rowing ever did move closer to becoming an NCAA-sponsored sport.
"At that time, we were actually talking, in the Intercollegiate Coaches Association (IRCA), about NCAA [proposals]," Sanad said, "So we thought this might be a good way for non-Sprints school to have a league. Then, if things ever went well with the NCAA, we'd have a league already and a structure."
Myhr said that as the coaches kept talking about the league and its benefits, it started to emerge that the most logical first step was just to hold an Atlantic Sprints regatta.
"We eventually decided that holding a 'championship' might be the clearest way to formalize the league--but the regatta is really in service of getting the league together," said Myhr.
"There is a fundamental strength in membership, and having peer institutions. Vying for league dominance will encourage more regular season racing within the league and also inter-league competition.
"League standing becomes a toehold for growing national stature," Myhr pointed out, noting that "some of the programs in the AARC already have a regular presence at the IRA, but none of us yet have a realistic chance of cracking the top two finals. But this league gives us some tools to make headway."
Among those tools, down the line, could be the possibility for the AARC Sprints to serve as a Qualification Event for the IRA for its member schools, in the same way that the Dad Vail and league championships like Eastern Sprints and Western Sprints do in Men's Rowing, but the initial goal, said Myhr, is to first start simply by developing a platform for the these peer institutions that do not have a league of their own at present.
"I'm assuming the big challenges are still in front of us," Myhr said. "So far, everyone we've approached for help and advice has been completely supportive and enthusiastic."
The inaugural AARC Sprints is set for the same "Championship Sunday" this May as the EARC Sprints and PAC-12 Championships--May 14th--and the 2023 IRA runs from Friday June 2nd through Sunday June 4th.
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