Augustana to go Division I, will likely join Summit League

As a surprise to absolutely no one,  Augustana University from Sioux Falls, South Dakota will be joining The Summit League.  And we told you it was going to happen well before the announcement yesterday. As any casual follower of the Summit knows, the tiny college located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will do nothing to elevate the conference competitively or reputationally.

As an insular conference, the Summit League just got more localized with half the conference located in the Dakotas. The move is expected to be made in 2021-22. And then Augustana will join Presbyterian College from Clinton, SC as one of the smallest Division I programs in the country. 

This deal was all but official when Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft told the Summit League commissioner Tom Douple he wanted it to happen. As the largest league sponsor, Sanford Health is also the conference landlord and closest bedfellow.

Some of our peers think that our resistance to adding tiny Augustana is arrogance. The reality is that there is a historical, cultural and geographic disconnect with the Summit League – and this move just makes it worse.

So, how to explain this?

Just look at the crowds that attend DU athletic events. The problem starts with Denver which “boasts” a largely detached geographically dispersed student body. The student and alumni base have little to no connection to the Dakotas – personally or professionally. Academically and socially there are no historical connections between the conference universities. Conference rivalries outside the Dakotas are rare and, frankly, impractical. It is easier to get to almost any other place in the western two-thirds of the United States than the Dakotas –  so there is little or no travel between conference schools and Denver.

And, for our Dakotas friends, lets put this in perspective. Imagine if there was only one team in the Dakotas and all the other programs were in Colorado. And then, the conference added Regis University in Denver. (Regis is a private, Catholic university…and four times larger than Augustana.)  Would the Dakotas’ conference member be excited about the addition? Would that improve the visibility of the conference and improve league stature or competitiveness?

Because Denver is located on a D1 island, the Summit League is a viable conference. But if Denver is ever going to land in a better fitting conference, fans better cheer for  DU basketball to turn the corner – and fast. As the only  ‘revenue sport’ on the menu,  seasons with .500 records and 1,200 fans at games are not going to lure a new conference suitor.

Until the men’s basketball team starts to contend for annual NCAA Tournament appearances, brace yourselves. The Vikings are coming.