Sources: Utes to vote on adding lacrosse as athletic department's 8th men's sport

Sources: Utes to vote on adding lacrosse as athletic department's 8th men's sport

(Utah Lacrosse)


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SALT LAKE CITY — NCAA Division I lacrosse is en route to the Beehive State.

Outgoing University of Utah president David Pershing will recommend the addition of a men's lacrosse team to the school's athletic department during a conference call with the board of trustees Friday morning, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation and public documents obtained by KSL.com on Thursday.

The sources spoke with KSL Sports on the condition of anonymity because they are not at liberty to discuss the proceedings of the university’s internal affairs. The university will hold a news conference about men's lacrosse at 10 a.m. MT Friday morning.

The Utes, who have not amended their men’s athletic department since eliminating track and field in 2005, will become the first school in the state to sponsor an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse team. The plan would be to join the Utah athletic department in July 2018, with play beginning in the NCAA in spring 2019, according to one source.

The university declined to comment on the proceedings, but sources indicated an official announcement could come as early as Friday afternoon.

"We have nothing to report or discuss at this time," Utah senior associate athletic director Liz Abel told KSL Sports via email.

Westminster fields a lacrosse team in NCAA Division II, while club programs at BYU, Utah State, Utah Valley and Weber State have recently competed in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association.

Utah’s move to a fully-funded men’s lacrosse program comes just weeks after the Utah High School Activities Association announced it would begin sanctioning boys and girls lacrosse in 2019-20, becoming the 11th sanctioned sport in Utah and the first since girls golf in 2008.

A potential landing spot for Utah has yet to be determined. As the western-most Division I program in the nation, and only the third in the Mountain time zone, Utah faces some inherent challenges in the form of scheduling. No conference currently exists for the western United States; Denver currently belongs to the Big East and Air Force to the Southern Conference (each is a possible landing spot for the Utes, though other mid-major options exist).

Utah attackman Josh Stout drives to goal. (Photo: Betsey Bowen, Utah Lacrosse)
Utah attackman Josh Stout drives to goal. (Photo: Betsey Bowen, Utah Lacrosse)

The Utes could also tap into connections from current coach Brian Holman, whose background in the Atlantic Coast Conference gives them a chance to join an elite league on the verge of losing its automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Utes currently compete in the MCLA’s Division I, where they made the national tournament for the first time since 2005 in the first season under Holman. They finished the season ranked No. 10 in the top club lacrosse division in the United States and will play one final year in the nation’s top collegiate club division in 2018.

With Holman’s hiring, Utah signaled a willingness to invest in a lacrosse coach with national credentials and a lifetime in one of the fastest growing sports in America.

The Maryland native was a goalkeeper at Johns Hopkins, where he was a three-time All-American and helped the Blue Jays to the 1980 national championship. He went on to a career coaching prep and club lacrosse in the Baltimore area and served as an assistant coach at North Carolina for seven years, including the 2013 ACC title and 2016 national championship.

Utah could also play as an independent, but fewer teams are venturing down that path since Johns Hopkins joined the Big Ten as an affiliate member in 2016.

It’s also possible that the Pac 12 could add lacrosse as another sport, but doing so by the 2017-18 season is unlikely. Besides Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State all field programs at the MCLA level — but adding a men’s lacrosse program at each school is complicated by several NCAA policies and Title IX legislation.

Holman declined to comment on the Utes’ impending move to Division I. But when he first arrived on the Wasatch Front, he openly campaigned for his new school to become the first Division I men’s lacrosse program west of the Rocky Mountains.

“I earnestly would not have ventured out here and moved my family after eight years as an assistant coach at North Carolina … if I didn’t think we would be capable of being able to take Utah to a Division I level,” Holman told KSL Sports after his hire. “My meetings with several people have shown me that we are capable of doing this.

“You look at ACC schools and Big Ten schools, and Utah offers everything,” he added. “The place is gorgeous, the school is great, the facilities are awesome. From a recruiting perspective, it’s going to be unbelievable. There is a lot of enticement to come out here.”

His players are equally excited about the opportunity to play in the NCAA, which includes benefits such as scholarships from the university.

“We work as hard as any NCAA team would,” freshman Josh Stout told KSL Sports during the season. “We come in and practice hard, but we also love each other.

“We are a team, through and through. That’s the difference this year than other years. We’re together, and that’s been the difference.”

The university has sponsored seven men’s sports (as well as 11 women's sports) since the fall of 2005, when the athletic director Chris Hill announced the school’s decision to eliminate men’s track and field. The university also added a varsity esports program this year with April's announcement, but lacrosse is the first traditional men's sport added to the athletic department since joining the Pac 12.

But overall, the Utes have operated at a men’s sport deficit for Title IX purposes, with football, basketball, baseball, golf, skiing, swimming and diving, and tennis balancing the women’s sports of basketball, cross-country, gymnastics, skiing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball.

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