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Michigan adds men's and women's lacrosse to varsity lineup

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published May 25, 2011

Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon announced the addition of men's and women's lacrosse as the newest varsity sports at a press conference Wednesday.

The decision was highly anticipated long before Brandon took center stage at Junge Family Champions Center, and he called it "the worst-kept secret in America."

Both sports have already held club teams on campus in Ann Arbor, and InsideLacrosse.com reported in April that both would soon become varsity sports. Brandon made the decision official — men's lacrosse will be at the varsity level for their 2011-12 season, while women's lacrosse will follow suit in 2012-13.

"We see this as a big deal," Brandon said. "It's a big deal for the Athletic Department, our university, and I hope for the sport of lacrosse. We have not made a decision to add an additional sport in Michigan athletics for over a decade."

Brandon said the move to add two teams will cost the Athletic Department an estimated $3 million per year, in addition to building a facility to house the two programs, but considering that lacrosse is "the fastest-growing sport in America," Brandon believes the benefits far outweigh the cost.

"We define our position as relentlessly striving to make Michigan the leaders and best in every way, and one of the strategies we feel we need to follow in order to accomplish that goal is to grow in every way we can grow," Brandon said. "We want to grow revenues, we want to grow the number of student-athletes we serve ... and we want to grow our brand."

With the addition of men's lacrosse, Michigan is the first FBS school to add men’s lacrosse since Notre Dame did it in 1981. Brandon announced that the Wolverines have applied for entrance to the Eastern College Athletic Conference, where they would join Ohio State, Air Force, Loyola (Md.), Fairfield, Hobart, Bellarmine and Denver.

The men's team, led by Michigan club coach John Paul, saw their season end in the MCLA National Tournament semi-finals last week, when they dropped a 7-6 decision to Arizona State. The loss was the Wolverines' first since April 9, 2010 and ended their three-year reign as national champions.

Although no offer has been made to keep Paul on as the varsity squad's coach, Brandon smiled and said he had a "great candidate" in mind, but couldn't offer a contract until the sport was officially announced as varsity.

The women's lacrosse program will have a year before Division-I competition. Michigan will meanwhile search for a head coach to guide the jumpstart project. Brandon said the women's team has applied to become a part of the American Lacrosse Conference, a conference that boasts Florida, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State and Vanderbilt.

While no stand-alone facility has been built for the two programs, Brandon said plans for that are ongoing. Brandon left open the possibilities of playing games at the Schembechler Hall facilities, as well as the U-M Soccer Complex and even Michigan Stadium.

Brandon suggested that he would like to see lacrosse games coupled with the Michigan football team's Spring Game each year, much like Notre Dame and Ohio State do already.

"It's a great spectator sport," Brandon said. "It's fast — the crowds enjoy being there as part of the action — and there's a lot of scoring. It's also a great television sport, as evidenced by the fact that you see more and more of it being broadcast on sports channels because people enjoy watching it."