The most publicized jumps in sports usually center around when high school athletes head directly into the professional ranks. However, St. Thomas’ athletic program is making quite the leap of its own this month. They are competing in their first matches and games in Division I after being a Division III school for 115 years.
The Tommies (yes, that is their actual nickname) had a run of Division III dominance that ended up causing their ouster from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). The athletic program was far and away more successful than their MIAC peers that a majority of school presidents decided to kick the Tommies out of the conference due to the lack of parity their presence provided.
Since they were essentially told to pick on someone their own size, St. Thomas had to find a new schoolyard in which to play their games. In what was a highly exceptional situation, the NCAA allowed the program to join Division I, rather than staying in Division III or as is customary, spending some time in Division II before reaching the highest level.
This was agreed to last year, and now, the Tommies are getting their first experience in Division I. They kicked off their football schedule over the weekend against Michigan Tech, and the program is ready to show the world what they can do.
“We’re more than just football players,” cornerback Johnson Fallah proclaimed. “We’re the University of St. Thomas. It’s going to be pretty cool to show these other states that.” Via Startribune.com
The Tommies are competing in the Pioneer League conference for football, but will be in the Summit League for 14 other school sponsored sports.
In order to accommodate this transition, the school needed to change its operational model. Division III schools are not permitted to offer athletic scholarships, but Division I schools are. Additionally, the Tommies needed to beef up their level of staffing in order to be competitive at the next level. Athletic director Phil Easton was pretty transparent about how much work had to be done.
“Building a compliance system and academic reporting system, and making sure that we have systems in place to award athletic aid,” he summarized. “I’d say the majority of our hiring has been on the coaching front. We didn’t have fulltime assistant coaches(in Division III).” Via Spokesman-recorder.com
Time will certainly tell as to whether the Tommies can establish a level of supremacy similar to the one they had in Division III.