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Email records show Florida State is interested in adding lacrosse

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We made a FOIA request and something could be happening down at Florida State.

Capitol One Orange Bowl - Florida State v Michigan Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In late May, the Florida State Seminoles club lacrosse team tweeted out something interesting: A screenshot image of a Warchant.com (the school’s Rivals affiliate) post where FSU President John Thrasher said some intriguing things about wanting to add lacrosse at Florida State.

Everything has been really good this year. And I’m hoping one day, another thing I’d like to do before we leave here, is perhaps look at getting another sport here at FSU. Perhaps lacrosse or something like that. Start with a women’s team to make sure we’re balanced (with Title IX) and making sure of that, always. But I think that’s a really unique sport -- and one that the kids are really buying into today. It’s a very popular sport, and I think it would help us attract a lot of kids from all over the country, particularly in the northeast.

Was this just banter from Thrasher to quell some lax-crazed alums, a trial balloon to gauge the public’s reaction, or was there something else happening at Florida State, a concerted effort to add lacrosse?

We at College Crosse made a public records request to Florida State for any emails to or from either President Thrasher or FSU Athletic Director Stanley Wilcox that dealt with adding a men’s or women’s lacrosse program at the ACC school.

While we didn’t get everything we asked for, we certainly got a good look behind the curtain.

Remember the date of the Florida State club lacrosse tweet and post with Thrasher’s quote: May 27th. This date is important as it appears to be roughly two weeks after an interesting meeting in New York City.


The New York City Meeting

The first thing that stood out in the emails is that there seems to be a legitimate grassroots push to get lacrosse at Florida State, with more of a push towards a women’s program first. Florida has a fast growing talent pool with only three options for women’s lacrosse and one for men’s. The University of Florida and Stetson University offer women’s lacrosse, while Jacksonville University offers both men’s lacrosse & women’s lacrosse. Florida State could likely build a successful men’s or women’s program in a relatively short period of time given its name and the fact that the school plays in the ACC.

This reality is not lost on Florida State officials and deep-pocketed FSU alums. In the below email we received in our request, it revealed that President Thrasher and Florida State’s Vice President for University Advancement Tom Jennings met with an alum in New York City back in mid-May to discuss the alum’s interest in the university adding lacrosse. Jennings emailed Florida State AD Stan Wilcox on May 17 to forward a May 16 message that the alum in NYC sent after his lunch with Jennings and Thrasher. The email included an attachment the alum created to support his push (the attachment was not given to us in our records request and the names of all the alums were previously redacted by Florida’s General Counsel’s office to protect donor information pursuant to Florida Statutes).

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the email below to find the initial email from the NYC alum after his lunch with Jennings and President Thrasher.

It appears the NYC lunch was on May 9, as the alum states in his Wednesday May 16, 2018 email “...after our lunch last Wednesday.” Moreover, President Thrasher was in NYC around this time, as he was the featured guest at a Celebration of Florida State alumni event at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City on May 11th.

Upon receiving the email from Jennings, Wilcox then emailed Florida State Senior Associate Athletics Director Vanessa Fuchs on May 17 to discuss the message from Jennings and whether or not to introduce Jennings’ contact to at least two other alums also interested in adding lacrosse. Fuchs then responded to Wilcox on May 23 with a draft response to the NYC alums’ email and also provided the names of the two other alums also interested in bringing lacrosse at Florida State.

Wilcox responded to Jennings on May 17, when he said there was a similar request by another alum a few years back. But Wilcox was concerned that, much like the alum from a few years back, Jennings’ contact may have less interest in helping to add lacrosse at FSU if the school were to add a “women’s lacrosse program absent a men’s lacrosse program.”

In response, Jennings assured Wilcox that his contact was interested in both men’s and women’s lacrosse (the alum has a daughter who plays lacrosse). The alum was also well aware of the financial hurdles involved for Florida State to add either men’s or women’s lacrosse.

Wilcox emailed the unnamed alum from Jennings’ email on May 29 and told him the school was looking into adding a new women’s sport. Wilcox also mentioned that lacrosse was one of the leaders, but there was no firm date as of yet on when another sport would be added to the athletic department.

Ideally, we would like to “launch” a new sport sometime in the near future but we don’t have a definitive timeframe at this time. I apologize that I don’t have more specific answers but I hope this information is helpful to you.

While Wilcox went out of his way to be noncommittal, the alum seemed pretty happy with the response. He responded to Wilcox the next day to thank him for the message and to say that he looked forward to the day he could give money to both the football & lacrosse programs at FSU. That’s certainly music to any athletic director’s ears.


Men’s Soccer and Women’s Lacrosse

Also in late May, Fuchs forwarded Wilcox an email that he wrote back on February 23, 2015 in a response to another alum who was interested in Florida State adding men’s soccer. The position at the time was that the school was “tentatively discussing plans to add the sport of women’s lacrosse in the next 4-5 years” and that if the school wanted to add men’s soccer too, that it would need to add at least one additional women’s sport (not counting women’s soccer or women’s lacrosse) to be compliant with Title IX. Fuchs felt that the university could re-engineer the email to substitute men’s soccer with men’s lacrosse to use in their response to the alum that Jennings wrote about back on May 17 of this year.

From Wilcox’s 2015 email:

Based on our current sport offerings and participation rates, we are obligated to increase our female student-athlete participation rates to comply with Title IX. We are in the process of completing a 5-10 year master facilities plan which will include a proposed facility for the addition of a new women’s sport. At this time, we are tentatively discussing plans to add the sport of women’s lacrosse in the next 4-5 years (approximate start-up & year 1 cost: $6.35 million; approximate recurring annual cost: $1.5 million).

The addition of men’s soccer, based on the average squad size for this sport, would require our athletics department to add one to two additional women’s sports teams (even after adding women’s lacrosse) to offset the increase in male student-athlete participants.

The full email chain, which you can find directly below, contains some really interesting nuggets of information. The “5-10 year master facilities plan” and Florida State “tentatively” planning to add women’s lacrosse in 4-5 years really got our attention here.

The alum responded to Wilcox on February 24, 2015 that he was still interested in helping FSU get a men’s soccer program and was willing to work with other alums who could help shoulder the financial burden of adding multiple women’s teams at Florida State.


Thrasher’s Trial Balloon

Remember, the meeting with President Thrasher, Jennings, and the FSU alum in New York City occurred on May 9, 2018 and all these emails to or from AD Wilcox all occurred around mid to late May. Sometime shortly after his NYC meeting with Jennings and the alum, Thrasher made those comments about wanting to add another sport at Florida State, specifically lacrosse, which then made their way to the Warchant site on or around May 27.

At the time, Thrasher’s comments seemed to come out of nowhere. But with the context of these emails, Thrasher’s comments seem to be more a signal to his lacrosse-loving FSU alums to get ready, instead of some spontaneous or off-the-cuff comment about his love for the sport.

Thrasher’s comments seemed to get its desired effect, as Florida State’s Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Hirst emailed AD Wilcox on May 29, requesting that he respond to an alum’s email about Thrasher’s comments on wanting to add women’s lacrosse. Wilcox confirms he received the email and also states he is dealing with a similar email that was sent by an alum to Thrasher about his lacrosse comments. It is difficult to tell if the alum Wilcox mentions in his response to Hirst is the same alum from Jennings’ email or an entirely different alum. Regardless, interest in adding women’s lacrosse at Florida State seems to be building swiftly, and Thrasher’s comments are a sign that the school is serious about it.

On May 29, Fuchs emailed Wilcox a draft email crafted to respond to alums writing about Thrasher’s lacrosse comments. The language is evasive and reserved, but based on the emails, there does seem to be a push at FSU to add women’s lacrosse relatively soon. The email draft brings to mind Utah’s Athletics Department’s infamous initial denial that they had any plans to add men’s lacrosse back in 2016.


What Have We Learned

Based on the above emails, we can’t say definitively that Florida State is going to add either a men’s or women’s lacrosse program (or both) next month or in the immediate future.

However, we can say there’s certainly genuine interest from the school and the alumni community in getting Division I lacrosse at FSU relatively soon. Furthermore, it is reasonable to say that if FSU were to add a new women’s sport in the next 2-3 years, lacrosse would certainly be on the short-list of programs to consider.

Furthermore, based on the emails, there certainly seems to be things in the works behind the scenes, as it’s doubtful a university president of Thrasher’s stature would go so far out on a limb like he did back in May if there weren’t some significant groundwork already laid beforehand. Additionally, given Wilcox’s email from 2015, it’s reasonable to say that FSU has been toying with the idea of adding women’s lacrosse for several years now. Things may have changed since 2015, but given President Thrasher’s public comments and the obvious interest from some big alums, it seems that the school is still bullish on adding at least women’s lacrosse at Florida State in the near future. In light of these emails, we reached out to Director Wilcox on Friday July 6, 2018 for comment on whether or not Florida State still has tentative plans to add women’s lacrosse in 2019 or 2020. We have not received a response as of 6:00 PM Monday July 9, 2018, but we’ll update this post if/when we do.

Given how well this experiment went, we’ve decided to email similar lacrosse-related open records request to other major Division I schools that also do not have a varsity women’s or men’s lacrosse team. Below is a list of schools we have already emailed. If you think there is a school that we’ve missed (only public universities have to respond to open records requests), please let us know in the comments and we might add it to our list.

Additionally, if you have some inside information that you’d like to discreetly share with myself and my College Crosse associates, please feel free to email us at collegecrosse@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Which big school could add college lacrosse next?

University Athletic Director FOIA Official Records Request Sent Response
University Athletic Director FOIA Official Records Request Sent Response
Florida State Stan Wilcox Browning Brooks Yes Yes
Texas Chris Del Conte (M), Christine Plonsky (W) No name, address to Chief Financial Officer
Illinois Josh Whitman Thomas P. Hardy but email Assistant Rogina for Request
Washington Jennifer Cohen No name needed
Georgia Greg McGarity Bob Taylor
UConn David Benedict Paul McCarthy