The Intercollegiate Rowing Association runs the IRA National Championship Regatta, which is considered to be the United States collegiate national championship of rowing. Since 1895, it has been held in numerous locations, such as the Cooper River in Pennsauken, New Jersey. This regatta includes both men's and women's (lightweight) events for sweep boats of all sizes. Today, Columbia, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Navy, and Syracuse are members of the association. Each year these five schools choose whom to invite to the regatta and are responsible for its organization along with the ECAC. The IRA is the oldest college rowing championship in the United States. The IRA governs intercollegiate rowing between varsity/club rowing programs across the United States. It is the direct successor to the Rowing Association of American Colleges, the first collegiate athletic organization in the United States, which operated from 1870-1894.
The format through 1967 with the exception of 1964 was to line all the entries in the race onto stake-boats and fire a shotgun for the start. In the last race of this format in 1967 on Onondaga Lake, in Syracuse, New York, 16 varsity crews waited for the gun to begin their three-mile race -- winner take all.
Since the 1920s, when the West Coast crews -- notably California and Washington -- began to attend and regularly win, most crews considered the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's championship (known as the IRA) to be a de facto national championship. Two important crews, Harvard and Yale, however, did not participate in the heavyweight divisions of the event. (After losing to Cornell in 1897, Harvard and Yale chose to avoid the IRA, so as not to diminish the Harvard-Yale Regatta. It soon became part of each school's tradition not to go). And beginning in 1973, Washington decided to skip the IRA because of change in schedule conflicted with its finals. Washington, however, returned to the regatta in 1995. In 2003, after an absence of over one hundred years, Harvard and Yale decided to participate. The Harvard Freshman eight competed at the 1970 IRA Regatta, finishing seventh in the Freshman event.