CSU athletic director Jack Graham 2011
CSU athletic director Jack Graham: "We expect this program to build on the tremendous interest in women's soccer in Colorado and to achieve national prominence." (Denver Post file)

Colorado State will add women's soccer as an NCAA Division I intercollegiate sport in 2013, CSU athletic director Jack Graham announced Thursday.

"We are excited about providing this competitive opportunity to women in Colorado and throughout the nation," Graham said in a statement. "We expect this program to build on the tremendous interest in women's soccer in Colorado and to achieve national prominence."

The university will begin an immediate nationwide search for a head coach to lead the program, and the team will begin competition in the Mountain West Conference in the fall of 2013.

"This is a great step for women's sports at Colorado State — and a reflection of the passion for competitive soccer here in Colorado and the West," said CSU president Tony Frank in a statement. "We're particularly excited about the opportunities this creates for what we know is an outstanding group of student-athletes who previously haven't had a chance to compete for the Rams."

In a related move, Graham also announced that the women's water polo program will be discontinued as an intercollegiate sport following the current season. The Rams' water polo program was introduced in 2005 and competes as a member of the Western Water Polo Association.

"We appreciate the many contributions our water polo student-athletes have made to Colorado State both academically and athletically, and we are grateful to head coach Mike Moody for his efforts in leading them," Graham said. "The decision to drop water polo is a very difficult one. After careful study and deliberation, however, we have concluded that these sport sponsorship changes are logical and in the best interests of the university."

Prior to Thursday's announcement, Colorado State had been the only Mountain West institution — as well as the only one of the 16 NCAA Division I, II and III institutions in the state of Colorado — that did not sponsor a varsity women's soccer program. More than 300 Division I schools sponsor women's soccer, making it the fourth most widely sponsored women's sport in Division I behind only basketball, volleyball and cross country.

Other NCAA institutions in the state of Colorado that sponsor women's soccer at the Division I level: Air Force, Colorado, Northern Colorado, Denver and Colorado College.

The team initially will use existing on-campus facilities for practice and will play its home games at the Fort Collins Soccer Club's soccer complex while options for a permanent practice and competition site are studied.

Graham said the department will honor its scholarship commitments to current water polo student-athletes should they elect to remain at Colorado State. Under NCAA rules, current Colorado State water polo student-athletes could be immediately eligible for competition at other NCAA water polo programs should they decide to transfer.