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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Club players for the University of Utah lacrosse team attend a press conference where an announcement was made that the university will begin sponsoring men's lacrosse as an NCAA sport starting in 2018-19 at the university in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 16, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Men’s lacrosse is getting an upgrade at the University of Utah. The program will transition from a club sport to NCAA status in 2018-19. It’s the first time in school history that a sport is making such a move.

“Our vision as an athletic department and a university is to be innovative leaders. I think this gives us a chance to do that,” Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill said at a press conference Friday morning.

Hill noted that the addition of men’s lacrosse will give the university 20 NCAA teams, which puts Utah in the middle of the Pac-12 in terms of the number of sports.

“A lot of research and effort went into our decision to add men’s lacrosse,” he said in the official announcement. “With several great club sports expressing an interest in achieving NCAA status, a working committee was formed to determine the parameters for adding a new sport. Among the factors considered were the potential impact on our other teams, financial self-sustainability, compliance with Title IX and popularity in our community.”

Men’s lacrosse fits the bill.

“It is the first endowed program for University of Utah athletics,” Hill continued. “Nowadays, adding sports at the college level almost always requires an endowment, which resonated with the university-appointed committee.”

Utah officials announced that the men’s lacrosse program received a $15.6 million endowment from an anonymous donor and other benefactors. The sport, which was officially approved for addition by Utah’s Board of Trustees in a short teleconference early Friday morning, will gradually reach the NCAA-maximum amount of 12.6 scholarships.

Hill announced that Brian Holman, the team’s current head coach, is being retained. He came to Utah last year after eight seasons as an assistant coach at North Carolina.

Holman and the team joined Hill and several supporters of the team at the press conference. He acknowledged that the move upward is going to be a challenge.

“It’s a big jump. I mean the reality is you’re going through about three to four layers of competition to reach the highest level,” Holman said. “So I recognize that, our staff recognizes that. I think the advantage we have is that we’re all very familiar with that level and we know what it takes to compete there.”

As such, Holman recognizes that it’ll take some time to get the program up. He said that’s reality.

“We’ll see. But we’re going to do everything it takes to get there as fast as we possibly can,” Holman continued.

Utah has supplanted Air Force and Denver as the western-most school in the nation to have an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse program. Hill pointed out that the Utes will have the entire western part of the country to recruit.

Hill said that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is very supportive of Utah adding the sport. Scott actually met with the committee overseeing the move.

Because of the lack of teams out West, the Utes could end up competing in the ACC. The conference has five men’s lacrosse teams — Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Virginia — leaving the league one squad shy of receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Air Force and Denver, the only other teams west of the Mississippi River, compete in the SoCon and Big East conferences, respectively.

Utah’s home games will be played on campus at the women’s soccer stadium. Practices will be held on the infield of the adjacent track and field facility.

The team wore T-shirts that read “Utah lacrosse” on the front and “Salt Lax City” on the back for the official announcement of the first completely new sport the Utes have added since soccer in 1995. An extension of the volleyball program — beach competition — was added this year.

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer