University of Montana athletics officials say the school plans to add a women's softball team to comply with federal gender equity laws.

I hope this isn't the only reason they are adding softball. Softball in Montana is a big deal. This could keep many young ladies from going out of state for school.

Associate athletics director Jean Gee told the Montana Kaimin on Tuesday that the funding isn't in place, but the school tentatively plans to suit up a team in the spring of 2014. Fielding a softball team is expected to cost about $500,000 annually for staff salaries, travel expenses and scholarships.

UM asked incoming freshmen and current students which women's sport was missing from Montana athletics and Gee says the overwhelming answer was softball.

Five Big Sky Conference schools have softball programs. When North Dakota and Southern Utah join the league in 2012, the Big Sky will have enough teams that the conference champion will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

Story from the Associated Press