The following message was sent from Vice President and Director of Athletics Phil Esten to the St. Thomas community on April 14.

In a year when we all have missed opportunities for deep personal connections with colleagues, it is sometimes hard to assess all that is happening around campus. Today, I want to share with you some of the exciting progress that Intercollegiate Athletics has been making as we work toward our official transition to Division I on July 1, 2021. I also invite you to mark your calendars for two upcoming events, on April 22 and May 7, which will provide even more about our new direction.

The coaches, staff, and student-athletes who have been working diligently to bring this transition to fruition have been an amazing team. I am energized by what lies ahead and I have tremendous gratitude for our coaches, staff and student-athletes for their resiliency in such an unprecedented year.

This is a significant, historic opportunity as we capture national attention for the University of St. Thomas through Intercollegiate Athletics. The decision to reclassify to Division I will advance our vision to be a leading Catholic university recognized at the national level. It is bigger, however, than athletics alone. The transition will attract a more geographically diverse cross section of students who are accomplished in and out of the classroom. We will add value to classroom discussions, campus life, cocurricular activities and virtually every aspect of St. Thomas. It is about building an even stronger, more engaged and supportive community of students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors. Ultimately, this transition is an opportunity for St. Thomas to extend the reach of our mission and impact. The presence of Division I athletics will build on the strong Tommie pride, spirit and fan loyalty while providing our campus and alumni with more meaningful fan experiences.

As President Julie Sullivan laid out in our 2025 Strategic Plan, our goal is clear: Intercollegiate Athletics strives to be valued partners in advancing institutional priorities and in providing students and our campus community meaningful opportunities to engage. Among many advances this fiscal year, I’m happy to share that we have:

    • Committed to amplifying the St. Thomas mission and convictions. After the killing of George Floyd, our athletics department intentionally opened dialogue and discussion on dismantling racism and eliminating disparities. The resulting initiative, Shed a Little Light, was the collective work of many. I am proud of the impact this program is having on our staff and student-athletes.
    • Successfully attracted a more geographically diverse pool of student-athletes with strong academic achievement. Our fall 2021 recruiting class is our most geographically diverse ever, representing 14 states and three countries, with an average GPA of 3.65. These students will bring unique perspectives to the classroom and campus community.
    • Increased philanthropic commitment to support our operations and transition. Thus far in fiscal year 2021, we have secured commitments of almost $7.5 million, far surpassing the average over the last two years of approximately $500k per year.
    • Identified new sources of revenue through strategic business partnerships. We have signed a Letter of Intent with the top multimedia rights and licensing company in the country, allowing St. Thomas to leverage its assets and momentum to realize new revenue, which will support incremental expenses during our transition. This represents a first-of-its-kind partnership combining licensing, ticketing, multi-media rights and sales together in one agreement to create synergies across all touchpoints.
    • Collaborated with several campus partners to advance key initiatives supporting our transition. Our transition to Division I is an institutional commitment, and the progress we’ve made is only possible because of the hard work of many across campus. The list is long, and we are grateful for the collaborative spirit we encountered as we embark on our Division I journey.

We hope that the entire St. Thomas community will see, hear and feel the excitement and energy that comes with this transition. We intend to regularly share information and progress so that the community is informed and engaged.

Upcoming Events

If you would like to know more or have athletics-related questions, I invite you to mark your calendar for an open discussion on April 22 at noon, with key athletics leaders including:

  • Jemal Griffin, Sr. Associate AD for Student-Athlete Welfare and Development
  • Megan Jacobson, Sr. Associate AD for Administration
  • Johnny Tauer, Head Men’s Basketball Coach
  • Mary Daugherty, Associate Professor in the Opus College of Business and the Faculty Athletics Representative

Please also join me at noon on May 7 for the First Friday speaker series where I will host a panel discussion with the commissioners of our new athletics conferences: the Summit League, Pioneer Football League, CCHA and WCHA. Register here.

Our proud past informs our bright future and I hope you join me in looking forward with confidence as St. Thomas enters into this next phase of our journey. I personally look forward to continued collaboration and celebrating many successes of comprehensive excellence with you all in the future.

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