University of St. Thomas Magazine Fall/Winter 2020


A bout three hours after St. Thomas’ historic Division I athletics news finally became official on July 15, Phil Esten arrived home in Mendota Heights to find a special message awaiting him. Taped to the door leading from the garage into his family’s mudroom were two sheets of white paper – the message “Congrats Dad 1 ! You Did 1 It!” colored in. The Tommies’ vice president and director of athletics took special note of the D1 mark, which was created by St. Thomas' marketing team. “The kids were on brand,” he joked to reporters the next day at the school’s first-ever virtual press conference. The Esten kids knew dad had done something big. It was, after all, the culmination of a 14-month whirlwind that began when the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) announced in May 2019 it was removing St. Thomas due to competitive parity reasons.

Now, here Esten was – fresh off announcing St. Thomas would be the first modern National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III program to reclassify straight to Division I.

The Esten children created a celebratory message for their dad in honor of St. Thomas going D-I.

A bold move, for sure. Historically, programs transitioning to higher divisions are afforded years to plan these types of shifts. When the Tommies begin competing in their new D-I conferences next

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