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Utah’s Board Of Trustees To Vote On Formation Of A Division I Men’s Lacrosse Program

It’s happening!!

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Remember last July when Lacrosse Twitter was all aflutter about rumors that the University of Utah might go Division I in men’s lacrosse? There were some detractors well-wishers who urged caution on the speculation, but there seemed to be a lot of smoke coming out of Utah, and while there might not have been enough for a fire last summer, someone was certainly cooking something in the kitchen.

Lax Sports Network helped to add legitimacy to the rumors speculation when they reported back on July 12, 2016, the Utah Utes were indeed going Division I in men’s lacrosse, and that they were aiming for 2019 or 2020 as their inaugural season. In a truly odd twist to the story, Utah Athletic’s Twitter account responded to LSN’s tweet to deny the report by saying there were no plans “to add lacrosse or any NCAA sport at this time.” A deft way of trying to clamp down on the rumors without having to backtrack from any comments at a later time.

Fast-forward over 11 months later to today, and suddenly everything went from last year’s speculation to this year’s reality possibility.

Via online documents from the University of Utah’s Board of Trustees agendas (first discovered by Matt DaSilva of US Lacrosse Magazine), the establishment of a Division I Men’s Lacrosse team will be decided Friday morning. The agenda item is listed below.

It should be noted that it’s the only thing that will be voted on during the very brief meeting and will be taking place on a conference call. It doesn’t say whether or not it’s a special session, but to the lacrosse world, it certainly is a special session.

As seen listed on the item, President David W. Pershing recommends the approval of the formation of men’s lacrosse at the Division I Varsity level.

The Board of Trustees just held a session Wednesday on campus, so it’s interesting to see how this meeting came up.

Inside Lacrosse also reported the team will play their first NCAA season in 2019 (along with St. Bonaventure) and current club head coach Brian Holman, formerly a volunteer assistant with the North Carolina Tar Heels, will continue to be their head coach.

Pending the vote, and let’s say Utah votes yes, they would be the westernmost team in the Division I landscape, out westernizing the Denver Pioneers and the Air Force Falcons. They’d also be the first Power Five school to add lacrosse since the Michigan Wolverines did back in 2012, and the first Pac-12 school to have men’s lacrosse. They would be the 11th Power Five institution that sponsors lacrosse.

The Pac-12 will debut in women’s lacrosse next year with Stanford, California, USC, Oregon, Colorado and first-year program Arizona State all being inaugural members. You’d think that with Utah’s probable addition of men’s Division I lacrosse, the Utes might influence other Pac-12 schools to adding it as well.

As noted by Kyle Goon in the Salt Lake Tribune, adding men’s lacrosse would not be in violation with Title IX.

Utah would remain Title IX compliant by adding the sport, which would mean adding 12.6 scholarships plus other costs to Utah's annual budget.

The Utes most recently added beach volleyball this past school year, but crossover with indoor volleyball meant that Utah did not have to offer any additional scholarships.

A question that will certainly pop up if Utah’s Board of Trustees goes through with the President’s recommendation will be conference affiliation. Not just for the Utes, but for schools like Air Force and Denver too, and maybe even Cleveland State. Here’s what the current college lacrosse landscape looks like:

This does not have St. Bonaventure on here, but we’ll ignore their role for now. Denver is in the Big East and Air Force is in the SoCon. Not very geographically friendly for those schools. Could Utah, Denver, and Air Force try to form a lacrosse conference and find three more teams to join them? It will be very tough to do.

The Big East currently has six teams, and if Denver leaves, they would lose their AQ. The SoCon has eight teams and they’re fine if Air Force departs. The Cleveland State Vikings might join them to make four, but then you would need two more teams. Plus, Denver probably doesn’t want to leave the Big East for now, and the Big East probably wants to keep their AQ. This will need a lot of time for a new lacrosse conference to form.

With a generous benefactor in Brazilian American airline entrepreneur and alum David Neeleman and a legit Division 1 staff supporting the program in current MLLers Marcus Holman, Will Manny, and Adam Ghitelman, we wouldn’t be surprised if Utah made a graceful jump into Division 1. Anyway, as always, we’ll keep our ears to the grindstone.