By CVO Staff
Rowing (or crew) is a proud and historic collegiate sport that dates back to 1852 — the year in which Yale challenged its big rival Harvard to a boat race. That race became the first intercollegiate sporting event of any kind held in the United States, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, roughly 8,400 students, or about 2% of all college athletes, are members of a collegiate rowing team. Interestingly, rowing is one of the few competitive sports that is not heavily recruited. In other words, it isn’t absolutely necessary to have rowed in high school in order to make a top crew. To help those ambitious enough to join a university rowing team, we at College Values Online have found the 30 best colleges for rowing.
To put together our list of the 30 best colleges for rowing, we started by scouring the rankings of the NCAA, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA), and the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA). We narrowed down our list based on such factors as NCAA/IRA championships won, other notable regatta appearances and wins, conference titles won, notable alumni, and other “wow factors” like historical significance, especially impressive training centers, etc. We list them here in alphabetical order.
A Quick Note:
Men’s varsity rowing teams are organized by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA). They compete in the IRA National Championships, the oldest rowing championship in the country. Women’s collegiate rowing teams are sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). They compete at the NCAA Division I Rowing Championship as well as the IRA National Championships.
Because rowing is one of the few collegiate sports in which clubs can prove just as competitive, not every school on our list of the 30 Best Colleges for Rowing is home to an NCAA- or IRA-sanctioned rowing team. All non-NCAA/IRA-sanctioned rowing teams are eligible to compete in the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) National Championship Regatta, an exclusive and prestigious event.
One of the best rowing colleges in the nation, Boston University enjoys a long history of rowing. The university’s men’s rowing teams compete in the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC). Its women’s teams compete as part of the Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges (EAWRC). The two collectively comprise the oldest and most competitive conference in collegiate rowing. In recent years, Boston University’s women’s teams have proven to be most successful. The Terriers were back-to-back national champions in 1991 and 1992.
Providence, Rhode Island
Rowing remains Brown University’s oldest intercollegiate sport. A major rival of both Harvard and Yale, Brown has produced 32 Olympic rowers over the years. The university boasts a unique advantage regarding training rowers: the Seekonk River, known for its strong current and difficult rowing conditions. Since 2000, Brown’s men’s varsity team has won the Ivy League Championships (2008), the Ladies’ Plate Challenge Cup at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in London (2009), and swept the events at the Eastern Sprints (2009). Meanwhile, the women have taken home a whopping six NCAA championships since 2000 and been runners-up twice.
Bucknell University hosts both men’s and women’s crew teams, though only the women’s teams are sanctioned. The men’s crew teams are designated as a varsity club sport, and they compete in the prestigious Dad Vail Regatta. Bucknell’s women’s teams consistently rank among the best in the NCAA Division I’s Mid-Atlantic group. They took home the Patriot League Championship in 2006 and in 2007 won both the Patriot League team championships and the IRA National Championships.
Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson University does not currently have a men’s rowing team. The university does, however, have a powerhouse of a women’s team! In 2009, Clemson’s women’s team was named ACC Team Champions. The same year the Varsity 4+ team took home the title of NCAA Individual Champions. The team trains on Lake Hartwell.
New York, New York
Imagine rowing along the Harlem and Hudson rivers, past landmarks like Yankee Stadium and the George Washington Bridge. That’s an everyday experience for the men and women of Columbia University’s rowing squads. Although the university’s women’s teams are a competitive club sport, its men’s teams are sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA). Columbia has been competitive since its first intercollegiate regatta in 1873. But in the last decade, it’s really proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. In 2015, both the lightweight eight and the varsity lightweight four came in second at the IRA National Championships. That same year the same teams reached the semifinals at the Henley Royal Regatta in London. In 2016, the lightweight eight won the IRA National Championships and were again invited back to London for the Henley Royal Regatta. In 2018, gold medals were won at the Eastern Sprints, while the lightweights took home the Jope Cup for the first time in Columbia’s history.
Ithaca, New York
Cornell University has both men’s and women’s rowing teams which compete in the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) and the Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges (EAWRC), respectively. While both teams are quite competitive, the men’s varsity team has done especially well in recent years. Their lightweight crew has taken home six IRA National Championship Regatta wins in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015, and 2017.
Hanover, New Hampshire
With more than 200 student participants, rowing is the most popular sport at Dartmouth College. Teams offered include men’s heavyweight and men’s lightweight. Both compete in the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges and are sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association, and women’s open-weight, which competes in the Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges and is sanctioned by the NCAA. Dartmouth’s rowing program has produced quite a few National Team Members and Olympic rowers since its inception in 1833. Much of the teams’ successes stem from the fact that they train on the challenging Connecticut River.
Drexel University’s men’s and women’s teams are sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association and the NCAA, respectively. While Drexel has never taken home an IRA or NCAA rowing championship title, the university has proven remarkably competitive in other events. For example, two of Drexel’s men’s teams placed first at the 2010 Dad Vail Regatta. That same year, Drexel’s women’s varsity team placed first in the Elite 8 championship at the Royal Henley Woman’s Regatta in England.
Despite an 11-year hiatus due to lack of interest and world wars, the Georgetown University rowing club has grown steadily since its inception in 1876. A women’s team joined the men in 1963. In 1996, an additional women’s lightweight team was included. Georgetown’s various teams have been quite successful recently, earning trips to prestigious events like the Eastern Sprints and the Henley Royal Regatta in England. In 2016, the men’s varsity lightweight fours were named national champions at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta — the most recent of five national championships for Georgetown. Two United States National Team members have come from Georgetown, and even the actor Bradley Cooper spent some time on the team.
Grand Valley State University
Grand Valley State University is home to one of the most successful club crews in the nation. The team frequently competes with success at such prestigious international events as the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, the Dad Vail Regatta, the Royal Henley Regatta in London, and the International Race of Eights. Perhaps most impressively, Grand Valley took home the title of National Champions at the American College Rowing Association National Championship five years in a row (2008-2012)! Each year, Grand Valley hosts the Lubbers Cup Regatta in Spring Lake, Michigan.
Harvard University has long been considered one of the best colleges in the world for rowing. Both the men’s and women’s teams have won myriad national championships. This includes the Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s National Championships in every odd year from 1989 to 2003 — one of the oddest winning streaks in college sports. Harvard was actually one of the first universities to host a rowing team, and was one of the competitors in the famous Harvard-Yale Regatta — the first collegiate event to take place in America.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Michigan State University hosts a women’s rowing team but does not currently have a men’s team. The Spartans may be a program on the rise, but judging by their NCAA rankings, that rise is coming quickly. Michigan State is a frequent competitor in the NCAA National Championships, at which they’ve finished a personal best of sixth place.
Northeastern University, located in Boston, Massachusetts, is home to both a men’s rowing team and a women’s rowing team. Both teams are sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) and the NCAA, respectively. They’re both headed up by long-time coaches. The men’s team has made many successful appearances in competitions such as the IRA National Championships and the Eastern Sprints. The women’s team has reached the NCAA National Championships four times (1997-2000), the CAA Championships five times (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015), and the Eastern Sprints on myriad occasions.
The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, is another school that boasts an NCAA-sanctioned women’s rowing team but not a men’s team. Ohio State may not be a historically prestigious team like many of the other colleges and universities on our list, but in recent years the Buckeyes have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with. The team has been named Big Ten season champions an incredible eight times — 2002, 2006, 2011, and 2013-2017! Furthermore, they took home the title of NCAA National Champions in rowing three years in a row — 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Oregon State University
Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, has men’s rowing teams sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) and women’s teams sanctioned by the NCAA. While both are competitive, Oregon State has proven itself quite the powerhouse for men’s rowing. Since 2000, the Oregon State Beavers have taken home multiple medals at the Pac-10 Championships, placed second at the San Diego Crew Classic, and finished 10th at the IRA Championships in 2007. Thirteen former Beavers have gone on to represent the United States in the Olympics and on the national team, including Josh Inman, Joey Hansen, and Chris Callaghan.
Princeton, New Jersey
Rowing has been an integral part of Princeton life and culture since 1870 when a group of undergraduates purchased a couple of old boats and formed their own “navy.” Today, Princeton is considered one of the best — if not the best rowing program in the country. The program consists of more than 150 rowers, 12 top coaches, 60 rowing shells, and the $8 million-plus Shea Rowing Center. The Center is so impressive it’s often used by the U.S. National Team for training. Princeton teams are frequent competitors at the Eastern Sprints, NCAA Rowing Championships, IRA National Championships, and the Henley Royal Regatta. Former Princeton rowers are also commonly added to the U.S. National Team and the Olympic team.
St. Joseph’s University
Look at any ranking of American collegiate rowing teams, and you’ll find St. Joseph’s University located somewhere near the top. Home to both men’s and women’s crew teams, St. Joseph’s is a regular fixture on the national competition circuit. Since 2004, St. Joseph’s has won the prestigious Dad Vail Regatta three times and come in second twice. It finished 4th in the Grand Final at the IRA National Championships and made an appearance at the Henley Royal Regatta in England.
Palo Alto, California
Stanford University tends to excel in sports, and rowing is no exception. The university hosts both men’s and women’s rowing teams, each of which is sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) and NCAA, respectively. The women’s rowing team was named NCAA National Champion in 2009, while the ladies’ lightweight crew has been IRA champ a whopping seven times — 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017! Each year, Stanford competes against its main rival, U.C. Berkeley, at the Big Row.
Syracuse, New York
Syracuse University established its rowing team in 1874. Today, it has both men’s and women’s rowing teams sanctioned by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) and the NCAA, respectively. Syracuse teams are regular competitors at all of the major regattas and competitions and are almost always ranked near the top of their respective conferences.
It should be no surprise that the U.S. Naval Academy ranks as one of the best colleges for rowing. Indeed, the Academy has been a powerhouse since its eight-man team took home the gold medal at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Finland. Some of the Academy’s recent successes include a win at the 2004 National Championship, two Jope Cup wins, and finishing the Eastern Sprints twice with the highest number of points (2006, 2007).
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley has sanctioned men’s and women’s crew teams. Cal’s men’s teams have been ranked at the top of the game since the 1920s. In the last two decades, the men have won seven Pac-10 conference titles, five of which were consecutive wins. The Bears also took home the title of Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national champions many times. The most recent was in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2016. Cal’s women’s crew teams have proven just as successful. They’ve made appearances at the NCAA Rowing Championship every year since 1998 and have taken home NCAA champion titles in 2005, 2006, 2016, and 2018. The women have also won the Pac-10 Championships seven times and the Varsity 8 race six times. Every year, Cal’s crew teams compete against their biggest rival, Stanford University, at the Big Row.
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
The University of Iowa has had a sanctioned women’s varsity rowing team since 1994. Rowing has since become the second most popular sport on Iowa’s campus. The women have consistently ranked at the top of both the conference and NCAA. They made myriad appearances at the National Championships, NCAA Rowing Championships, and other top competitions. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the University of Iowa is home to the P. Sue Beckwith M.D. Boathouse. It is a state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot boathouse with workout facilities, meeting spaces, locker rooms, boat bays, and even indoor rowing tanks.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, boasts an extremely successful women’s rowing program. Much of the team’s recent success has come from the fact that it is coached by Jim Dietz, who rowed on 1972, 1976, and 1980 U.S. Olympic rowing teams. He also coached the U.S. Olympic teams in 1988, 1992, and 2000. Some of UMass’s successes include 16 A-10 Championship wins and quite a few alumnae invited onto the U.S. national and Olympic teams.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Over the past three decades, the University of Michigan’s women’s rowing team has evolved from a club sport to a varsity sport fully sanctioned by the NCAA. It’s considered one of the top programs in the country. In the past 12 years, Michigan has finished in the top 10 of the NCAA National Championships an incredible 10 times. The team even came so far as to finish runner-up to the champions in 2001 and 2003. In 2012, Michigan was named Big Ten champion for rowing.
University of Pennsylvania
The tradition of rowing at the University of Pennsylvania goes back to 1854. Currently, Penn boasts both men’s (lightweight and heavyweight) and women’s (open-weight) teams. All are sanctioned, and all compete in the Eastern Sprints League. Though it happened back in 1955, Penn’s men’s heavyweight crew remains one of the only American collegiate teams to win the prestigious Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. Some of Penn’s impressive rowing alumni include Susan Francia, Joe Burk, Ted Nash, Rusty Callow, John B. Kelly Jr., and Harry Parker.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
In the past two decades, USC’s women’s rowing team has gone from a good program to one of the country’s best. The Women of Troy train year-round, which could explain their success in competitions, both regional and national. Highlights include a 1998 national championships win and an 11th-place finish in the 2005 NCAA National Championships.
University of Virginia
In recent years, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, has separated itself as one of the top-ranked women’s rowing programs in the nation. The crew has earned an amazing nine consecutive Top 6 national finishes and has amassed five NCAA National Championships wins: 1999, 2007, 2005, 2010, and 2012.
University of Washington
Practically since its founding, the University of Washington rowing program has traded power back and forth with other powerhouse rivals like U.C. Berkeley, Harvard, and Princeton, among others. The Huskies have myriad championship wins, including the NCAA Championships, Women’s Pac-12 Championships, Men’s IRA Championships, Men’s National Collegiate Rowing Championship, and Men’s Pac-12 Championships. Perhaps most famously, the Washington men’s crew team fought its way to the gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, where it defeated both Germany and Italy. That saga was recently documented in the bestselling book The Boys in the Boat.
University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin is another top-ranked school with a historic rowing program. The Wisconsin Badgers Crew was founded in 1874. Wisconsin’s women’s teams are sanctioned by the NCAA, while its men’s teams are sanctioned by Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA). The men’s team has won two National College Rowing Championship wins, while the women have earned an incredible 12 Big 10 Championship titles. Both teams have also done well at the NCAA South/Central regionals, the Eastern Sprints, the Head of the Charles Regatta, the Midwest Rowing Championship, and the American Heritage Regatta.
New Haven, Connecticut
Not only is Yale University easily considered one of the best colleges in the country for rowing, but it’s also home to the oldest crew club in America. Yale’s rowing history began in 1843. Since then, the team has amassed myriad championship titles and trophies. Recent wins have included the National Championship (men’s lightweight, 2000), the Henley Royal Regatta Temple Challenge Cup (men’s lightweight, 2000), a record-breaking Eastern Sprints victory (men’s lightweight, 2001), the Jope Cup (lightweight men’s, 2001), a victory in the Women’s Henley (women’s varsity, 2001), three Intercollegiate Rowing Association wins (men’s, 2005, 2017, 2018), and runners up at the NCAA National Championships (women’s team, 2004).
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