The coronavirus outbreak has canceled college sports events through the spring season but isn't expected to delay St. Thomas' quest to move from Division III to D-I.
The NCAA Division I Council still is scheduled to meet April 23-24, with St. Thomas' proposed move on the agenda. Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple, who has invited the Tommies into his conference, said Tuesday the timeline hasn't changed.
St. Thomas, which is being forced out of the MIAC after the 2020-21 school year, wants to move directly to Division I, bypassing the standard five-year transition period in Division II. The school received an invitation last fall to join the Summit League. Douple said after a January meeting of the NCAA's Strategic Vision and Planning Committee that he was "very optimistic" the NCAA would create a way for St. Thomas to move from Division III to Division I. The NCAA is considering allowing any qualified school to move directly from D-III to D-I, a rule change that would need to be approved by the Division I Council.
"We remain hopeful and optimistic during the April council meeting that it's going to provide us some guidance and answers for the future," Douple said by phone from the Summit League offices in Sioux Falls, S.D.
"We've been working on this process for a year," he added. "It's small steps at a time, a very uphill battle. It's daunting, but we want to keep our head down and move forward."
The Summit League competes in eight men's sports and nine women's sports, with basketball being the most prominent, but does not offer football.
"It's a great fit for our membership," Douple said of St. Thomas. "… It's in our footprint, and they're a great school academically. They've done a fantastic job of putting themselves in the position to be considered for Division I."
St. Thomas is exploring both the Pioneer League and Missouri Valley Football Conference for football, athletic director Phil Esten told the Star Tribune in October. In addition, the Tommies men's and women's hockey teams would seek conference homes if the Division I move is approved. Esten declined to comment for this article.
Douple credited the NCAA for its cooperation on the potential move.
"It's been a challenge, a very big, big challenge. This is a big ask. It's never been done," he said. "… There's good people in the NCAA staff. They've solved and addressed so many issues over the past few weeks. That's why we remain hopeful and optimistic. It's just good people that understand the business."