Women’s Rowing Joins GNAC
After 11 seasons as an independent, the two-time National Champion University of Central Oklahoma rowing team will be joining the Great Northwest Athletic Conference starting in the 2019-2020 school year as an affiliate member.
The GNAC will be the second Division II conference to sponsor women’s rowing as a sport, along with the Sunshine State Conference.
There are currently 16 schools that compete in Division II rowing. The Sunshine State Conference currently holds six schools and the GNAC took in four, Humboldt State University, Seattle Pacific University, Western Washington University and Central Oklahoma, but they also took in University of California San Diego for a year. The other schools will remain independent.
“UC San Diego is transitioning to Division I,” said Chris Brannick, UCO assistant athletic director and media relations. “So they’re not listed in this new list of teams [in the GNAC]. There’s only four but UC San Diego would be the fifth team. They’re kind of just going to be involved in the racing competition but they only have one more year left of Division II competition.”
Brannick said there will be a few benefits for UCO to joining the GNAC.
“There will be a conference championship to play for, to compete for, so there’s one benefit that’s exciting,” Brannick said. “As well as getting a little bit more confidence of your path to the national championship.”
Brannick said that academic award are yet another benefit of joining a conference.
“Most every conference recognizes academic achievements,” Brannick said. “Our student-athletes don’t really have an opportunity to be recognized for their academic achievements as well and in the GNAC they will.”
All of UCO sports are a part of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association conference with only women’s rowing not in the conference. The MIAA recognizes students who have a 3.0-grade point average and UCO had 50 student-athletes recognized this academic year. However, the rowing athletes were not able to be recognized as they were without a conference.
“To us, it’s just as important but it’s a little bit less recognized,” Brannick said. “Most people just see the competition and the wins and losses but academics obviously are a big priority too.”
Brannick said he does not think there are any downsides to UCO joining the GNAC because the schedule does not change like it did when UCO football left the Lone Star Conference and joined the MIAA.
“Downside arguments would have been the travel,” Brannick said. “Where we use to play Southwestern and East Central and Southeastern and Northwestern and now we don’t play any of those schools in [the] conference and we’re going to Nebraska, we’re going to Missouri. So if there is a downside to be argued, it would have been something like that but in rowing, we were already going to Washington we were already going to California and those schools were already coming to Oklahoma City so I don’t believe there’s a downside to it.”
Women’s rowing is the GNAC’s 17th championship sport. GNAC conference teams have won 12 of the last 18 national championships in rowing and was the runner-up in four other seasons. Western Washington has eight titles alone. Humboldt won two, one in 2012 and one in 2014, and UCO has won the previous two.
UCO rowing has been an independent for eight seasons in which UCO has won three consecutive national championships in eights, their first ever in fours and their second national championship as a team.