University of St. Thomas Magazine Fall/Winter 2020

When the U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Colleges report published in August, St. Thomas was ranked among the top third of all national universities and moved up among the top 20 Catholic universities in the country. A look at the universities ranked ahead of St. Thomas reveals a list of institutions with D-I athletics programs. While athletics may not be the measure of a comprehensive university, St. Thomas’ leaders understand the platform it provides.

– the same fund that supported the 2017 Dougherty Family College launch and the 2019 opening of the Morrison Family College of Health. Yes, COVID-19 makes things challenging in the short term, but university leaders view the move to D-I athletics as very much a long-term, strategic initiative. “This opportunity might not be here for St. Thomas in another year or two, or three years. The opportunity is here for us now,” Sullivan told the Star Tribune. “So knowing that we have the belief that it is the right long-term decision for us, then we just have to pace the transition and pace the investment such that we don’t compromise any of our other priorities, particularly our academic programs.” Keeping a strong focus on academics starts with admissions and recruiting; the university says it will continue to look for students (regardless of whether they are student-athletes or students-at-large) capable of successfully graduating from St. Thomas in four years. There’s also the question of competition itself. Moving from D-III to D-I will present its own challenges on the fields, courts, pools and courses as the student-athletes adjust to a higher caliber of competition. Sullivan and Esten both, however, emphasize the move was always about more than just athletics, pointing to the fact that many of St. Thomas’ new competitors look very similar from an institutional perspective. Both the Summit League and the Pioneer Football League, for example, include member colleges and universities with profiles similar to St. Thomas’ (think Denver, San Diego, etc.) while the new hockey leagues provide opportunities to extend visibility across the Midwest region for a school steadily rising in national rankings.

We are stepping onto a larger platform to tell our story about what we do, why we do it and how we do it well.


Even though D-I may not have been the plan before May 2019, the results are fitting the university’s larger goals nicely. “If you get into a prescribed path, you miss probably the most exciting opportunities,” Sullivan told the Star Tribune in August.

The Tommies won’t miss this one. n

Learn how you can support St. Thomas’ transition to Division I at

S T T H O M A S . E D U

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