BOULDER – For the first time in 16 years, the University of Colorado is adding a new sport – and from all indications, the fit will be as natural for Boulder as the Flatirons.
Women’s lacrosse is joining CU’s athletic lineup, with competition scheduled to begin in the spring of 2014. The addition of women’s lacrosse will push CU’s number of sports to 17, a figure that includes women’s competition in basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf, skiing, cross country and track and field.
Before briefing the school’s Board of Regents on Wednesday night, Athletic Director Mike Bohn said the presence of a “strong (lacrosse) club team on campus reflects a strong interest from students, but more importantly it’s the fastest growing sport within the state of Colorado amongst girls.”
Bohn added, “We recognize the importance of bolstering our participation numbers and meeting our Title IX obligations.”
For budgetary reasons, CU cut seven sports in 1980 and another (men’s tennis) in 2005. However, three women’s sports were added – volleyball (1986), golf (1994), and soccer (1996).
Why add women’s lacrosse and not another sport? Bohn and Associate Athletic Director Julie Manning said six or seven other sports were scrutinized before the department settled on lacrosse.
“We factored in the weather and the fact that it’s a spring sport and the existing facilities and infrastructure that exist within our program,” Bohn said. “All of that provides an appropriate fit for us to take advantage of the growth in the state and the popularity of the sport.”
And there’s no doubting that lacrosse’s popularity is on the rise at the NCAA level and higher. According to a US Lacrosse Participation Survey in 2010, men’s and women’s lacrosse were the fastest growing sports at the NCAA level over the past five years. In 2010, a total of 32,431 players competed on club and varsity teams, up 2.6 percent from 2009. The number of men’s programs had increased 22.4 percent during that span, with the number of women’s programs rising 30.3 percent.
Also, lacrosse at the professional level in Denver – the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse (outdoor) and the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League (indoor) – has surged beyond being merely well-received. Inside Lacrosse magazine named Denver the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse city in 2009, and attendance figures justify it.
The Outlaws averaged 12,331 in 2011 – their sixth consecutive season of leading the MLL in attendance – while the Mammoth’s 15,037 average last season was second only to Buffalo (16,605) in the NLL.
At the club level in Colorado, no one has monitored the sport’s burgeoning popularity like Sam Bartron, who eight years ago founded Team 180 Sports and now is considered the in-state matriarch of women’s lacrosse.
During last November’s early signing period, 19 senior members of Bartron’s Team 180 accepted college scholarships. The breakdown: 15 are headed to NCAA Division I schools, one to Division II, three to Division III.
Of those 19 players, Bartron said only one was staying in-state (Regis), and Bartron wondered aloud what the presence of another Division I women’s program (CU joins the University of Denver) would do toward keeping homegrown talent at home.
“If (CU) had a program up and running, many of those girls would have considered it,” Bartron said. “The growth of the sport has been so fast in Colorado, it’s just unbelievable how quickly it’s happened. In just 10 years, it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s completely blossomed.’
“Hands down, this is one of the more exciting things that’s happened around here; it’s the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time. But the biggest piece of the news is the opportunity now for girls to play locally. This state produces a lot of top athletes; that’s good news for CU.”
And it should be for DU, she noted: “Competition breeds excellence. Having another Division I program ups the ante for everybody. It will be interesting to follow.”
Also, as pointed out by Danielle Bernstein – Inside Lacrosse’s Online Editor and a CU club lacrosse player and 2008 journalism graduate – the addition of another Division I lacrosse team in Colorado should benefit scheduling for both schools.
Wrote Bernstein: “Having two teams in the state gives teams traveling to Colorado more bang for their buck with the ability to get two games in over a couple of days versus making the trip and just getting a game against DU in.”
And like Bartron, Bernstein believes CU’s lacrosse staff will be able to take long satisfying looks in-state when the time arrives to begin recruiting. She believes the return looks from top Colorado prospects will be reciprocal.
“. . . a team at CU gives these (Colorado) players a place they can potentially continue their careers without having to look to the coasts in order to achieve their goals,” Bernstein wrote. “Should CU be able to capitalize on a strong talent pool within the state, while also pulling some players from more traditional hotbeds — which I would think is extremely feasible, have you seen the campus?! — they'll be able to put together a competitive program from the beginning.”
The 15 members of Team 180’s Class of 2012 headed for Division I programs are bound for schools also boasting prestigious academics – Stanford, Duke, Princeton, to name three. Bartron is certain CU can offer competition on that front, too.
“What I’m seeing with lot of these athletes is that they’re headed to what you would call pretty good academic schools,” she said. “I think you could honestly say that Duke, Stanford and Princeton are on the high end academically . . . I think CU would be just as good a fit for them.”
A nationwide search for a coach will be conducted, said Bohn, adding CU already has had “significant interest from coaches across the country, which is certainly encouraging.”
Also, with a sport being added, there will be a trickledown effect in several areas of the CU athletic department. “We’re obviously evaluating the ability to enhance our strength and conditioning staff, our sports medicine staff, our sports information staff to accommodate this sport,” Bohn said. “(Lacrosse) will be a wonderful addition because many of those areas are stressed to the point where having additional help will be very beneficial.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for the university and for the lacrosse community to be able to work with us and be able to build something very special in the spring time that we’re very, very excited about.”
TWELVE QUESTIONS/ANSWERS ABOUT CU LACROSSE
Q: When will competition begin?
A: Spring, 2014.
Q: Where will competition be held?
A: On campus, possibly at Kittredge Field, but the site is to be determined. Folsom Field’s current dimensions for football do not meet lacrosse specifications.
Q: Where will the lacrosse facilities, specifically locker rooms, be located?
A: Initially, the team is scheduled to use locker rooms/facilities at the Coors Events Center.
Q: How many scholarships are slotted for lacrosse?
Q: How large a roster will the lacrosse team have?
A: Typically, the roster numbers 25-28.
Q: How many coaches comprise a lacrosse staff?
A: Usually, a head coach and two assistants.
Q: What other in-state schools compete in women’s lacrosse?
A: The University of Denver on the Division I level, Regis and the Air Force Academy in Division II.
Q: Does the Pac-12 Conference include women’s lacrosse?
A: Yes. But only four schools – Stanford, California, Oregon and Southern California – have programs in place. USC announced in 2010 it would start a women’s program and begin competition in 2012-13.
Q: Does the Pac-12 crown a lacrosse champion?
A: No. The three Pac-12 schools that have women’s programs up and running for this spring compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with five other schools – DU, the University of California-Davis, Saint Mary’s, San Diego State and Fresno State. NCAA rules stipulate that a conference must have six participating teams to have an automatic tournament qualifier.
Q: How big is women’s lacrosse in Colorado?
A: Very – and it’s growing. CU Athletic Director Mike Bohn cites that trend, as well as the interest generated by organizations such as Team 180 Sports, the state’s premier club program, as making CU’s move toward lacrosse a natural. In last November’s early national signing period for the Class of 2012, 19 members of Team 180 accepted scholarship offers from schools that rank among the heavyweights of college lacrosse. When everything is in place, CU believes it can look in its backyard for many of its top prospects, competing only with DU in Division I for talent that wants to stay in-state.
Q: Is it common for Pac-12 schools to compete in different conferences in such instances?
A: Yes; there are many examples of this. The Pac-12 doesn’t sponsor an indoor track championships, and those with programs compete in the MPSF. The ski team competes in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA). So it is quite common.
Q: Will CU immediately compete on the Division I level?
A: Yes; the inaugural game is a little over two years away as the NCAA lacrosse season begins in mid-February and runs through mid-May, with teams allowed 17 days of competition; most schedule 15 or 16 regular season games plus one or two exhibitions.