Clemson is starting a varsity softball program and will no longer have a women’s diving program, the university announced Tuesday, drawing praise from softball coaches at high schools across the region as well as the instant rival in Columbia.
"Softball is a tremendously popular sport among young women in the state of South Carolina and around the nation," said Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, according to a statement. "We've evaluated our sport offerings over the past few years and believe this is our best path forward. Among other considerations, softball will allow us to provide an opportunity to compete quickly with the other 13 softball-playing schools of the Atlantic Coast Conference, for increased exposure with our television partners and allow for our continued compliance with Title IX participation ratios."
The addition has been long awaited around the area.
"I’ve been hoping and waiting for this day for years," said Pendleton coach Valerie Ayers, a Clemson graduate. "Softball is such an exciting sport, and it has truly grown so much in recent years. I’m glad Clemson University is finally on board with the rest of the country and the rest of the ACC. There are so many extremely talented student athletes across the state that are now going to be able to pursue their dream of being both a college softball player and a Clemson Tiger instead of having to settle for just one of the two.
"I expect to see big things in the future for Clemson softball."
Radakovich said he had been asked why Clemson does not have a softball program since he was hired as athletic director in 2012.
"There's a lot to be done between now and the first pitch, including construction of a softball stadium and hiring coaches and support personnel, but I know there's excitement around Clemson and throughout our state for the launch of this program," he said.
The move adds another aspect to the Palmetto State rivalry with the University of South Carolina, which has made four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Gamecocks coach Beverly Smith welcomes the opportunity for Division I athletes, fans and programs.
"It’s great for the sport of softball to add another softball team," Smith said. "(To) give women the opportunity to play at a high level is fantastic. As far as the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry, it’s paramount. It’s exciting.
"I’m excited for our student-athletes and our fans that they can now enjoy the rivalry in softball."
A timeline for the development of the softball program is being finalized, but Clemson is targeting a potential first pitch of February 2020, to coincide with the linear launch of the ACC Network.
Clemson’s women’s diving program, which recently concluded its 2017 season, will not return. The program had competed as a standalone program since the university discontinued its men’s and women’s swimming and men’s diving programs following the 2011-12 season.
"Any time changes to sport offerings are made, it can be difficult for current student-athletes and coaches, as well as for our former letter-winners,” Radakovich said. “I want to express our gratitude to coach Leslie Hasselbach-Adams and the young women in our program for the way they've represented our university and competed with integrity and class.”
Brandon Rink, Anderson Independent-Mail