Gopher lacrosse could soon be a D-I sport


May 28, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; Loyola Greyhounds midfielder Davis Butts (7) scores a goal while being checked by Maryland Terrapins defense Brian Cooper (40) during the first half of the NCAA Division I Men

With the recent announcement by the Big Ten Conference that the sport of lacrosse will become an official sanctioned sport beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, local fans began asking if the University of Minnesota will add the growing sport to its available varsity roster.

Right now, Minnesota currently offers 25 varsity sports. Money is always going to be the deciding factor in any athletic department’s decision and with lacrosse looking like it would be a non-revenue sport in the immediate future, there may be some more pressing issues for athletic director Norwood Teague to focus on.

The conference announced that it would have six men’s and women’s teams represented in the initial launch of lacrosse in the Big Ten. They also announced that Johns Hopkins University will be admitted to compete in men’s lacrosse in the conference. The other conference schools that will be represented will be Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State as well as Maryland and Rutgers when they join next year. Northwestern will be represented in women’s lacrosse to fill the hole of Johns Hopkins on the men’s side only.

With six teams in each gender, the Big Ten can reward a conference championship within its rules.

Of those 25 sports offered by the Gophers, 13 are female and 12 are male. With Title IX rules always in place for equal distribution of athletics for both genders, the university has the opportunity to add just men’s lacrosse or both if they would like.

Its doubtful that Minnesota would add just one gender, but the university’s men’s lacrosse program is pretty good. A perennial top-two finisher in the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League, the club team at Minnesota would be ready to make the jump to NCAA Division-I status. Add in scholarships and financial backing from the university and the sport could take off rather quickly in Dinkytown.

Club lacrosse on the national level is pretty good and the area has had a lot of success on the men’s side with local talent. Four of the last five Division-II National Champions of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association are the Tommies of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs have also been a dominant force in the UMLL and constantly represent the state in the national Division-I tournament.

With boy’s and girl’s lacrosse sanctioned at the high school level by the Minnesota State High School League, more and more students are choosing lacrosse as a spring sport. The MSHSL state tournaments will take place this week and attendance is expected to be very strong and many schools have Division-I lacrosse recruits on their rosters.

As a spring sport in Minnesota, there are multiple other factors that lacrosse has to face. Weather is a big concern and facilities come into play as well. The college lacrosse season generally begins in mid-February and at that time there is generally inches of snow on the ground on campus.

The club teams take advantage of the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex as well as the Rec Sports Dome. When the weather is nice, TCF Bank Stadium is sometimes also available. With the Minnesota Vikings spending a couple years on campus in the next few seasons, TCF Bank Stadium will be available for lacrosse even in winter when the heating element is installed.

All of this is pointing to a possibility for lacrosse at the university to become an official sport. The timetable for this to happen is probably about five years away, but with possibility of new donors coming forward to support the addition of the sport, the university may just pull the trigger sooner.

It would be rather fitting that TCF Bank Stadium would be the new home for men’s and women’s lacrosse in the Big Ten and the NCAA for the Gophers. There is already the beautiful tribal plaza just outside the open-end of the stadium and to welcome the Native American sport to campus officially would have a perfect home.

Pretty soon we could be seeing just as many short-poles and long-poles hanging out of sports bags on campus as the hockey sticks that call home just across the street. Let’s make it happen. Not next week or next year, but by the time that basketball practice facility final opens.

You have to assume that the Big Ten Network will capitalize on the sport when it is launched. The Gophers should get in early on that gold mine.

Follow Gold and Gopher on Twitter | Follow Steve Pesek on Twitter