Jul 16, 2020 - Sports

University of St. Thomas jumps from D-III to D-I

The school's football team

The St. Thomas football team takes the field in 2019. Photo: Jack Rodgers/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images

The University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.) has been granted permission by the NCAA to jump directly from Division III to Division I after the school was booted from its conference for being too good.

Where it stands: Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, the Tommies will join the Summit League for most sports.

  • The school's football team — which routed three conference opponents by a combined score of 244-0 two years ago and made the D-III national championship game twice last decade — will join the Pioneer League.

Why it matters: St. Thomas is the first school to make the two-level jump since the current rules were put in place in 2010, which typically mandate a 12-year process with a five-year stop in D-II, but were waived in this unique scenario.

  • Buffalo made the two-level jump in 1993 before the rules were put in place and so did Dayton, though they were already D-I in basketball at the time.

The backdrop: St. Thomas announced last spring that it was leaving the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, its home since 1920, because conference members were preparing to kick them out for being too dominant.

  • The Tommies' success was not a surprise, given they spent more on athletics and had twice as many undergrads (6,200) as any other MIAC school.

What they're saying: "When you look back at the evolution of our school over the last 40 or 50 years, it's been very entrepreneurial in spirit — whether that's going co-ed, moving from college to university, expanding to a second campus or adding a law school," St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten tells Axios.

  • "We feel this is the next step for us, and we're hopeful that making the move to D-I will expand our reach nationally and extend the St. Thomas brand beyond what has been a strong regional market."
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