The Utah Utes officially introduced men’s lacrosse on Friday in front of reporters, along with a group of players, coaches, and parents, in what was a historic moment for the university as well as for the sport of lacrosse. You can watch the entire press conference below or by clicking this link if you’re viewing this on Apple News:
It’s been a big year for the sport in the Beehive State, as the UHSAA, Utah’s high school athletics organization, sanctioned the sport this season. It appears that the sport has started to become very popular in the state.
Athletic Director Chris Hill said lacrosse will add to the school’s academics and will engage with the community. He met with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who sees men’s lacrosse as something the conference can make money out of with the possibility of more expansion.
Utah has some building to do, as they will start with eight out of the maximum 12.6 scholarships, and they can allow student athletes to sign National Letters of Intent in the fall. But as we saw with fellow Power Five and former MCLA school Michigan, there’s a long road ahead for the Utes. Brian Holman, who will stay as the head coach once the Utes wrap up their tenure in the MCLA, said that there’s a ton of potential for the program to succeed, and he’s got the entire West coast to work with.
One writer that’s followed the developments of Utah’s move to Division I has been Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune. Goon is the beat reporter for UU athletics and wrote about today’s announcement and a profile of the program back in late-April. I asked him about today’s announcement and future implications at the school, the state of Utah, and for the Pac-12.
1. When it was first rumored and denied by the university 11 months ago, was there any doubt that lacrosse at Utah would be in the near future?
Yes, there was plenty of doubt. There wasn't much internal traction within the university at the time. Lacrosse had money, a great coaching staff and improving players, but it was before the university had done any of its own homework on adding it as a varsity sport. The ball actually got rolling in January, when a committee was appointed to evaluate lacrosse and what it would bring to the university. Over the course of the last few months, the university has seen the opportunity to be a pioneer in Western lacrosse, as well as raise its academic profile and potentially even drum up crowds for games. While Utah lacrosse certainly had high ambitions 11 months ago, so much has changed in the eyes of the university, and that's why lacrosse has been added.
2. Would lacrosse at Utah happen if the school didn’t have an experienced AD like Chris Hill, who’s been the AD for 30 years?
I think so. I think lacrosse did a lot of their own ground work. They put up the money to hire a D-I quality staff. They had an influx of talent to make the team better. They ran their own practices and checked their schoolwork like a D-I team. They sold tickets to games and rented out the soccer field. Lacrosse ran very much like a Division I program before Utah came close to adding it. A big reason they'll be playing in 2019 is because Utah saw the program had a lot of existing infrastructure they could capitalize on. After the research, Chris Hill and his staff understood it would just make sense.
3. Any idea on if Hill would like to complement men’s lacrosse with women’s lacrosse, which is also a club sport, in the near future?
I don't know, and I think it will take a lot. What makes men's lacrosse so specifically valuable to the university at this juncture is 1) a $15.6 million endowment which will help pay for 75-80 percent of the annual budget and 2) the opportunity to be first in the Pac-12. In women's lacrosse, Utah would have neither of those advantages (five Pac-12 teams play women's lacrosse). It will take a lot of money and a environment where Utah sees a road to success on the field to bring women's lacrosse to the D-I level.
4. With Hill saying there’s a few Pac-12 programs “on the edge” of adding lacrosse and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott pushing for it, how long do you see other schools in the West, whether in the Pac-12 or even schools in the state like BYU or Utah State, add men’s lacrosse?
I don't know what the timeline is for other schools, although I think Utah believes it could help push the advent of more Western lacrosse programs. What people don't understand is that each individual sport is so unique for each individual school. They see sports such as men's soccer or men's track (Utah doesn't have a men's track team) as "more deserving," but that's not how college athletics works. So many schools are bound by both their budgets and Title IX. Utah was in a very unique situation to be able to handle both of those issues pretty painlessly. Other schools may struggle to either add to their departments or make sure they remain in Title IX compliance. I would guess that the best chance of adding lacrosse would come in California schools, but that's simply a guess — nothing more.
(Regarding money, Jac Coyne expressed his concerns that the huge endowment won’t start a big lacrosse expansion out West.)
5. Does success in women’s lacrosse make it more realistic for other Pac-12 schools to consider adding men’s lacrosse?
As reflected in my previous answer, it's such a case-by-case situation, it's hard to say for sure. I believe that each school looks at the opportunity for success in each specific sport when it considers adding. Just because a school can field a competitive softball team doesn't mean a baseball team will work there, for example. The same is true of men's and women's lacrosse, which are fundamentally different in important ways. I believe Utah added men's lacrosse because it specifically had a chance to be successful in men's lacrosse, not because other Pac-12 schools have fielded women's lacrosse teams.
6. With the Utah High School Activities Association recently sanctioning the sport and the news today, what does this say about lacrosse in the state? How fast is it growing compared to other spring sports that have been around like baseball/softball and soccer?
It's definitely a growing sport here, and many kids in more affluent and suburban parts of Utah play and are interested. I think having a DI program within the state will give kids an outlet and a goal when pursuing lacrosse. I don't have data on how big lacrosse is relative to baseball and soccer, but scholarship opportunities out West should help drive interest in the youth level of the sport.