Trietley: Pitt needs lacrosse team in ACC

By Greg Trietley

With the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitt is missing something.

No, not the… With the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitt is missing something.

No, not the rivalry with West Virginia. Not the conference basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers are missing lacrosse.

When athletic director Steve Pederson spoke to the media two Sundays ago, he said that Pitt matches up wonderfully with its new conference in the so-called “Olympic sports.” Baseball, soccer, wrestling, track and field, swimming and diving, tennis and so on — the ACC carries them all.

But the ACC also carries rowing, golf and lacrosse. If Pitt wants to flourish in its new conference, now is the time to expand.

Rowing and golf both present logistical nightmares, but the major obstacle for lacrosse — a playing field — has already been hurdled.

Pitt has lacked an on-campus field to support the sport since the demolition of Pitt Stadium in 1999. The soccer program and others went into survival mode after the stadium’s closure, which unequivocally nixed any hope of major sports expansion for 10 years.

That changed with the Petersen Sports Complex and Ambrose Urbanic Field, a turf so new that fans can still smell a hint of the recycled tires from which it was made. The space for lacrosse is there if Pitt chooses to use it.

Soccer and lacrosse can both utilize the field because they play in different seasons. Ambrose Urbanic Field can support a game dimensionally, as it measures at 120 yards long by 76 yards wide. A standard lacrosse field is 110 yards by 60 yards.

Pitt does not have to add the sport to fit in with its new conference, as only four of last year’s 12 ACC schools — Duke, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina — carry both men’s and women’s lacrosse. Virginia Tech and Boston College only participate on the women’s side. Syracuse, though, will join the conference with Pitt and give the ACC another strong lacrosse program.

The Orange won both the men’s and women’s regular season titles in the Big East last year. It gives the ACC five schools with men’s lacrosse and seven with women’s. Pitt could even those numbers out.

The Panthers don’t have to look far for expansion guidance. Current conference brother Marquette announced last December that it would add Big East lacrosse in 2013. The Golden Eagles hired coaches and had their first practice last week. They will play this coming spring as an independent and then move to the Big East — or whatever the conference becomes.

Pitt doesn’t have to worry about conference uncertainty. If Marquette — a school with 10,000 fewer undergraduates — can add lacrosse, so can the Panthers.

The sport has grown out of its niche in recent years. There are 61 Division I programs, including Providence, Rutgers, St. John’s, Villanova and Notre Dame. Pittsburgh isn’t a traditional lacrosse market, but neither is New York City or Rhode Island, for the most part.

Lacrosse is a popular sport on Long Island, where Farmingdale High School won the 2011 Class A state title this year.

Pitt has already invested in new facilities in its striving to set itself apart from other athletic programs. An investment in lacrosse continues that growth.

Lacrosse is surprisingly profitable. It’s the envy of less publicized collegiate sports: ESPN carries the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship. The network aired 58 games on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPNU last season.

Local support for the sport exists, both at the high school and college level. Pitt has a successful club lacrosse team that largely funds itself and schedules its own games.

Michigan, an opponent last year in Pitt’s club lacrosse conference, announced in May that it, like Marquette, was stepping up to Division I.

The Wolverines will begin Division I lacrosse play on the men’s side this spring and on the women’s side in 2012-13. They will play in the 41-year-old Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, which used to serve as the practice facility for the football team until it upgraded to a new building in 2009.

Based on Michigan’s expansion plans, a Division I Pitt program could have called the Cost Sports Center home, and nobody would have questioned it. The Panthers, though, have a much better option, and it’s sandwiched between the baseball and softball fields. With the Petersen Sports Complex and a new conference, lacrosse makes all the sense in the world for Pitt.