While St. Thomas works throughout the next five years to fully transition to Division I, none of the teams will be eligible for NCAA championships until 2026-27.

But there will be some conference championship opportunities in the Summit League, where the majority of St. Thomas' 22 sports will play. Football (Pioneer League), women's hockey (WCHA) and men's hockey (league to be determined) are the sports not involved.

According to Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple, St. Thomas' men's and women's indoor and outdoor track and field, swimming and diving, cross-country and golf teams can participate in the conference's championships. Other sports — including men's and women's basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, baseball and softball — can compete in only regular-season play.

Douple said that's based on team vs. individual sports, since the Summit League's conference champions earn an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason, and because many of the conference championships don't involve all 10 member teams, instead taking only the top regular-season finishers.

"Say like in baseball, we take the top four," Douple explained. "Even if [St. Thomas] would finish during the regular season in the top [four] … having them at the tournament would have knocked out someone who actually could have earned the [automatic qualification]."

But St. Thomas student-athletes in those team sports will still have some potential for postseason action. Douple said if a team had a good enough season, it could qualify for some low-level national tournaments. For example, men's basketball couldn't participate in the Summit League tournament or the NCAA tournament, but it could earn a berth to the CollegeInsider.com tournament or the College Basketball Invitational, tournaments below the NCAA and NIT.

Douple also said he hopes to put out five-year regular-season schedules starting in the fall of 2021 that will pair up some teams for consolidated traveling purposes, such as men's and women's basketball, as a way to cut costs.


St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten said he doesn't think his department's Division III-level facilities will negatively affect its recruiting as a Division I program.

"Facilities aren't No. 1, nor are they even really in the top three," Esten said of how recruits make their decisions. "They're important, but they're looking at an academic profile, they're looking at what the team culture is and who the coach is, and they're looking at what life after university is going to look like for them.

"… Also remember, we're going to be recruiting against our peers. And our peers in the Summit League, our peers [in other] Catholic institutions across the country, do not necessarily operate at the Power Five [conference] level."

Esten added none of the school's current facilities necessarily need updates to meet D-I standards. But increasing capacity or improving the fan and student-athlete experience with new accommodations is something Esten will look into as a way to drive more revenue.


Playing in the Pioneer League, St. Thomas football won't have scholarships. And Esten is still evaluating scholarship offerings in the rest of the sports.

"We've got a sense for what the average scholarship levels are across the Summit League, which has been really helpful," Esten said. "We want to make sure that we provide our sports with the resources they need to be competitive.

"But I'll also say that the University of St. Thomas does a fantastic job of awarding aid beyond athletically related aid, for merit and need-based individuals as well. And so that's certainly a strong consideration as we think about the level of athletic aid that we offer all of our sports."