The University of St. Thomas is not expecting to get a yes-or-no answer next week, when its quest to move up to Division I is discussed at the NCAA’s annual convention. The Tommies do anticipate some progress, though, and remain hopeful the issue could be settled in April.
The NCAA’s Division I Strategic Vision and Planning Committee will take up the topic Tuesday, on the first day of the five-day convention in Anaheim, Calif. St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten said the committee has been considering “a couple of different legislative models” that would allow schools to directly reclassify from Division III to D-I, without the currently required stop in D-II. The Tommies are hoping to make that leap after being kicked out of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last year.
Esten isn’t sure exactly what will be decided next week, or what the next steps will be. He said he has gotten “pretty positive feedback” about the ongoing conversations, leading him to believe NCAA decisionmakers are open to considering legislation that would pave the way for the Tommies’ move.
“I don’t know what we can expect as a result of conversations at the convention,” Esten said. “It could probably look a number of different ways. I’m hopeful we will learn more, and I’m optimistic coming out of the convention that we’ll have a better sense for what the path will be. But I don’t know exactly what that will look like.
“I’m hopeful there would be some resolution by April. A lot of that will depend on how far the conversations advance at the convention.”
Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple, who is supporting the Tommies’ bid, echoed Esten’s assessment. The Summit League has invited St. Thomas to join, contingent on its move to D-I.
“The committee has been working on this issue since the fall, along with the NCAA staff,” Douple said. “There’s no doubt they’re working hard on it, and they’re going to come out with some type of model and progress at the convention. We’re optimistic that things will move forward, and we’ll probably have a little bit more [progress] at the April meeting.”
St. Thomas has been in limbo since last May, when MIAC presidents voted to involuntarily remove it from a conference it helped found 100 years ago. The 2020-21 academic year will be its last in the league.
The Strategic Vision and Planning Committee includes representatives from 10 Division I schools and conferences, and the reclassification process is among many areas it oversees. Under current rules, a Division III school wishing to move up must go to Division II first; after five years as a full D-II member, it can then move to D-I.
Douple said the committee is not considering a waiver or exception for St. Thomas. Instead, it is discussing a process that would allow any qualified school to go directly from Division III to I. Any proposed legislation would have to be approved by the Division I Council, which meets in April.
Tuesday’s meeting is restricted to committee members, so neither Esten nor Douple will be allowed to attend. Douple anticipates he will be briefed on the discussions at the end of the convention.
Esten said an April resolution would put the Tommies in “a pretty good place” to build schedules and recruit D-I-quality athletes for the transition. If things drag on, it could make those tasks more difficult.
Though Douple explained to St. Thomas officials that the NCAA’s multistep process would not be swift, he said his heart goes out to the coaches, athletes and administrators whose future remains undetermined.
“All good things take time,” he said. “We still feel good about it, that’s for sure. There are good people in the NCAA and on these committees; they’re working hard, and they will figure it out.
“The hardest thing to have in athletics is patience. But that’s what you have to have.”