It’s not every day that a school up and decides to add a brand new sport but, well, here we are.
Pitt athletics director Heather Lyke announced today that the school is dipping its feet into the women’s lacrosse waters as the university will begin play in that sport in 2021-22. Schools don’t add sports all that often and Pitt hasn’t done so since adding softball back in 1997.
Shown here is a proposed goalie helmet to be worn. Shiny.
As an add-on to the Victory Heights plan recently announced, the Panthers will build a lacrosse stadium, which will be part of the Petersen Sports Complex, where the baseball, softball, and soccer facilities are located in the upper part of campus. The school is fully funding the program with the maximum 12 scholarships.
Your first question is probably the most obvious - why?
Well, there are several reasons for the addition and, if you’ve been reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that something like this has been planned for a while and that it also makes sense.
You might recall that in 2016 with then athletics director Scott Barnes, Pitt was making some facility changes. If you go back to May of that year, that’s when the talk of plans started getting serious. Then, a month later, it was revealed that spending was approved for a new domed facility for soccer and ... lacrosse. But after Barnes left, the facilities plan sort of was in limbo and when Lyke came here, it was basically replaced.
Now, it should be pointed out that, despite the initial eyebrow-raising, there was talk that Pitt wasn’t seriously considering adding the sport. If I recall correctly, it was said that would be a recreational facility of sorts with resources for students and probably used by the club team as well as soccer teams. But the seeds were planted by that point. I mean, it would be nice to have solely an indoor soccer facility but the outdoor soccer stadium had just been built five years before Barnes’ announcement for crying out loud. Do you really just build that facility with no other sports in mind or for a club team? My guess is that the idea of adding lacrosse had been discussed since at least that point.
Consider, too, that one of Pitt’s biggest goals for sports under Barnes was to make a much stronger showing in the Director’s Cup standings. One of the key points of his five-year strategic plan, in fact, was that very goal. Yes, you improve the standing by, well, having your teams perform better. But you also improve it by simply playing in more sports. It’s a little more complex than that but the tl;dr is that, the more sports you play, the better chance you give yourself to score points and finish higher in the standings. Now, Pitt isn’t taking on the complex thing of building a new program simply to score a few more points in the Director’s Cup, obviously. But it’s a small benefit they’ll gain by doing it.
On a much grander scale, this whole thing really just makes sense in that Pitt, should they invest the resources in it, can be very competitive. They play in the ACC, possibly the top conference for lacrosse, which should help in attracting talent. That talent, by the way, is coming from places like western Pennsylvania, which is a solid recruiting area for the sport, which is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Then, you add in the fact that the facilities should be top notch and will be brand new. It’s an attractive spot for a prospective coach and potential players. Add it all up and, if Pitt makes the right hire, it’s something that can be very successful.
So, logistically, how does this work? I mean, you don’t just start playing games out of the blue. Some of that was explained today.
Pitt will first hire a coach ... and relatively quickly. The Women’s Championships will be in May 2019 and the Panthers will be looking for a coach soon after that.
What’s the hurry if you’re not playing for three more years? Well, according to the Post-Gazette, Pitt will basically recruit two classes of players to make up the first team to be ready to play in 2021. You need a coach as soon as possible to start laying the groundwork for that and to hit the ground running.
Finally, it should also be mentioned that there are no plans for a men’s team at this time. But my guess is that’s less about a desire to do that and more about wanting to take this thing one step at a time. Once you get the facility done and the women’s program off the ground, coming back and adding a men’s program seems like something that would be very likely. Lyke herself mentioned there are no plans for that yet but it’s something that probably becomes much more possible once the women’s program is off the ground and running.
For my money, this is great news. I’m not a lacrosse nut or anything but, ultimately, the more programs Pitt can field within reason, the better. And that’s especially true in adding a sport that makes sense as lacrosse does.