The sport structure working group explored current and potential policies to protect broad-based varsity sport offerings and reimagine the NCAA sport structure through flexible sport management strategies. As part of the sport structure work, several subcommittees were formed to further explore remedies that would lead to greater sustainability and sport growth. Specifically, the group leaned on the expertise of the collegiate men’s volleyball sustainability committee, which included representation from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and the men’s gymnastics sustainability committee, which included representation from the College Gymnastics Association.

On a sport-by-sport basis, the groups dove into existing policies and membership requirements that both facilitated and hindered sport sustainability. The groups discussed the need for cross-divisional scheduling, flexible conference affiliation and flexible postseason management. A survey was conducted across 15 college-centric National Governing Body leaders to explore their appetite to further partner on sport management. Through their work, underlying themes surfaced as focus areas for recommendation building, including piloting a flexible membership category and deepening structural alignment.


An Olympic Sustainability Membership Category that includes regulatory flexibility for low-sponsored sports may ease scheduling burdens, strengthen regional partnerships and ultimately grow the sport. Further, this flexibility would allow for multidivisional membership and nimble conference affiliations. Piloting the effort would begin with one individual sport (men's gymnastics) and one team sport (men's volleyball); both communities aided in the recommendation development and are eager to engage. These sports were chosen due to their low sponsorship numbers and unique regional footprints.

The OSMC would be piloted to test sustainability and growth. Current membership challenges can fracture sport communities, alienating schools and threatening sport survival. In men’s gymnastics and men’s volleyball, the membership category could test the benefits of flexible scheduling, relaxed conference affiliation and a customized postseason structure.

Flexibility through the OSMC could ease scheduling efforts in men's volleyball by aligning schools into competition regions. The multidivisional status could attract new schools to sponsor the sport, strengthening regional growth in conferences like the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which just had six new HBCU schools add the sport. It would also aid programs in isolated areas, such as Hawaii. In men's gymnastics, flexibility through the OSMC could significantly contribute to sport stability and potential growth. In 2021, two Division III schools announced plans to add men’s gymnastics programs. Allowing current programs flexibility to maintain their operations will help the sport stay strong in this environment.


Formalized USOPC and NCAA alignment can be achieved by updating the existing USOPC/NCAA cooperation agreement to include terms to mechanize leadership-level connections, sport-level partnerships, communications collaboration and project-specific engagement. Through this expanded agreement, all USOPC Think Tank recommendations will have a formal mechanism to facilitate implementation.

  • Leadership alignment: Establish channels to connect Division I decision-makers and USOPC leadership, as collaboration is needed to advance sport sustainability efforts. Given the challenges facing the Division I landscape and the significant number of Team USA athletes developing at Division I schools, the USOPC Think Tank efforts have focused on Division I sustainability.
  • Sport-specific alignment: Establish pilot plans for select men’s and women’s sport partnerships to test liaison roles, communication efforts and sport-specific initiatives (playing rules, officiating, post-season, etc.) involving NCAA sport committees and the USOPC/NGBs.

The USOPC Think Tank believes cross-committee collaboration is needed to ensure Olympic and Paralympic issues have a broad and diverse vetting process.The sport structure group recognizes the current NCAA and USOPC structures are not built for formalized collaboration. The alignment recommendation seeks to mechanize avenues for both umbrella organizations to contribute staff, resources and infrastructure to support broad-based sport sustainability through leadership-level and sport-level alignment.

Formalized alignment could result in operational efficiencies, resource sharing and an elevated student-athlete experience through a smoother sport pathway. The USOPC and NCAA have already begun implementing the cooperation agreement, which included cross-promotion of college ties to Team USA at NCAA championships and the 2020 trials. This recommendation to align leadership levels and sport levels through an expanded cooperation agreement will help our shared stakeholders (schools and athletes) navigate and strengthen the Olympic and Paralympic sport ecosystems.

Additional Resources

  • In spring 2021, the USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank was asked to respond to the NCAA Division I Presidential Forum Sustainability Survey and Gender Equity & Championships Review Survey. The formal response by the USOPC Think Tank is available online. View the USOPC sustainability survey and USOPC gender equity review responses: PDF | Google Docs.
  • The Olympic Sustainability Membership Category may include regulatory flexibility (multidivisional membership, nimble conference affiliation, etc.) for low-sponsored sports. View OSMC overview: PDF | Google Docs. A gymnastics pilot, centered around USOPC/NGB and NCAA sport committee collaboration in fall 2021, would allow for continued collaboration in the areas of men’s format adjustments, shared men’s and women’s championship event site exploration, and strategic sustainability efforts. View OSMC pilot overview: PDF | Google Docs.
  • National Governing Body leaders have conveyed an appetite to partner in the space of sport management. In addition to championships collaboration, NGB leaders are unanimously willing to collaborate with the NCAA and collegiate leaders in the areas of sport rules (e.g. liaising with sport-specific rules committee and coaches associations, officiating support, rules alignment) and sport governance (e.g. formal ties to college leaders/administration/coaches, pipeline strategies, collegiate programming, formal NGB collegiate advisory groups). View the NGB survey results: PDF | Google Docs.


Rich Bender USA Wrestling headshot

Rich Bender
USA Wrestling
Executive Director and USOPC Board Member

Jenn Fraser NCAA headshot

Jennifer Fraser
Director of Division I Governanrce

Robin Harris Ivy League headshot

Robyn Harris
Ivy League
Executive Director

Martin Jarmond headshot

Martin Jarmond
University of California, Los Angeles
Director of Athletics

Joe Karlgaard Rice University headshot

Joe Karlgaard
Rice University
Director of Athletics, Recreation & Lifetime Fitness

Adam Krikorian USA Water Polo

Adam Krikorian
USA Water Polo
Women's Senior National Team Head Coach

Gene Smith Ohio State headshot

Gene Smith
The Ohio State University
Senior Vice President and Athletic Director

Kendall Spencer former University of New Mexico student-athlete headshot

Kendall Spencer
University of New Mexico
National Team Athlete (Track and Field)

Kyle Snyder, Olympic gold medalist, Ohio State

Kyle Snyder
The Ohio State University
Olympian (Wrestling)

Stephanie Wheeler headshot

Stephanie Wheeler
University of Illinois
Women's Wheelchair Basketball Coach and Paralympian (Wheelchair Basketball)