Mercer will become the first athletics program in Georgia to offer lacrosse as an NCAA Division I sport when its men’s club team becomes an NCAA Division I program in spring 2011.
The women’s team will follow a year later.
“This has been an ongoing discussion since our presidential retreat about two years ago,” athletics director Bobby Pope said of annual meetings with the staff and Mercer president William Underwood. “I think it’s a very viable sport.
“I’ll be honest, I had my doubts because of no competition and where the competition would come from. But I have since eased that a little bit because of the growing number of high schools that are starting it.”
There are between 49 and 53 boys teams and 53-55 girls in the state, depending on the Web site: www.georgialax.com and ga.prepcountry.com.
Washington County is the only Middle Georgia high school with lacrosse, according to ga.prepcountry.com. The program isn’t listed on georgialax.com.
The www.georgialax.com site also noted that Agnes Scott, Oglethorpe, Reinhardt and LaGrange have started full-fledged lacrosse programs in the past few years, and that Georgia recently won the SouthEast Lacrosse Conference championship. Lacrosse is a club sport at UGA.
Lacrosse will be the first addition to Mercer’s athletics program since rifle started NCAA competition in the early 1990s.
Mercer will be fairly lonely. Jacksonville is the only A-Sun program to participate in lacrosse, offering both men’s and women’s. Next spring will be the first season for both Jacksonville teams.
The men’s schedule for next spring for Jacksonville includes North Carolina, Providence, Duke and Rutgers for the men. The closest opponent is Presbyterian, in Clinton, S.C.
“They had big numbers at Jacksonville when they announced,” Pope said. “I think with us being the first (Division I) school in the state of Georgia to announce it that we’ll have a lot of interest, especially with students in the Atlanta area, where it’s a growing sport.”
Pope said Jacksonville had nearly 70 student-athletes on the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and that Stetson was among the A-Sun schools considering adding the sport.
Mercer’s soccer field will soon double as lacrosse’s home.
“We’re doing some major renovations on our soccer field,” Pope said. “There are also plans underway to build additional practice fields, as well.”
The standard lacrosse field is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide, and goals are six feet by six feet. Each team fields 10 players, including the goalkeeper.
The NCAA listed 59 men’s teams and 88 women’s teams in its final RPI rankings last month. There are six women’s and four men’s teams in the ACC, with Duke and North Carolina the closest to Mercer. Vanderbilt is the only SEC school with the sport (women’s only).
The East Coast Athletic Conference, Great Western and American Lacrosse conferences are combinations of schools from other conferences — like Penn State, Georgetown, Vanderbilt and Ohio State, among others — for lacrosse.
Pope said Mercer will hire a head coach for each team, with additional staffing to be discussed.
Men’s lacrosse became a club sport in 2007-2008 at Mercer, which currently sponsors 14 intercollegiate teams.