Athletics Update FAQs

How would a move to Division I impact student-athletes?

Our students are our priority. Our coaches and entire athletic staff will work hard to ensure that our student-athletes continue to have a positive and competitive experience as Tommies. St. Thomas is eligible to compete in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) for the next two years (through spring 2021). All student-athletes are encouraged to direct specific questions to their coaches. Like with any year, roster conversations or recruiting conversations should be held directly with the athletic staff.

How does this update affect St. Thomas’ mission and vision?

Regardless of which conference we join, St. Thomas will remain firmly committed to our mission to educate students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good. Our commitment to personal attention, academic excellence and building an inclusive culture will not waver. Membership in the Summit League will certainly allow us to maintain that focus.

How was this decision made?

The Summit League officially extended the invitation to St. Thomas late Thursday, following their review of an application submitted by St. Thomas. The decision to apply to the Summit League and to request a waiver to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was decided by the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees.

This summer, President Julie Sullivan formed an athletics advisory committee, led by Vice President and Director of Athletics Phil Esten. This 18-person committee included faculty, coaches, administrators and other campus representation, and was charged with providing input to the athletics strategic plan and evaluating options. The committee evaluated many dimensions including financial, student-athlete experience, impact to the institution, admissions, impact on student life, etc. This information was reviewed by the Board of Trustees in making its final decision.

Why is a waiver required? 

St. Thomas requires a waiver from the NCAA to enter the NCAA Division I reclassification process directly from Division III, as current rules only allow reclassification to Division I from Division II. We expect the NCAA to vote on whether to grant this exception sometime within this academic year.

If the waiver is granted by the NCAA, when would St. Thomas start playing in the Summit League?

Fall of 2021. St. Thomas will remain in the MIAC for the full two years that we were granted for transition.

If the waiver is not granted, what are the next steps?

We will continue exploring other conference options in Division III and Division II.

What makes the Summit League a good fit for St. Thomas?

St. Thomas is pursuing a unique and unprecedented opportunity to elevate our profile and extend our brand nationally by joining this league. Headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Summit League is a strong, Midwestern Division I athletic conference with a history of successfully reclassifying programs. Under the longtime leadership of Commissioner Tom Douple, the conference has enjoyed both academic and athletics success as its trajectory continues to ascend. The following institutions are part of the Summit League: University of Denver, University of Nebraska Omaha, University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, Oral Roberts University, University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, Western Illinois University and University of Missouri – Kansas City (joining 2021).

Why is the Summit League interested in St. Thomas?

Based on our conversations with Summit League representatives, they recognize St. Thomas has a strong institutional brand and reputation, both through its academic excellence and tradition of athletics success. Also, our location in the Twin Cities makes us an attractive addition to the conference.

What would happen to the sports (ice hockey, football) that aren’t sponsored by the Summit League? 

The Summit League does not currently sponsor ice hockey or football. As a result, St. Thomas would actively pursue affiliate membership opportunities for these programs in other Division I conferences.

How would this impact St. Thomas’ admissions standards?

Our admissions standards remain fully in our control. We are committed to admitting students capable of successfully graduating from St. Thomas in four years. We are proud of increases in our four-year graduation rate and remain committed to continued improvements. We hold our student-athletes to high academic standards and that will not change. In fact, currently our student-athletes graduate at higher rates at St. Thomas than our broader student population.

What will be the financial and facilities implications of joining the Summit League?

We are in the process of evaluating all implications. We are in full control of how our institution would absorb any incremental costs, as well as generate additional revenue. Any facilities decisions would involve exploring all options both on and off campus. Until we know the outcome of the NCAA decision and have completed our full evaluation of options, it is premature to speculate on the final plan.

How does St. Thomas benefit from being in a Division I athletics league?

This decision is about more than athletics – it’s about advancing our vision to be a leading Catholic university recognized at the national level. An important outcome of increasing St. Thomas’ visibility, for example, is an ability to attract a more geographically diverse cross section of students who are accomplished in and out of the classroom. This additional representation would add value to classroom discussions, campus life, cocurricular activities and virtually every aspect of St. Thomas while providing St. Thomas with the opportunity to extend the reach of our mission and impact. The presence of Division I sports teams will also build on the strong Tommie fan loyalty and provide the campus and alumni with more engaging fan experiences.