St. Thomas receives invitation to join Division 1 athletics conference

St. Thomas receives invitation to join Division 1 athletics conference Photo: Photo: KSTP-TV

Updated: October 04, 2019 09:28 PM

Following its removal from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), the University of St. Thomas has been offered an opportunity to join the Summit League, which is a Division 1 athletics conference.


The Summit League is primarily a Midwest organization based in Sioux Falls that includes North Dakota State, South Dakota State, the University of North Dakota and the University of South Dakota.

In an announcement issued Friday, President Julie Sullivan said an advisory committee considered options for a new conference for the university's athletics programs. After the Board of Trustees approved an application submission, the university was offered the invitation to the Summit League late Thursday.

The incorporation of the university into the Summit League will require approval from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, according to Sullivan. A waiver seeking exemption from the rule that a Division 3 school can only reclassify to Division 2 has been submitted.

"Joining the Summit League would be a unique and exciting opportunity for St. Thomas, allowing us to significantly expand our impact and reach," Sullivan said in a statement. "It is a strong Midwest Division I conference that includes both public and private competitors. Under the direction of Commissioner Tom Douple, the conference has grown in strength and success over the past several years."

The biggest question now: what does this mean for Tommies hockey and football? The Summit League doesn't include those sports. Included in the league are baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field and volleyball.

St. Thomas Athletic Director Dr. Phil Esten said, "We are optimistic that we've got a strong case and a compelling case to make, and what are really unprecedented circumstances."

Dr. Esten added, "I think it comes with a lot of thought, a lot of deliberation, a lot of studying what the best options are for St. Thomas, and certainly it's not without respecting the process that we have to go through with the NCAA to make sure that they do their due diligence to ensure that this is the right fit for them as well."

School athletics officials said their goal is to start competing in the Summit League in fall 2021.

Tom Douple, Summit League Commissioner said in a recorded phone call with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that he's excited about this opportunity.

"This is a stretch. I don't want to temper, we are happy and joyous. But, we still have a long road to home before we actually reach the summit on this," he said. 

He added, "It's never been done, in the history of the NCAA. We're trying to do something that is not in the bylaws, it's not in the policies, and so it's a big leap."

Douple said the hope is there will be an answer by the springtime regarding whether or not the NCAA approves St. Thomas joining the Summit League.

The Summit League issued the following statement regarding its invitation to St. Thomas: 

"The President's Council unanimously and enthusiastically voted to support the membership application made to the League by the University of St. Thomas. The vote is the result of months of due diligence and extensive research including numerous campus visits, stakeholder meetings, and data collection. While the League recognizes the extraordinary efforts ahead for UST to seek Division I membership, we believe this institution is the right fit for The Summit League and we will support the reclassification process."

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