Pickleball is sweeping across college campuses as an exciting and accessible alternative to traditional NCAA sports like basketball, football, and tennis. With its lower risk of injury, ease of learning, and affordability, pickleball is capturing the attention of students and administrators alike. As the movement to establish NCAA pickleball gains momentum, it’s crucial to understand the benefits and challenges of this fast-growing sport, as well as the collaborative efforts required to make it a mainstay in the collegiate athletic landscape.
Understanding the NCAA
Founded in 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has come a long way since its inception. Initially focused on improving safety standards in college football, the NCAA now oversees various intercollegiate sports. As a nonprofit organization, it ensures student-athletes maintain academic focus and safeguards them from exploitation. The NCAA generates significant revenue through television contracts, ticket sales, and endorsements, which it redistributes as scholarships and financial support for member colleges and athletes.
Is Pickleball a College Sport Today?
Currently, NCAA pickleball doesn’t exist, as there are no official collegiate tournaments or games. However, the sport is gaining traction across college campuses and throughout the country. Many students have fond memories of playing pickleball with family, while others discover it in college, intrigued by its unique name. College campuses often host pickleball clubs where students can enjoy friendly competition.
The first intercollegiate pickleball tournament took place in 2017, and since then, it has expanded on a small scale. Five U.S. schools with official USA Pickleball clubs include:
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri
- North Carolina State University in Raleigh
- ERAU in Daytona Beach, Florida
- Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado
Other schools participate in national tournaments, potentially paving the way for future NCAA pickleball recognition. See the full list at the end of the article and let us know if any programs we have missed!
Innovations in college pickleball clubs include playing games to 15 points instead of 11, simplified skill rating systems, cumulative team scoring, and matches consisting of the best of five games.
Why College Students Love Playing Pickleball
Playing pickleball offers numerous benefits for college students, whether they join a club or play casually.
Pickleball helps students combat the “freshman 15” phenomenon, keeping them active and reducing the risk of weight-related health issues.
Pickleball encourages students to make friends, socialize, and bond over a shared interest, offering a healthy alternative to partying and potentially harmful activities.
By learning to play pickleball, students can find a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose within their campus community.
Pickleball serves as an enjoyable break from academic stress, helping students relax, focus, and increase productivity. Engaging in physical activity also reduces cortisol levels and stimulates endorphin production, promoting calm and relaxation.
The Potential Benefits of NCAA Pickleball
If pickleball becomes an NCAA-recognized college sport, students could enjoy additional advantages:
NCAA support could lead to scholarships for talented pickleball players and the potential for endorsement deals following recent rule changes.
While pickleball is not yet an NCAA-recognized college sport, it continues to gain popularity on campuses nationwide. This engaging, social activity offers numerous benefits for college students and could one day become an official collegiate sport with added advantages for its players.
For colleges and universities, embracing pickleball could lead to several benefits, such as increased admissions, higher revenue, affordability, and stronger alumni support. However, there are also challenges to overcome, such as the limited pool of young players and resources. By working together, students, faculty, alumni, and the community can help promote pickleball on college campuses and make NCAA pickleball a reality.
Why Pickleball Is a Safer Option for College Athletes
While sports like basketball and football can cause severe injuries like Achilles tears, ACL tears, and concussions, pickleball is a lower-impact sport that’s easier on the joints. With simple rules and quick learning, pickleball offers students who have had to give up their primary sport due to injury another chance at an athletic scholarship and higher education, as long as they have recovered enough to attempt a new sport.
Benefits of NCAA Pickleball for College Administrators
Colleges and universities that offer pickleball programs could attract more students, increase admission numbers, and earn revenue from hosting competitions and selling merchandise. Pickleball is also more affordable than other college sports, with inexpensive equipment and the possibility of repurposing existing tennis courts.
Challenges and Solutions for Establishing NCAA Pickleball
The main obstacles to officially recognizing pickleball as an NCAA sport include the limited number of young players and resources for coaching and facilities. To increase the pool of players, schools can introduce pickleball in elementary, middle, and high schools, making it an accessible sport for all students. Schools with existing tennis or badminton programs can also leverage their resources to create a pickleball program.
Promoting Pickleball on College Campuses
To help establish NCAA pickleball, college faculty, alumni, and current students can work together in various ways:
- Alumni can organize events to teach students how to play pickleball, make donations for pickleball programs, or offer scholarships for talented students.
- Faculty and administrators can gauge student interest in pickleball, host events like tournaments, advise pickleball clubs, and apply for grants to finance new programs.
- Current and prospective students can express their interest in playing pickleball during the admissions process, start pickleball clubs, and participate in community projects to teach pickleball to younger students.
- Local businesses and corporations can offer discounts to students interested in playing pickleball or sponsor competitions between students, faculty, alumni, and their employees.
With its popularity and growth, NCAA pickleball could become a reality in the near future. If you’re interested in playing pickleball in college, start preparing by finding the right pickleball equipment and learning tips and strategies for the sport.
Arizona State University
Baptist Bible College
Cal State Northridge
Case Western Reserve
College of Charleston
George Mason University
George Washington University
Georgia Tech University
Grand Valley State
Jacksonville State University
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Michigan State University
North Carolina State
Ohio State University
Penn State University
Robert Morris University
Saint Louis University
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville
Southern Utah University
United States Air Force Academy
University of Alabama-Birmingham
University of Arizona
University of Iowa
University of Kentucky
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of Nebraska
University of Oregon
University of Minnesota
University of North Carolina
University of Tennessee
University of Texas- San Antonia
University of Virginia
University of Wisconsin
Weber State University
Western Michigan University