Michigan officially adds men's and women's lacrosse as varsity sports
A week and a half after Dave Brandon became Michigan’s athletic director in 2010, he met with men’s lacrosse club coach John Paul.
Paul had presided over one of the elite club programs in the country with national championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010. But his goal had always been something more. His goal was to move Michigan lacrosse from club to Division I varsity status.
On Wednesday afternoon, as Paul stood in the back of the Junge Family Champions Center wearing a navy jacket and a navy blue knit tie, that thought officially became reality.
Michigan is adding men’s and women’s lacrosse over the next two seasons, Brandon announced at the press conference. The men’s team starts play next year and the women in 2012-13.
“We see this as a big deal,” Brandon said. “This is a big deal for our athletic department, our university and, we hope, for the sport of lacrosse.”
For the men’s game, it is a major deal. No major college athletic program -- those competing in the Football Bowl Subdivision -- had added men’s lacrosse since 1981, when Notre Dame started play.
Now, they’ll become almost instantaneous rivals. Michigan will play both Penn State and Notre Dame in its first year, sources told AnnArbor.com on Wednesday.
"When you have major universities that participate in Division I athletics at the level that FBS schools do, adding lacrosse (says) something about where the sport is and where the sport's going," Notre Dame men's lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan said.
The Michigan men’s team has applied for membership to the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which includes Final Four participant Denver, Loyola (Md.) and rival Ohio State.
The women’s team is intending to apply to join the American Lacrosse Conference, which has Penn State, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins, Florida and powerhouse Northwestern in the league, among others.
Brandon said both teams will be fully funded in three years and, when that is done, operational costs for both programs will cost “in excess of” $3 million. Before he made the announcement Wednesday, Brandon said he sent an email to 70 people thanking them for contributions.
“It is a significant investment for us,” Brandon said. “But one we feel very comfortable with, particularly with the donor support we have received and we think we will continue to receive based on the interest in the sport.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the willingness of folks to invest in the sport.”
Brandon is also starting to raise funds for a standalone lacrosse facility, which he said is at least three years from completion.
In the meantime, Michigan will move between venues. Brandon said the Al Glick Fieldhouse was not an option for indoor games, so any indoor games would likely be played in the Oosterbaan Fieldhouse.
Outdoor games could move from the outdoor turf fields adjacent to Schembechler Hall to Michigan’s soccer stadium to Michigan Stadium itself for certain games — including a potential game the day of the Michigan football team's spring game. That is a recruiting tool and draw used by other programs, including Ohio State and Syracuse.
“We’ll be creative, as we need to be, to accommodate these two sports,” Brandon said. “Ultimately, we want to get them in their own home.”
Brandon also didn’t rule out trying to use Michigan Stadium as a potential host for NCAA quarterfinals, which are sometimes at on-campus sites.
Brandon had no timelines for Michigan fielding a truly competitive team, although more than likely it will take at least the three seasons. The teams will need to start up and go through a full recruiting cycle. First, though, Brandon has to hire coaches.
While he wouldn’t confirm it publicly Wednesday, Brandon indicated Paul would likely run the men’s program. That isn’t surprising considering Paul spent 20 minutes after Brandon finished Wednesday discussing the program and its future.
“It’s a little surreal,” Paul said.
Brandon is, however, looking for a women’s lacrosse coach. Women’s club coach Jen Dunbar retired at the end of this season. Brandon told AnnArbor.com he is going to be looking for a women’s coach who can build a program, not just take one over.
There is precedent for this. Kellie Young left James Madison to create a program at Louisville and Amanda O’Leary left Yale to run a new Florida program.
“The only thing I’ll tell ya is we’re Michigan and we’re not going to add these sports and we’re not going to make the financial commitment and put the time and energy into these if we’re not prepared to compete for championships,” Brandon said. “We want to compete for championships at the conference level and we clearly want to put ourselves in position where we can go out and be competitive on the national level. We’re Michigan and that’s what we’re about.”
Michigan now has 29 varsity sports. These are the first sports added since men's soccer and women's water polo in 2000-01.