More than 4,100 student-athletes on 220 college and university intercollegiate bowling teams compete in more than 180 certified tournaments each year, and nearly 100 colleges and universities across the country offer bowling scholarships.
Collegiate bowling has grown in popularity and prestige under College Bowling USA and more recently with the formation of the USBC Collegiate program, bowling's national intercollegiate governing body.
Those programs include men's and women's teams at the club, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) levels and women's varsity teams with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA).
"One appealing aspect of college bowling is that our sport brings together all levels of student-athletes to compete within one umbrella organization known as USBC Collegiate," said Gary Brown, collegiate director for the International Bowling Campus Youth Development team. "The NCAA, NJCAA, NAIA and club teams are all part of USBC Collegiate membership."
USBC Collegiate oversees and conducts the Intercollegiate Team and Singles Championships. The country's top 80 men's and top 64 women's collegiate teams compete in regional events for the right to advance to the annual ITC, a nationally-televised tournament. Individual championships are crowned at the annual ISC. USBC Collegiate also works with the National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association to determine All-Americans and Academic Recognition, Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors.
USBC Collegiate maintains the eligibility and integrity of club and varsity bowling by certifying and regulating the sport at the collegiate level, and initiates bowling programs that develop athletic and leadership skills that expose college bowlers to a variety of experience.
The USBC Collegiate program is located at USBC Headquarters in Arlington, Texas. The NCAA, NJCAA and NAIA recognize USBC Collegiate as the sport's national intercollegiate governing body, the largest organized body for collegiate bowling.
History of College Bowling
According to an article in the 1947 issue of BOWLING by Paul Gould, the first collegiate bowling competition was held April 8, 1916, almost eight months before the Women's International Bowling Congress was formed.
Gould's article was generated by a letter he received from Cornell University's Victor Klee, which stated that bowling was recognized as an intercollegiate sport at Yale as far back as 1916. Bill Wyer of Yale organized the first collegiate bowling tournament held in New Haven, Conn., on April 8,1916. Besides varsity teams from Yale and Lehigh, teams from the Cornell University Interfraternity league, Syracuse University, Stevens Institute Bowling Associations and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute competed. These colleges became the first charter members of the Intercollegiate Bowling Association, and immediately began planning the second event for 1917 in which competition would expand by at least 11 teams.
Apparently World War I undermined that first attempt at organized collegiate bowling, as no mention of college bowling appears in any national bowling publications until the early 1940s, when several collegiate tournaments were conducted in the East and Midwest. By the 1966-67 season, the American Bowling Congress and Women's International Bowling Congress had their own college bowling programs. ABC and WIBC soon merged their growing programs to form the ABC and WIBC Collegiate Division during the 1977-78 season, installing a Collegiate Division Manager to oversee its operations. Membership peaked during the 1980-81 season as 153 colleges had intercollegiate programs with more than 19,000 individual members.
When the Young American Bowling Alliance was formed in 1982, it formed the YABA Collegiate Division to incorporate college bowling into its youth division. When college bowling suffered some deterioration over the next several years, YABA implemented the Campus Program to revitalize college bowling, focusing on the recreational side of bowling and cultivating greater awareness of bowling on college campuses. More intercollegiate programs emerged and membership peaked again during the 1990-91 season with 209 college programs and more than 3,000 individual members. During the 1991-92 season, Campus Programs peaked on their own as 71 colleges hosted programs with more than 26,000 individual members.
By 1993, any college that wished to have an intercollegiate program was also required to have a Campus Program. While Campus Programs doubled as a result, overall individual membership began to fall, causing an erosion of Program funds that threatened the YABA Collegiate Division's stability.
Due to lack of resources, the Campus Program was phased out during the 1994-95 season and the YABA assumed overall management of college bowling under general tournaments and events. At the same time, however, a major boost for college bowling occurred in 1994 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association recognized women's bowling as an emerging sport to help settle federal gender equity issues in college sports, initiating the formation of an industry joint oversight committee that operated college bowling using joint funding from ABC, WIBC and YABA. Thus, during the 1995-96 season, the Intercollegiate Bowling Program was formed. Seeking to align bowling with other college sports and NCAA regulations, The committee expanded to include representatives from organizations such as the National Junior College Athletic Association and Association of College Unions International.
During the 1997-98 season, the Intercollegiate Bowling Program adopted a new look and name -College Bowling USA- to highlight college bowlers as an influential and growing group that serve as an indispensable part of a bowler's progression from youth to adult ranks. ABC and WIBC enacted legislation to administer College Bowling USA and its championship tournaments, effective by the 1998-99 season, providing an "official" home for college bowling and a true industry commitment with the advent of a new Director of Collegiate Bowling position and an ABC/WIBC-appointed Collegiate Committee to assist in program development.
By the 2003-04 school year, the NCAA approved women's bowling as an NCAA championship sport, as the number of women's collegiate programs exceeded the required 40 for championship sport status. The first NCAA Women's Bowling National Collegiate Championship was held April 8-10, 2004 at Emerald Bowl in Houston with the University of Nebraska taking home the inaugural title.
With the formation of the United States Bowling Congress on Jan. 1, 2005, College Bowling USA became the USBC Collegiate program.
USBC Collegiate maintains the eligibility and integrity of intercollegiate bowling while providing certification and regulation of varsity bowling at the collegiate level. USBC Collegiate also provides assistance and leadership in implementing bowling programs, securing the opportunity for student-athletes to compete in the sport and achieve athletic and academic excellence.
National College Athletic Association (NCAA)
As the number of women's collegiate programs exceeded the required 40 for National College Athletic Association (NCAA) championship sport status, the NCAA officially recognized women's bowling as a championship sport in the 2003-04 season. The NCAA originally granted women's bowling "emerging sport" status on Sept. 1, 1994 to help institutions provide greater opportunities for female student-athletes in athletics and to comply with Title IX guidelines and requirements for revenue distribution, minimum financial aid awards, minimum sports-sponsorship and player distribution numbers.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was the first to secure NCAA sanctioning for women's bowling by adopting the sport prior to the 1996-97 school year. The MEAC includes such schools as Coppin State, Howard, North Carolina A & T and Maryland Eastern Shore. Former University of Nebraska standout Jennifer Daugherty became the first woman to receive a full-ride athletic scholarship when the Cornhuskers added women's bowling to their athletic program prior to the 1997-98 school year.
The first NCAA Women's Bowling Championship was held April 8-10, 2004 at Emerald Bowl in Houston. The University of Nebraska won the first two national championships.
USBC Collegiate remains dedicated to assisting the NCAA and their member institutions in implementing varsity bowling opportunities. This process includes continuing the education of university administrators, athletics personnel, prospective student-athletes and the general public of the benefits to having a varsity bowling program on their campus.
Click here to visit the NCAA website.
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
NAIA member institutions primarily fit the profile of smaller, private schools with smaller athletics programs. Since 1937, the NAIA has administered programs and championships in proper balance with the overall educational experience, placing academic achievement above athletic excellence. The organization also places importance on providing equal opportunities for all student-athletes.
The NAIA gave bowling "emerging sport" status for the 2010-11 academic year. While the NAIA rewarded national titles while being considered an "emerging sport," bowling was not officially recognized as a championship sport until the 2019-20 academic year. The first scheduled NAIA Bowling Championships originally scheduled for March of 2020, had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following season saw the first NAIA Bowling Championships that were held March 25-27, 2021 at Five Star lanes in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The Indiana Tech women and the St. Francis (IL) men were crowned as the first NAIA National Champions.
Click here to visit the NAIA website.
National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
The National Junior College Athletic Association is the governing body of intercollegiate athletics for two-year colleges. Men's and women's bowling programs within the NJCAA member schools have been functioning since the 1970s. This level of competition is exclusive to two-year junior and community colleges, with logical progression for many of these athletes to four-year institutions.
The NJCAA hosts its own separate national championships each year. Most, if not all, NJCAA guidelines are conducive to current USBC Collegiate guidelines. However, there may be various NCAA eligibility issues, which need to be addressed for female student-athletes looking to transfer at some time from a two-year program to a four-year institution.
Click here to visit the NJCAA website.