Summit League University Presidents Converge on Sioux Falls Amidst Division I Debate

As we previously reported, Summit League university presidents will converge on Sioux Falls this week. Initially, it was thought that the meeting would center on Summit League conference affairs, a tour of the new offices (on the Sanford Health Campus) and a tour of future conference member Augustana University’s campus.

Then, in a surprise announcement on October 5th, the Summit League extended an invitation to St. Thomas University to replace departing Fort Wayne (IUPUI) as the 10th member of the conference. The NCAA requires a waiver to go directly from Division III to Division I without a stop at Division II so the move may be time-consuming as well. If the waiver is approved, St. Thomas would join the Summit League in 2021.

But now, what to do with Augustana’s eagerness to make a move to DI status and join the summit league? Will league presidents tour the Sioux Falls campus and keep the Vikings ‘on the hook’ in the event of another member departure (Western Illinois?) and in the event the St. Thomas waiver is not approved? Or, is there still an interest to add Augustana as an 11th conference member?

One thing is certain, if conference presidents do plan to tour Augustana, the bus route will likely pass by this billboard posted just a half-mile from campus.

A billboard "paid for by Concerned Augustana Alumni" stands at the intersection of 39th St. and Minnesota Ave. on Tuesday, October 29, in Sioux Falls.
According to the Argus Leader, “A billboard near the intersection of South Minnesota Avenue and West 39th Street — only a mile away from the college — asks ‘Hey Augie, Why not Stay Division 2??!’. The billboard does not list any names or contact info, and only notes that it was paid for by “Concerned Augustana Alumnists.”

Commissioner Tom Douple expects Augustana, which is transitioning to D-I, to still apply to join the Summit League. Douple told the Sioux City Journal, “If we can get St. Thomas,  that’s going to be our total focus this spring until we get an answer (on the waiver), now we have options and we will be at 10. We will take a very deliberate look at the others and see the direction that we will go in.”

While Augustana President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and athletic director Josh Morton for Augustana are still gung-ho on the D1 vision, lots of other people, especially alumni,  see the move as far from ideal for the tiny 1,807 undergraduate university which many community members believe stands to lose its tight-knit identity.

In a damning Argus Leader article on October 11th, critics of the Division I move describe a “bunker mentality” surrounding the process, with Herseth Sandlin, Morton, and vice president for advancement Pam Homan – with Sanford Health looming as a “strategic partner” – crafting a narrative around a decision to move to DI that had already been made – without adequate input or thought from university stakeholders. And, of course, LetsGoDU already covered the too-close relationship between Commissioner Douple and Kelby Krabbenhoft, CEO of Sanford Health.

Coaches and athletes at Augustana have declined to answer basic questions about the Division I move. The costs of the move to DI have not been shared and many within the university community feel the decision was already made before they were asked their opinion of the move.

Concluded one Augustana alumnus, Bev Miller, “A lot of people think bigger is better without really knowing all the implications. If you begin with ego and money, that’s usually where it leads.” The article surmises, “Will Augustana become Sanford University?” But with all the future changes in healthcare models, could the current flow of money from Sanford’s coffers to the university cease in the future, leaving Augustana without its prime donor?

In short, university presidents should skip the bus ride to Augustana until the Vikings get their house in order. Try Minerva’s Restaurant instead – white table cloths and everything.

5 thoughts on “Summit League University Presidents Converge on Sioux Falls Amidst Division I Debate”

  1. We are stuck in the Summit for the near future at least. It will never be a respected mid-major league. Some schools like: Both Idaho Universities, Rice, NMSU, and a few other western schools might drop football because it’s a huge money drain. Then schools like DU, Omaha, and Oral can form a non football mid major conference with some allure.

  2. I think the Summit League needs to continue to look outside the Dakotas to grow the conference. And, Augie is clearly not the answer. I actually like the St Thomas move. Either way, Denver needs to improve in hoops to have any flexibility.

    1. Completely agree. Until DU becomes relevant in hoops, they have no leverage. None. While I understand the appeal of a better and more prestigious conference, that seems to be a pipe dream until the program elevates itself.

  3. Call me crazy, but I like the Summit a bit more with each passing year. There is UND and Omaha, where DU has existing hockey rivalries that are starting to grow bigger in other sports. And when St. Thomas University in St. Paul is approved (I think it will happen) by the NCAA to join the Summit, I think it gives the Summit another private, pretty similar to DU. DU has also had good success getting to the NCAAs in Volleyball, Soccer (M&W), Swimming, Tennis and Golf from the Summit, etc. And as poor a league as the Summit may be, it’s not like DU’s ever won it in basketball.

    Of course, if DU can find welcome in a more compelling conference who actually wants us, then great.

    But until then, the Summit is better than the WAC or the Sun Belt, where DU was before 2012.

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