Indianapolis has hosted the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments for several years, but the city enters unchartered waters this weekend when it adds another conference championship to its resume—women’s rowing.
A rowing championship might not carry the same cachet as a basketball tournament, and certainly not the inaugural Big Ten football championship that will played in Indianapolis in December.
But what is significant about the event is that it will mark the first time it’s been held at a neutral site. It’s previously rotated among the seven Big Ten universities that boast women’s rowing programs—Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The not-for-profit Indianapolis Rowing Center on the Eagle Creek Reservoir is hosting the championship after winning a bid from the conference. Practice is Saturday, and the championship runs from 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday.
“This regatta is such an opportunity for the city,” IRC Executive Director Bernadette Teeley said. “Since it’s the first time the schools are coming to a neutral site, we have to put our best, most polished foot forward.”
A rower and former coach at the University of Michigan, Teeley arrived at IRC in 2008 to help the center attract more high-profile rowing events. Indianapolis hosted the NCAA women’s rowing championships in 2002, and Teeley plans to bid on either the 2014 or 2015 championships.
In fact, Indianapolis has quite a rich history in the sport of rowing. The city built the rowing center in the late 1980s at Eagle Creek Park as part of its amateur sports push. And U.S. Rowing, the national governing body for the sport, was headquartered here until it moved in 2006 to Princeton, N.J., home of the U.S. Rowing National Team Training Center.
Besides the Big Ten women’s rowing championship, Indianapolis in July will host the U.S. Club Nationals, an event for amateur teams. It’s expected to attract 5,000 visitors, more than the 1,500 spectators and 500 competitors expected over the weekend.
Even so, IRC volunteers logged about 500 hours preparing and worked extra hard following an April 28 storm that ripped out the steel cables that keep the buoys flowing in a straight line to mark the race course.
A standard race course is 2,000 meters, which equates to a mile and a quarter. What sets apart the Eagle Creek course from those at the participating universities is that it has seven lanes, enough to accommodate all schools at once. Their courses only have four lanes, which means more heats need to be run to get to the finals.
“We’re the only world-class site in the Midwest,” Teeley said.
A championship consists of six events with either eight or four rowers in a boat. The most prestigious event is the “women’s varsity eight,” which consists of a school’s best rowers. Thirty-seven women comprise a typical roster for the championships.
Overall, 143 universities ranging from Division I to Division III have rowing teams, according to the NCAA.
Under Title IX, women’s rowing is equivalent to men’s football in terms of funding, because an eight-ore boat can cost $50,000.
The championship this weekend will be broadcast on tape delay on the Big Ten Network. Unfortunately for Teeley, that’s the only way she’ll be able to watch the races. She’s currently in Princeton, N.J., and will be there until spring trying to make the U.S. women’s rowing team ready to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.