D-III to D-I in One Step

What you need to know about St. Thomas’ historic leap to Division I:

What’s so special about it?

St. Thomas received permission from the NCAA to move from Division III directly to Division I. Under normal circumstances, schools seeking to make such a move undergo a 12-year process, including a five-year stint in Division II. Instead, the Tommies are beginning a five-year plan this fall to become a full-fledged Division I program.

What’s the Summit League?

The Tommies will play in this conference — headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., and fielding nine full-time members in Midwestern states — in 19 of 22 sports. North Dakota State and South Dakota State, former Division II schools, became members in 2006. South Dakota joined in 2011 and North Dakota followed in 2017. The league’s website is thesummitleague.org.

What about Tommies football?

The Tommies will play in the Pioneer Football League starting in 2021, after one more school year in the MIAC. The PFL is a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division IAA) conference, which is one step under the big schools of the Big Ten and SEC in the Football Bowl Subdivision. FBS teams occasionally play FCS teams, in nonconference one-off games. So could the Gophers and Tommies square off in a Battle for Minnesota someday? Technically, yes, but there’s a big difference between resources and competition in FBS and FCS.

Are their football opponents nearby?

The Tommies will gain some serious frequent flyer miles in the Pioneer Football League. There are now nine football teams, with Jacksonville having just departed for the Atlantic Sun Conference. St. Thomas and Presbyterian College in South Carolina will arrive in 2021 to give the conference 11 teams. Teams hail from California, New York, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa (Drake) and other states.

What is the FCS postseason like?

The FCS playoffs look more like college basketball than big-time college football. Twenty-four teams make the FCS playoffs, with eight of those teams getting a bye to the Sweet 16. The eight Round 1 winners advance, and those 16 teams battle through the bracket — the highest ­remaining seed plays host in each round — to try to reach the championship game in Frisco, Texas.