The case of the Division III school too good for its own conference took another entertaining turn as the University of St. Thomas announced its intentions to leap directly to Division I athletics on Friday.
The Twin Cities college announced it had been invited to join the Summit League, a move pending the approval of an NCAA waiver that would eliminate the required stop in Division II. If the request is approved, St. Thomas can begin competing in D-I athletics in 2021. (NCAA rules typically require a 12-year transition timeline from D-III to D-I.)
The university was unceremoniously booted from the 13-team Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in May due to “athletic competitive parity.” In layman’s terms, St. Thomas is too good at sports for the other, smaller universities it competes against. The Tommies’ football team is one of only two in the conference with over 100 players, and the school’s enrollment is double that of the next closest institution. Despite the school being among the conference’s seven founding members, the risk of other teams bolting for greener pastures unoccupied by powerhouse athletic programs forced the MIAC to part ways with St. Thomas.
The Summit League does not play Division I football, but St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten told the Star Tribune that the school is considering joining the Pioneer League or Missouri Valley Conference to compete at an FCS level in the sport.
The Summit League consists of nine full-time members, including South Dakota State, Denver and North Dakota. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is scheduled to join the conference in 2020.
Pending the approval of the NCAA waiver—which is far from guaranteed for this unprecedented request—the Tommies will continue to classify as and compete against D-III programs. They are required to leave the MIAC by 2021, which aligns precisely with their predicted start date as members of the Summit League.