The Summit League packed up their office in the Chicago suburbs and moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota this year. The conference’s annual men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are held in Sioux Falls. And now, it appears that Augustana University, located in Sioux Falls, is looking at the possibility of moving to DI and joining the Summit League according to KELO radio in Sioux Falls and WDAZ TV in Fargo. According to reports, Augustana’s new athletic director, Josh Morton, is exploring the feasibility of a move to a higher athletics division and conference.
And it looks like the Summit League is ready to welcome an Augustana move with open arms. With an expressed desire of adding a 10th team for conference balance, Augustana joins a small list of possible candidates for conference expansion.
Augustana is a private university located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with approximately 2,000 undergraduates – approximately the same size as Colorado College. Said to be founded in 1860 (under various names), the school’s teams are named the Vikings and Augustana sponsors 14 sports. Their current annual athletic budget is $10.3 million per year. And the tiny annual budget covers football as well. In total, their budget is half of South Dakota State University, their Summit League neighbor.
While Augustana has a distinguished Division II history, this addition merely adds another Dakotas team to the mix and turns the conference into an even more regional conference than it was before – with little or no interest for Denver fans, alumni and students. And, there is still a fair amount of speculation about Fort Wayne eventually exiting the Summit League to pursue Horizon League membership – former league member IUPUI bolted there last season. And, who knows if Western Illinois budget issues will allow them to remain a DI program and whether Oral Roberts wants to bolt the Dakotas-centric league, too? One could easily conclude that nearly all the non-Dakotas members would look to exit if they had a meaningful alternative. And this move just makes the situation worse.
Sanford Health, located in Sioux Falls, is the largest and most influential sponsor of the Summit League. Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft is publicly on-record supporting the move. And, three miles from campus, the Denny Sanford Premier Center would likely host Vikings’ games. Very convenient.
Rather than adopting an aggressive approach to growth like many other Division I conferences commissioners, Summit Commissioner Tom Douple seems more interested in elevating regional Division II programs and growing the Dakotas footprint. While there are more established programs like New Mexico State University, Montana State University, Northern Colorado and even Grand Canyon (ugh) which would add to competitive quality and meaningful rivalries. But the insular reputation of the Summit League would likely dissuade any of these schools (or others) from joining. This move further ties Douple’s hands and limits future expansion for the Summit League. And, DU is no closer to meaningful rivalries or ‘like’ universities.
Time to move on.