Today, we received long-awaited news from the NCAA that St. Thomas has been approved to begin reclassification to Division I athletics. This announcement paves the way for our St. Thomas student-athletes, coaches, fans and community to build Minnesota’s first private D-I collegiate athletics program and just the second D-I program in the state.
St. Thomas is the first university that has been approved to transition directly to D-I from D-III in the modern history of the NCAA. This approval recognizes St. Thomas’ growing reputation and academic and athletic success and will help us expand our mission and impact beyond Minnesota.
With this news, we enthusiastically accept invitations to join the Summit League for 19 of our 22 sports, as well as the Pioneer Football League and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) women’s league. We also are excited about conference options for our men’s hockey program.
What this transition does not mean is a change in our St. Thomas values or our mission. Our commitment to academic excellence and personalized education will remain unchanged. We expect strong performance on the playing fields, courts and pools, in the classroom and in the community. In fact, as athletics helps us draw from a more geographically diverse student population, our mission to graduate students who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully will only expand.
Our journey to this moment started more than a year ago. In May 2019, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) involuntarily removed St. Thomas from the conference, creating a need to find a new athletics home by June 20, 2021. The search – guided by Vice President and Director of Athletics Phil Esten, and informed by feedback from an Athletic Advisory Committee comprised of faculty, staff and administration – concluded with a bold decision by the St. Thomas Board of Trustees to seek reclassification directly to D-I. As St. Thomas Board Chair Pat Ryan said: “This decision represents an important milestone for the future of our institution; one I’m confident we will look back on as pivotal to extending the impact of St. Thomas nationally.”
The funding for the transition to D-I will primarily come from philanthropy, incremental athletics revenue and start-up funds authorized by the Board of Trustees. The transition period will be managed and timed to ensure that new expenses are phased in and do not dilute academic excellence in any way.
Additionally, this news comes while we are working diligently to safely reopen our campus in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate efforts to rid our institution and our society of systemic racism and social injustice. I assure you that we will remain focused on these critical efforts, and I commit to continuing to provide you with regular updates on this work.
While COVID-19 may prevent us from celebrating the way we originally envisioned, we are nonetheless excited for the future of our university, and for Tommie athletics. A celebratory video, links to the press release and FAQs can be found here, and additional resources can be found on OneStThomas (a St. Thomas email address is required).
Forward to D-I. Forward to our future. St. Thomas has a long history of embracing change with an entrepreneurial spirit, and this move fits that trajectory. We will continue to stay relevant and strong in a world of change. As our founder, Archbishop John Ireland, reminds us, “I believe God intends the present to be better than the past and the future to be better than the present.” (A video that brings this story to life can be viewed here.)
In this spirit, we ever press forward.