The Sioux Falls metropolitan area has a current population of roughly 265,000 — that’s 30% of the residents of South Dakota. Brookings is home to South Dakota State and has a population near 25,000. Vermillion is home to the University of South Dakota and has a population of 10,800.
Augustana University is a smallish Lutheran college (1,800 undergraduates) in the south central portion of Sioux Falls. South Dakota State is located 61 miles north of the Augustana campus, and the University of South Dakota is 58 miles south.
The SDSU Jackrabbits made the transition to Division I athletics in 2004 and have made a tremendous investment in athletic facilities. The South Dakota Coyotes made the transition to D-I in 2008 and have upgraded facilities considerably since 2016.
Much of the fan, sponsorship and media support for these two athletic programs comes from the Sioux Falls metro area — notably from Denny Sanford, his sports organization and business partners.
It has had to be a balancing act remindful of Philippe Petit walking the tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974 … the “it’’ being SDSU and USD being able to maintain a neutral position since Augustana announced in 2018 that it intended to upgrade its athletics to D-I.
Augie’s intentions seemed ludicrous from the 230-mile distance of the Twin Cities. Yet, with suggestions this was being driven by a strong Sanford connection, figuring it would be dandy to have a D-I basketball program full-time in the Sanford Pentagon arena, the ’Jacks and ’Yotes had to hem and haw, rather than squeal and howl.
The Summit League did the deed late last month. Seven months after offering St. Thomas membership, the conference denied Augustana’s application in late May.
Augustana claims to remain resolute on D-I. More likely, the Vikings will face post-pandemic financial realities and remain a top-five program in the D-II Northern Sun.
Division I has the look of being a huge financial risk for St. Thomas as second cousins to the Gophers in the Twin Cities. The Summit saw trying to add Augustana as a well-beaten No. 3 in Sioux Falls would be folly.
• Beyond market size, there’s also this contrast for the Summit to consider: At last report, St. Thomas’ endowment was $436 million and Augustana’s $82 million.
• The Tommies’ football options are brutal: Pioneer League, with extensive travel and no glamour teams; and the Missouri Valley Conference, way too expensive and too strong.
• As for men’s hockey, Tommies make sense as eighth team in “new’’ CCHA in the fall of 2021, except they don’t have a right-sized arena.
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