June 17, 2017
On Friday, the University of Utah announced it was adding men’s lacrosse as a Division I sport.
BYU men’s lacrosse coach Matt Schneck couldn’t be happier for the guys up north or for his own program.
“The first thing that’s going to do is expose the state to a tremendous amount of high level lacrosse,” Schneck said. “As the program at Utah matures, makes the transition and gets into the thick of its NCAA scheduling, it will bring high level lacrosse out here to the youth to witness. It will be super fun for the kids in this state to see that.”
The BYU lacrosse program is a club sport and a tremendously successful one. The Cougars have won four national titles (1997, 2000, 2007 and 2011) and in his nine years as head coach, Schneck has produced a record of 107-32 (77 percent).
BYU twice defeated Utah this season – once in Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference play in Provo (14-8) and again in the RMLC semifinals (10-4). Schneck said the two schools will likely continue to play each other but probably in the preseason (fall) as an exhibition or a scrimmage.
“As much as we like to think BYU lacrosse plays at a high level, this will be even a higher level we get to experience, which is wonderful,” Schneck said.
The BYU coach acknowledged some of the challenges ahead for the Utes, the furthest west Division I program in the country.
“They have an incredible coaching staff, so they are in a great position there,” Schneck said. “They already made huge strides as a team this past year competing in the MCLA (Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association). Geography is going to be a challenge. You have to schedule teams to play and you’re dealing with 90 percent of the current teams are up and down the eastern seaboard, typically within a bus ride of each other. Utah doesn’t have a conference yet and going through the transition, how quickly will they be eligible for postseason play?”
Utah’s first NCAA lacrosse program will be funded by the university and a $15.6 million endowment registered to an anonymous donor.
Eight scholarships will be split among 40 players but will eventually reach a full 12.6 scholarships. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utes are in talks with the ACC, Big Ten and Big East in terms of joining a conference. The move to Division I might be the first for teams from the Pac 12, and Utah was anxious to be at the front of that movement.
Though BYU doesn’t have plans to create a Division I men’s lacrosse program at the moment, the Cougars and Schneck are in an excellent position.
“I can tell you that as far as men’s lacrosse is concerned, especially here out west, BYU is in the best place that it can be competing in the MCLA,” Schneck said. “We have a number of teams we can reach with a bus ride. It’s incredible, and there is some tremendous competition.”
The BYU men’s lacrosse program – along with women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s rugby, men’s and women’s racquetball and men’s soccer – receives sponsorship from a special BYU department created specifically to support those student athletes, who no longer have to come up with player fees to fund the program as a result.
Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country based on numbers provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
While high school football continues to have the highest participation – nearly 1.1 million as of 2015 – overall lacrosse participation across both genders is reaching near the one million mark as well. According to a study done by U.S. Lacrosse, the sport grew from 253,931 in 2001 to 802,044 in 2015, with 29,272 new players added in 2015.
Last month, the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) announced they had sanctioned boys and girls lacrosse for the 2019-20 school year.
It’s another huge win for lacrosse and those who play and have supported the sport through its club phase for years.
“It legitimizes the sport for these kids who play in Utah,” Schneck said. “In the past, schools treated their club lacrosse teams differently. Some schools invited to teams to play on the football field, work out in the weight room or practice in the gym during the offseason.
“Other programs got none of that. A team would win a state championship and get a trophy with no place to put it, because the school wouldn’t put in its own trophy case.”
Schneck also said the move will improve coaching and the level of play in the state.
“Our program will benefit tremendously,” Schneck said. “Over the years we’ve seen the number of athletes coming from Utah continue to grow. In the old days we might have had two or three kids from Utah on the roster, now we have 15 kids from Utah on the team.”