The World Changed, Why Won’t the NCAA?

Op EdMarch 9, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article presents editorial opinions expressed in response to questions arising from the NCAA deciding against the incorporation of consistent equal-distance racing in the 2023 NCAA Skiing Championship.

By: Grace Erholtz and Molly Peters

On May 18th, 2022, FIS’s Cross Country Committee (CCC) voted to implement an equal distance race schedule for men and women on the World Cup, the Junior and U23 World Championships, and Youth Olympic Games, beginning in the 2022/23 racing season (unfortunately not including the World Championship races, which had already been set with unequal distances before this decision by the FIS was made). Soon after FIS’ decision, US Ski and Snowboard decided to equalize all Supertour, Senior, and Junior races within the US, to align with the decision of the sport’s governing body. This change was brought on internationally by a push from the United States, spearheaded domestically by the Head Nordic Ski and Cross Country Running Coach at Saint Michael’s College, Molly Peters, along with the U.S. Coaches and her SkiEqual team. Peters and her team began an initiative and created a proposal for equal-distance ski racing at all levels back in May of 2021.

At the time of FasterSkier’s coverage of the decision on July 25th, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross-Country Sport Coordinator, Adam St. Pierre, commented that although the NCAA had yet to decide on race distances for the upcoming race season, he expected them to also fall in line with the decision. This observation aligned with what Peters’ was hearing from the NCAA Skiing Committee, made up of ski coaches and administrators from across all three ski conferences within NCAA Skiing, as a representative on the Committee commented in a June 24th email that “The EISA Equal Distance proposal was discussed, and the committee made a motion to adopt equal distance formats for the 2023 NCAA Skiing Championships.” Therefore, at this point during the summer, athletes and coaches among all three NCAA Ski conferences were preparing for a season of equally distanced races, albeit of unknown distances. Gone were the days of women racing shorter distances than men…or so we thought.

That idea of aligning with both FIS’ and US Ski and Snowboard’s standards and expectations for equal distance all came to a crashing halt however, when the NCAA Skiing Committee suddenly decided to reverse course during their October 26th meeting, where they set the race distances for 2023 racing season as unequal. In the October 26th memo they stated women and men would be racing an equal 20km Classic Mass Start race; however, the skate interval start race would be unequal. In the Committee’s own words as to why they felt the need to have the skate race distance be unequal: “the committee felt it would be inappropriate to shorten the men’s skate distance race to 5K from 10K and also inappropriate to increase the length of the women’s race from 5K to 10K.” What the Committee does not elaborate on however is why they feel it is so “inappropriate” for the men and women to be racing the same skate distances. What could possibly be so “inappropriate” about women and men racing the same distance? Is it really acceptable for the NCAA Skiing Committee to be using the word “inappropriate” to describe the idea of gender equality within our sport?

I have one question for the NCAA Skiing Committee regarding this matter, why the sudden change of heart? Why did the Committee, after being ready to implement equal distance races up until their October meeting, suddenly change their minds? Why did they go against their word, even after receiving word that male athletes could now receive FIS distance points for races 5km and longer? When in the October 26th memo, they use words like “inappropriate” in describing women and men racing the same distance, can we really be sure that they are striving towards the NCAA’s own goal of being “committed to providing a fair, inclusive and fulfilling environment for student-athletes and giving them a voice in the decision-making process?”

This hapless unequal distance proposal by the NCAA Skiing Committee was unfortunately adopted after this NCAA Competition Oversight Committee (COC) meeting in December of 2022, despite another petition from the SkiEqual team imploring the need for equal distance ski racing. This plea was signed by no less than 196 members of the skiing community, within the span of a few days, who support equal distance racing opportunities, including, but not limited to, US Cross Country Skiing Director Chris Grover, and US Cross Country Ski Team Head Coach Matt Whitcomb, US Ski team athletes Zak Keterson, Sydney Palmer-Leger, Novie McCabe, and Rosie Brennan, along with many NCAA Ski Head Coaches including Ethan Townsend of the Saint Lawrence College Saints (host school of the 2023 EISA Regional Races and 2023 NCAA Skiing Championships), Nathan Alsobrook of Bowdoin College, Cami Thompson-Graves of Dartmouth College, Tracey Cote from Colby College, and Chris City of Harvard University.

The NCAA Ski Committee made a claim to the COC that “most student-athletes wanted to keep separate distances this year.” We have asked athletes and coaches from both the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) and Central Collegiate Ski Association (CCSA), two of the three conferences within NCAA Skiing, and have found that neither their teams nor individual athletes were given any sort of survey concerning race distances by any organization affiliated with NCAA Skiing including the NCAA Skiing Committee and the NCAA Competition Oversight Committee.

The Ski Committee also made a claim to the COC  that the women moving up in distance to 10km, the men moving down to 5km, or both parties compromising to 7.5km would have an effect on athletes’ training and preparation for Championships in March from when the Committee made their decision in December. Even with the current unequal racing schedule, the women and men of NCAA Skiing race distances that range anywhere from a 1.5km sprint, to a 5km, 7.5km, 10km, 15km, and 20km race during their seasons. Additionally, with the amount of volume skiers already train per year (500-700 hours annually), there is no difference in an athlete’s training for a 5km per race weekend increase, a 5km per race weekend decrease, or a 2.5km per race weekend increase/decrease, as wrongly insinuated by the Committee. If anything, the NCAA Skiing Committee caused a greater disruption to the skiers’ training plans by switching the race distances on the athletes a mere three months before the season, compared to the six months that came with the FIS releasing their decision in July.

Additionally, the Ski Committee said to the COC it would be “too tight of a turnaround to ensure course certifications for those distances at all facilities throughout the membership, including regionals and championship facilities, without more research.” In regards to the question of homologation, of the 17 courses being used for the 2023 NCAA ski racing season, only three did not have a designated 7.5km homologated loop or a combination of a homologated 5km and 2.5km loop (of which could be combined or repeated to make 7.5km). Additionally, the site of the 2023 NCAA National Championships, Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid has a 7.5km homologated race course.

Lastly, the Committee claims that incrementally moving towards equal distance would be the “best first step” for adoption within NCAA Skiing; however, how long have women been told to wait their turn for equal rights? Every time women ask to be paid the same, to be given the same opportunities, to be treated the same as men, they are told to give it time, and that change happens slowly. What is the point of waiting? I ask, how much longer must we have to wait for those in charge to decide that they finally have “enough evidence,” “enough athlete input,” “enough data,” to set a completely equal racing schedule for the women and men competing in NCAA Skiing? I find the matter-of-fact words of US Ski Team athlete Julia Kern  in regards to FIS’s decision to immediately adopt an equal distance racing schedule best in asserting the need for immediate change: “If these decisions were tested first or implemented more slowly, it would take time and potentially not be adopted. Instead, the decision was made and carried out across the board in all World Cups for the coming season.”

As the Nordic Skiing community gathers and watches the races of the 2023 NCAA Nordic Skiing National Championships this week, I ask you to reflect on just how silly it is to have an unequal race at the Championship event of a National organization from the very same country that pushed to have equal distance racing at the international level. If the NCAA wants to be the Jock Semple to our Kathrine Switzer, then that is fine by me. We all know how well that turned out for both him, as well as the growth of women’s running. It’s 2023, women have waited long enough to finally be treated as equal in worth to their male peers. Setting a future equal-distance racing schedule is an easy first step that can be taken to right that wrong.



Please note:

The NCAA Skiing Committee had a pre-Championship issues meeting on March 6th, 2023, where they expressed that the expectation is that all distances will be equal for 2024. The Committee stated that same sentiment this past summer after the FIS equal distance decision as well, before they turned around and set an unequal schedule in November. The world changed, it’s time for the NCAA to. We need to hold them accountable to their words, and see equal distances at the NCAA’s in 2024. Vote YES for equality. #SkiEqual


Grace Erholtz and Molly Peters

Grace is from Baxter, MN, and is a senior at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT. She is studying History and Secondary Education, and is pursuing a professional endorsement in competitive sports coaching. Currently, she is serving as the SkiEqual team’s media intern, assisting Coach Molly Peters with all things equal distance. She is a member of the St. Mike’s Cross Country Running team, a Captain of the Nordic Skiing team, and is the Manager of the Softball team (because who needs free time anyways). When she isn’t in class or on the ski trails, you can find her reading a book or dismantling the patriarchy.

Molly is the Head Women and Men’s Nordic and Cross Country Coach at St. Michael’s College.  She has a son and daughter, and an awesome supportive husband.  There is nothing Molly wants more than to have her daughter and son go to college and have the opportunity to race equal distances! This opinion piece is part of a semester-long internship Grace has been doing with Coach Molly, which will hopefully ensure equal distance racing for future generations of NCAA skiers.


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