Florida State to add women's lacrosse team after USA TODAY investigation

Less than 18 months after a USA TODAY investigation revealed that Florida State University was not in compliance with Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, the Seminoles athletic department agreed on Tuesday to add a women’s lacrosse team to its roster of varsity sports.

The agreement comes after Arthur Bryant, a prominent, California-based Title IX lawyer, in consultation with members of the FSU club women’s lacrosse team, threatened legal action against the university in early August, citing Title IX.

"The history of Title IX in America is that the only thing that makes progress for women who are being discriminated against is for them to stand up and fight," Bryant told USA TODAY. "The vast majority of colleges and universities are still in violation of Title IX, 51 years after it was passed, and the federal government has never filed enforcement action in court to force (any) schools to come into compliance with Title IX.

"The only thing that works is women being willing to fight. I know people don't normally go to their schools to sue them, and I know it's hard ... but what this case shows is that if they fight, they win."

Sophia Villalonga, Florida State lacrosse goalie, warms up for the game against BYU in the WCLA National Championships Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in Round Rock, Texas.
Sophia Villalonga, Florida State lacrosse goalie, warms up for the game against BYU in the WCLA National Championships Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in Round Rock, Texas.

The team will start play “no later than the 2025-26 academic year,” according to the settlement released by Bailey Glasser LLP, Bryant’s firm. It will be Florida State’s 19th varsity team and its 10th women’s varsity team; the school last added a women’s sport, beach volleyball, in 2011. In addition to adding a team, the school will conduct a gender equity review of its athletic department and formulate a gender equity plan that will bring FSU into Title IX compliance.

“It doesn’t even feel real. I’ve been crying tears of pure joy all day,” FSU women’s club lacrosse team captain Sophia Villalonga told USA TODAY late Tuesday. “The last few hours have been such a rush. I’m just speechless.”

Villalonga was in the middle of class when she found out FSU will become the 118th D-I women's lacrosse team in the country. She frantically began texting teammates, ecstatic at the news.

Villalonga previously said that she’d always wished lacrosse was a varsity sport at FSU but didn’t know it was a realistic request until USA TODAY’s Title IX investigation “really opened our eyes.”

In a press release, Florida State athletic director Michael Alford said, “Lacrosse is the fastest growing college sport nationally and it is evident that our culture and community will enthusiastically embrace it.”

In July, Villalonga, who is in her second year of graduate school, sent an email to FSU administrators formally petitioning to add women’s lacrosse as a varsity sport. When the school responded and said FSU was “not actively evaluating the addition of any sports programs to our current collection of teams,” Bryant and the team sent a letter threatening legal action.

“Like FSU said, this is the fastest-growing sport, so getting a team is a no-brainer,” Villalonga said Tuesday. “And I can’t wait to come back and watch them.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida State to add women's lacrosse after Title IX investigation