New women’s sports en route to USM

The University of Southern Mississippi soccer team finishes off their season with a 3-2 win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Oct 30, 2015. The Golden Eagles finished with a 5-11-3 record for the 2015 season. Joe Harper/

Southern Miss students can expect an announcement regarding the addition of a women’s sports team either this fall or early spring, Athletic Director Bill McGillis said.

“We want to make sure we’re accommodating the interests of women and ultimately to provide more participation opportunities for women,” McGillis said.

Though there are currently more women’s sports than men’s, male athletes outnumber female athletes mostly due to the large number of athletes required for a football team.

McGillis said acrobatics and tumbling are also being considered, though other sports that warrant further consideration may emerge during research.

“We’ve got to figure out what is the best path forward,” McGillis said. “We’re looking at gymnastics, lacrosse, beach volleyball and swimming and diving.”

According to McGillis, Southern Miss is currently researching a variety of factors to determine which sport would be the best fit for the university. These include the potential recruiting base, competitive landscape, projected budget, the number of female athletes each sport would add, facility, additional investment needed for startup, academic data and proposed schedules.

“Can we be successful in each one of these sports, and where do we have the best opportunity of being successful?” McGillis said.

“With beach volleyball and gymnastics, there have been community members, not current southern miss students, who have expressed interest in us having and supporting those sports,” McGillis said. “Facility wise, I think there’s opportunity in the community for both of those sports.”

“Another key factor is what is the availability of competition,” McGillis said. “Who in Conference USA and our region are participating in each one of those sports so that we could build a schedule?”

Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, North Texas, Old Dominion and Rice currently have women’s swimming and diving teams that compete in Conference USA play, according to the Conference USA athletic website.

“There’s not another division I women’s swimming program in the state of Mississippi,” McGillis said. “A good rationale for that program is that we have a chance to be the division I level program in the state. Division I athletes in swimming and diving from Mississippi have to leave the state, but we could be the feature program in the state.”

Other sports, while growing in popularity, do not offer as many opportunities for regional competition.

“Lacrosse is probably the fastest growing sport on the women’s side, but currently there’s very little competition in our region,” McGillis said. “You have to project if there will be competition in three or four years.”

Once a decision has been reached, it could be some time before Southern Miss is actually competing in the new sport.

“You have to do things like conduct a national search for a coach and spend a full year recruiting while not competing,” McGillis said. “Typically, it’s a two or three year phase-in before you’re actually competing. I would anticipate, without the study being concluded, that we could see competition no later than the 2019- 2020 school year.”