May 3, 2011

USC Considers Adding Men's Lacrosse

by Corey McLaughlin |

The University of Southern California currently competes in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) as a club entity, but the school is "exploring the opportunity" of going varsity in men's lacrosse following the same transition on the women's side.

Will NCAA Division I men's lacrosse stretch from coast to coast in the not too distant future? Perhaps.

The University of Southern California is considering adding a varsity men's lacrosse program, according to a USC athletic department official who spoke with, although no decision has been made nor has a timetable been established for making a decision.

"We're exploring the opportunity for men's lacrosse internally," said USC senior associate athletic director Mark Jackson, who oversaw the addition of the new USC women's varsity program announced in November.

"We recognize how fast the sport is growing, and the popularity from youth lacrosse all the way up," Jackson said. "It's something we're really cognizant of. We launched women's lacrosse, and hopefully men's lacrosse is somewhere in our future."

There are currently no Division I colleges or universities in the Pacific time zone of the United States with a varisty men's lacrosse team. Denver and Air Force, in Colorado, are the two westernmost schools with teams, and they compete in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) with Loyola (Md.), Fairfield, Ohio State, Bellarmine and Hobart.

USC currently fields a club team under the direction of the school's recreational sports office, and plays home games on the Los Angeles campus.

"It's in the exploratory stages, but we understand where the game stands out here and how fast it's growing," Jackson said of adding a varsity team. "We haven't put any kind of specific timeframe on it, but it's not to say we haven't talked about it, because we have. I know it's a sport that's important from our president [Max Nikias] on all the way down. We'll continue to talk about it for sure."

Club status was also the status quo on the women's side until last fall, when USC announced plans to add a varsity women's program that would begin play in the 2012-13 season as a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF). Jackson oversaw the creation of the women's program, and in November said, "We'd love to be a hub for women's lacrosse in the West."

He also said the women's program would attract athletes that fit the academic profile USC seeks, and that the school wanted to add a sport that had a "legitimate shot at competing for a national title."

Less than two months later, the Trojans made a big splash nationally and hired former Northwestern star and current Team USA attacker Lindsey Munday as head coach.
In the case of the women's program, USC will immediately compete with several West Coast schools. The team will be the eighth member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation joining Stanford, Oregon, Cal, UC Davis, Fresno State, Denver and St. Mary's (Calif.).

On the men's side, the closest Division I lacrosse opponent requires a 2-hour, 15-minute flight. USC would be the West Coast's single destination for Division I lacrosse, and potentially the school of choice for many top high school recruits. As of the fall 2010 semester, USC enrolled just over 17,000 undergraduate students and almost 20,000 postgraduate students.

"There are so many great lacrosse players in the western part of the country, and many East Coast kids would jump at the opportunity to play Division I lacrosse in California, at such a great place as USC," said Denver coach Bill Tierney, who left Princeton for Denver in the summer of 2009 in part to help grow the sport in the West.

"I am especially excited to hear of more teams in the West considering the addition of men's lacrosse at the Division I level," Tierney said in an email. "It would be with great foresight that they add the game, and it would be a quick transition to the higher levels of Division I for them, should they make this decision."

At the Division I level, college lacrosse is dominated by eastern teams. Of the nine major Division I men's lacrosse conferences, seven in their titles have a geographic affiliation with the East (Atlantic Coast Conference, America East, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association, Metro Atlantic, Northeast). The others are the Ivy and Patriot Leagues, both with Northeast bases.

"There's a lot to consider," Jackson said about the men's program when asked about specifics like scheduling. "We haven't even gotten that far, but you watch what happened with Michigan and you always hear rumblings at Texas, and the Arizonas and what not ... We'll see."

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