FARGO — North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen called the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s booting of the University of St. Thomas a “curveball” that was thrown at the Tommies.
On Friday, the Summit League threw a meaty fastball at St. Thomas.
It unanimously extended UST an invitation for league membership.
“The vote is the result of months of due diligence and extensive research including numerous campus visits, stakeholder meetings, and data collection,” Summit commissioner Tom Douple said in a statement. “While the League recognizes the extraordinary efforts ahead for UST to seek Division I membership, we believe this institution is the right fit for The Summit League and we will support the reclassification process."
The Tommies had been longtime members of the Division III MIAC along with Concordia College in Moorhead. The move is pending NCAA approval that gives St. Thomas the waiver to go directly from Division III to Division I. Last May it was announced the Tommies were "involuntary removed,” but could stay in the league through the spring of 2021.
Larsen said St. Thomas’ circumstances of being removed from the MIAC may help its case with the NCAA. Currently, Division III schools are required to attain membership in Division II before making the leap to D-I.
“From an NCAA standpoint, there are definitely some circumstances around the St. Thomas waiver they haven’t seen before,” Larsen said. “If anybody has a case to get an exemption and waiver, I think St. Thomas does.”
If the waiver is approved, St. Thomas will begin competing in the Summit in the fall of 2021. It would bring the number of schools in the Summit in that year to 10, joining NDSU, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, Western Illinois, Oral Roberts and Missouri-Kansas City. Purdue-Fort Wayne is leaving the Summit after this season and joining the Horizon League.
Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., has announced its intention to move to Division I and could be a candidate to join the league.
The Summit League doesn't currently sponsor football or ice hockey, two sports that St. Thomas currently offers. The school stated via its website it would actively pursue affiliate membership for those sports in other Division I conferences.
"Joining the Summit League would be a unique and exciting opportunity for St. Thomas, allowing us to significantly expand our impact and reach," St. Thomas president Julie H. Sullivan said in a statement.
Larsen expects St. Thomas to seek membership in the Division I FCS Pioneer League for football, which is a non-scholarship league consisting of the likes of Drake (Iowa), Butler University (Ind.) and San Diego.
Larsen said the St. Thomas-to-Summit issue picked up steam in the last couple of months and he said UST is a good fit for the league.
"I think they have a history of tradition and success," Larsen said. "Athletics is important on their campus, it’s important throughout their fan base.”