Mercer will add men’s NCAA Division I lacrosse to its intercollegiate athletic program during the 2010-2011 academic year and will add a Division I women’s team in 2011-2012, Athletic Director Bobby Pope announced June 17. Mercer is the first NCAA Division I institution in the state to announce the addition of lacrosse to its athletic program.
The sport, which originated among Native American tribes in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic before the United States was colonized, has long been popular in those regions and is now the fastest-growing high school sport in Georgia and one of the fastest growing in the country. According to the latest participation survey by U.S. Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body, lacrosse is the fastest-growing high school sport for girls over the last 10 years and the second-fastest growing sport among boys. At the collegiate level, men’s lacrosse has been the fastest-growing sport over the past decade, while women’s has been the second-fastest-growing sport.
“Lacrosse is becoming a very popular sport in the Southeast,” Pope said. “We will be the first NCAA Division I program in Georgia, so this will be a great opportunity for Mercer to set the bar high for this sport in our state.”
The University added men’s lacrosse as a club sport in 2007-2008 and plans to add women’s club lacrosse for 2010-2011. The teams will then make the transition to Division I status in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, respectively. The men’s club lacrosse team has participated as a probationary member of the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference, a club league. The team has played games against the University of Alabama, Southern Virginia University, Emory University, Palm Beach Atlantic and Kennesaw State University.
Mercer will also be one of the few programs in the Southeast, joining Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and newly established programs at Presbyterian College and fellow Atlantic Sun Conference member Jacksonville University. Currently, there are 64 NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse programs and 89 Division I women’s programs in the nation.
Pope said that the University plans to hire its first full-time lacrosse coach later this year to begin recruiting student-athletes for the teams.
Mercer is the only private NCAA Division I institution in Georgia and currently fields 14 intercollegiate teams, including men’s baseball, basketball, cross-country, golf, soccer and tennis, and women’s basketball, cross-country, golf, soccer, tennis, volleyball and softball. The University also fields a co-ed rifle team.