Q&A with East Carolina Athletic Director Jeff Compher
According to the annual NCAA Sports Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report released in October, participation in women's lacrosse increased by 109 percent. Thirty one women's lacrosse teams (+26 net growth) were added across all divisions in 2014-15, tied with outdoor track and field for most in the NCAA.
With the recent announcement that East Carolina is adding women's lacrosse for the 2018 season, the growth of the sport is still on the "up swing," said Pirates athletic director Jeff Compher, who spoke with Lacrosse Magazine about his hopes for ECU lacrosse.
Do you have a personal connection to the sport?
I actually grew up in Maryland. I was the lone guy that played a lot more baseball than I did lacrosse, but I had a great appreciation for the sport growing up. I'm certainly aware of how popular it is in the Mid-Atlantic region. I knew a lot of people who played and I actually played one year of club lacrosse when I was in college [at James Madison].
How beneficial is adding lacrosse for ECU?
It's going to be really beneficial. It brings a new sport to our athletics program. It gives us an opportunity to compete locally and regionally, and eventually nationally. It's a sport that's very popular, so I'm just really excited about the opportunity we have to expand our athletics program and our opportunities. I think it's a wonderful addition to our entire family.
Why is ECU adding women's lacrosse?
It's been a while since we've added a women's sport. If you look back, that was golf back in 2000-01. Since that time, we've spent a lot of time upgrading our facilities for women's sports. Track, soccer and softball have received tremendous upgrades, [in addition to] women's basketball as well as the men's program. Just to have the kind of commitment to our women's programs from a facilities standpoint, now I think it's time to look to expand our opportunities for women. This certainly provides that.
When women's lacrosse begins competition in the spring of 2018, it will have been almost 20 years since ECU last added a women's sport. How exciting is that for ECU?
I think it will be really exciting. We're a very growing, vibrant popular school right now. We have over 28,000 students. We've had two of the largest freshman classes ever in the last three years since I've been here. I think this will open up more doors for that and I think we need to continue to expand our sport opportunities due to the size of our university and our current enrollment. All those things, that's what makes us exciting. People can look to us and say, 'You know what, they've looked at a need.' We've got a pretty good participation in our women's club program for lacrosse at ECU, so there's obviously a desire for people coming into our university to continue to play the sport. This adds right along to that and we'll see where it goes from here, but I would like to see this not be another 20 years before we add another sport.
The 2018 season will be the second year with a 90-second possession clock at the Division I level. How will ECU adjust to the recent changes in the game?
It won't be new to us, that's for sure. That's a different element. I was at Vanderbilt when we added women's lacrosse. Cathy [Swezey] is still there as head coach. I remember when we added that and how exciting it was and I expect the same level of excitement for the Pirates, but I need to hone up on my rules for lacrosse. It's been a while! The 90-second possession is going to be interesting. You better be able to pass and shoot the ball very quickly. It's really going to add a lot of excitement to the game. It's already fast-paced, but to accelerate to that level, it's certainly going to stop teams from stalling.
Three American Athletic Conference (AAC) schools currently compete in the Big East – Cincinnati, UConn and Temple. Will ECU join the Big East?
We're going to explore our options. I certainly think we'd like to continue to compete or begin to compete against the schools that are currently in our league. Whatever league they're in, I know we'd have a desire to participate with them, with Temple, Cincinnati and UConn. Those are the programs that are in our league and we'd love a chance to compete against them.
ECU is the eighth university in North Carolina to add women's lacrosse. Do you hope to schedule games against programs like Duke and UNC?
We love to play our in-state rivals. We love to play against Carolina and Duke in any sport that we can. It's something that ECU has always had a little bit of chip on its shoulder. To be able to play against those schools is certainly something we'd be interested in doing. Throughout the state with the number of schools that are adding it or have recently added, we've got Davidson, Elon, Gardner-Webb, High Point, and Campbell, [the latter] which recently added. All those schools are fairly close and the state is a large state. We're actually the ninth-fastest growing state in the country and we have about 12 million people here. As we continue to grow, it's something that I hope we'll be able to play these in-state schools and develop some out-of-conference rivalries. That's always good for the sport.
With several southern schools adding women's lacrosse, do you see potential for SEC lacrosse in the future?
If they do, I certainly would encourage them to do that if this is a sport they see would work for their individual programs. Every program has to look and see what's best for them, but I would encourage them to look at women's lacrosse. I know how popular it is. I've seen what Florida has done. I obviously know what Vanderbilt's been able to do, so I have some first-hand knowledge of that. I would encourage them to consider it and if there's an opportunity for us to compete against SEC schools in that realm, we'd love to do it.
There are currently 111 Division I women's programs. What does ECU's addition mean in terms of the growth of the sport?
It's still on the up swing. I don't think it's leveled out yet. Because of its popularity at the high school level and at the club level, I think it's going to continue to grow.
When will you begin searching for a coach?
The good thing is we have time. We're in the middle of some established programs in our region and that means that they've produced not only good players, but good coaches. We're going to take our time, and by this summer, look to have a head coach hired and soon thereafter, an assistant coach, so they can begin to recruit players and bring the program online.
Do you think members of the club team will want to try out?
I would encourage them to. They've got to go through some of the NCAA eligibility standards in order to be eligible to play, but I would encourage them to try out. I have seen that happen in the past with other programs that have been added. It's a great way to get an opportunity to participate at the Division I level.
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