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Eastern Michigan is moving ahead with plans to add a women's lacrosse team, even as a federal lawsuit remains unresolved over the university's decision in March 2018 to eliminate four programs, including women's tennis and softball.

A federal judge ruled in September 2018 that the university must reinstate the women's programs, saying the university violated the spirit of Title IX legislation.

Eastern Michigan has reinstated tennis, which returned this fall, but has balked at reinstating softball.

The university offered the compromise of lacrosse, saying it's more cost-effective and benefits more student athletes than softball. A judge shot that idea down, and the university appealed, arguing the judge can't serve as, essentially, an athletic director.

In making the lacrosse announcement official Wednesday, Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said, "We are committed to providing more athletic and academic opportunities for women."

"Women's lacrosse is growing at an incredible pace and we are excited to expand opportunities for Michigan high school women to participate in a Division I sport and the academic experiences that Eastern Michigan provides," Wetherbee said in a statement released by the school. "We are very excited about the addition and I am certain the team will contribute to our legacy of athletic success."

The lacrosse team will begin play in the 2021-22 season, have the maximum 12 athletic scholarships, and strive for a roster of 35 players. The estimated annual cost for the program is $650,000. He has said the cost of softball is $870,000, and only accommodates between 17 and 20 athletes.

Eastern Michigan will become the fourth Mid-American Conference school with women's lacrosse, joining Central Michigan, Kent State and Akron, which is adding the sport in 2020. Detroit Mercy and Youngstown State will join as "affiliate" members.

Lacrosse gives Eastern Michigan 19 sports team, 12 of which are women's. The last time Eastern Michigan added a sport was 2001-02 women's rowing.

A search for a head coach is under way, with a target date of this spring. The team's home field remains TBA.

In March 2018, Eastern Michigan said it was cutting the four sports, including men's wrestling and swimming and diving, to save $2.4 million annually. Multiple lawsuits were immediately filed, with one holding up, filed by two athletes, saying the decision violated Title IX, and left them with no options to continue their collegiate athletic careers.

One of those athletes, Marie Mayerova, is back playing tennis for Eastern Michigan, and the team is coached by the old coach, Jayson Wiseman. The other athlete, Ariana Chretien, was a softball player.

Eastern Michigan has traditionally struggled to meet Title IX standards, but said in its statement Wednesday that more than 50 percent of its athletes are women, a school record. Beyond that, it wouldn't comment on the pending court case.

As recently as 2016-17 in federal filings, more than 60 percent of the student body was female, to less than 45 percent of athletes.

"Our commitment to Title IX compliance has never wavered," the school said in making Wednesday's announcement.

Quite the surprise

A touching moment here.

Grand Valley State senior Ben Lubitz, a member of the basketball team, has been trying for years to get into the school's nursing program.

His coach, Ric Wesley, recently gave him the good news, in front of all his teammates.

Lubitz, of Mio, Michigan, had a priceless reaction, and one that's now gone viral.

This and that

Michigan senior midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort was named Big Ten player of the year for field hockey, as the Wolverines finished tied for the third in the league.

Michigan opens Big Ten tournament play Thursday at Penn State.

... In women's cross country, Michigan's Ericka VanderLende was named Big Ten freshman of the year, and Walt Drenth, whose Michigan State team won the championship, was named coach of the year.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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