St. Thomas still in limbo, NCAA pushes vote on D3-to-D1 process

St. Thomas athletics remain in NCAA limbo.

Wednesday’s meeting of the NCAA’s Division I Council saw a proposal introduced for Division III schools to transition to Division I – which St. Thomas hopes to do – but the formal vote on the proposal won’t come until April 2021.

However, the NCAA did leave the door open for Tommies Athletics to pursue a waiver that could be acted upon before the vote next April.

A statement from the NCAA after the meeting concluded with the following:

"While this legislation is under consideration, the Council indicated it would be receptive to a formal waiver request from Division III St. Thomas (Minnesota) and the Summit League that would allow the school to begin the reclassification process."

A statement from St. Thomas shortly after the NCAA’s announcement indicates they will pursue a waiver.

“We will immediately begin work with Commissioner Tom Douple and the NCAA to formally submit our waiver request,” said Phil Esten, St. Thomas vice president and director of athletics in a news release. “While I know all of us are anxiously awaiting definitive word on where we will be competing starting with the 2021-22 season, we must remain patient for just a little while longer. As always, I remain optimistic about the future of Tommie athletics, and we look forward to continuing to work with the NCAA on the reclassification process.”

St Thomas has been invited to join the D-I Summit League for all sports, except football and hockey, which would need to either play as independents or find a D-I conference home. Potential landing spots are either the NCHC or newly-reforming CCHA for men’s hockey and the non-scholarship football-only Pioneer League, which plays in the FCS classification of D-1 football. Women’s hockey would likely go to the WCHA.

The Tommies are one of seven founding members of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), but were voted out by a conference membership vote in May 2019.

They have been trying to determine their next step ever since. St Thomas’ final year of competition in the D-III MIAC will be the 2020-21 school year.

The current process a D-III school like St. Thomas must follow to transition to D-I takes a minimum of 12 years as schools must first move to Division-II, then onto D-1.

The NCAA’s new proposal will be discussed in the coming months then voted upon in April 2021. It would allow a direct D-3 to D-1 jump with a five-year transition period.

D-I schools are being asked to provide feedback and discuss the new proposal before the vote.

Division I members will be asked to review and provide feedback on this proposal before a vote by the Division I Council, which would occur by April 2021.

“We have spent several months examining data that reflect outcomes for schools transitioning to DI based on certain benchmarks, including academic profile, financial aid awards, sports sponsorship, competitive equity and financial sustainability,” said Rick George, chair of the Strategic Vision and Planning Committee and athletics director at Colorado in a written statement published by the NCAA. “This proposed pathway for Division III schools to successfully make the transition to Division I accounts for any additional challenges those schools may face in reaching membership requirements.”

“The existing process for Division II schools transitioning to Division I has been successful in preparing those schools for meaningful membership in Division I, and we believe that with additional time meeting certain benchmarks, Division III schools could be equally well-positioned to make that transition,” George said.