Saint Augustine’s University (SAU), a small college in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) that is adding a rowing team in a creative and accessible way: virtually. At this time, no other HBCU has a collegiate rowing team. Concept2 is eager to help these institutions build them.
The idea at SAU started from the success of their cycling program. Early in 2020, SAU created the first-ever USA Cycling-registered cycling team at an HBCU. The pandemic forced much of the team's training and racing to virtual platforms. With the support of several key sponsors, the team's cyclists had the equipment to ride and race in their apartments or dorm rooms, in some cases against competition throughout the world. The team drew world class athletes from the SAU track and field program, which was completely sidelined in the Fall of 2020 due to the pandemic.
SAU has since worked with USA Cycling to recruit new HBCU cycling teams. "While the situation might not have been ideal for launching a new team, it did open our eyes to some new possibilities," notes Dr. Mark Janas, a professor in SAU's School of Business, Management, & Technology. Janas also coaches the SAU cycling team and functions informally as the school's athletic director for virtual sports. Janas says that faculty and coaches at SAU soon realized that sports such as golf, cycling, rowing, and even motorsports that are not typically part of the HBCU experience could be easily introduced at SAU, as well as other HBCUs.
In virtual form, these sports can be done with much lower start-up and ongoing costs, and done safely without the influences of time of day, traffic, weather, or pandemic restrictions. The school began to put the plans together for a new virtual sports suite that would be backed by new sports management and computer science curriculum.
The program is viewed by the school leadership as a potentially valuable tool for recruiting and retention. "We recognized that there was a bigger mission at hand. We want to take what we've done in cycling and replicate that in other sports that are not often available to HBCU students. The idea is that these virtual sports could serve as a launching pad for the real sport counterpart, depending upon student interest," Janas adds.
"SAU's initiative is forward-thinking on how it is building a 'boathouse,'" explains Meredith Breiland, Marketing at Concept2. "We're very excited to contribute equipment and software to support them. Indoor rowing is a great way to introduce students to the sport, identify talent, and build a team swiftly." There are many ways to train and compete virtually. Concept2's ErgRace is a free and easy way for SAU to race invite other HBCUs to the growing league. Other apps can also provide coaching, training plans and virtual classes to motivate the students.
SAU plans to introduce on water rowing in the next two years. Concept2 supports programs that create opportunities for diverse populations to participate in this sport. SAU's creative program removes many barriers for students. "Indoor rowing introduces all the fundamentals of on water rowing while offering a sport in its own right with a community, competitions and world records. We're confident that indoor rowing can attract talented SAU athletes," explains Breiland.
In the spring of 2021, SAU joined forces with other schools and became a charter member of the National Collegiate Virtual Sports Association (NCVSA.org), an organization with the purposed of developing and managing collegiate virtual sports. The first NCVSA competitions are planned for later in 2021.