In a wide-sweeping Wednesday interview about league matters with KWSN’s “Sports Talk with Craig and John,” Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple said Augustana will receive a campus visit and interview from league officials in Mid-May, as planned, although it will now be a “virtual” tour and interview. The conference’s school presidents, presumably including DU’s Chancellor Jeremy Haefner, will then use the information from the visit and vote on a possible invitation to the Vikings in late May.
A school must receive a formal conference invitation before petitioning the NCAA for DI membership. An invitation will require unanimous approval from current Summit institutions.
According to KELO-FM, Sioux Falls, “the original Mid-May plan of a Summit League committee of nine taking a tour of the Augustana campus – followed by an in-person interview with president Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and athletic director Josh Morton – is still on. But due to virus concerns, committee members will stay in their cities and see an online tour, followed by a video conference interview via Zoom,” Douple said.
St. Thomas University (MN) was extended an offer to join the conference in October 2019, pending NCAA approval of their plan to move from DIII to DI membership. University of Missouri Kansas City switched from the WAC to the Summit League in June of 2019 and is set to replace departing Fort Wayne. The addition of St. Thomas was planned to bring conference membership to an even 10 programs. An even number of members would ensure ‘travel partners’ and provide for more consistent scheduling by the league. Yet, the addition of Augustana University would bring the conference back to an odd number of teams, yet again.
Plus, the timing of the vote on Augustana’s application seems rushed and premature – especially because St. Thomas’ application to the NCAA is still in process. The earliest St. Thomas will now learn its fate from the NCAA is early June, according to an NCAA official in a recent Minneapolis Star-Tribune article. So, why not wait for the Tommies’ application to be decided before reviewing yet another school for league membership?
The exit of Ft. Wayne will take the conference to only five baseball members and the loss of an automatic qualifier status for the NCAA playoffs. While the newest member UMKC does not offer baseball, St. Thomas fields a baseball team and allows the Summit League to meet the minimum automatic qualifier criteria of six baseball teams. Augustana plays baseball as well.
After arguing about the importance of an even number of teams for ease of scheduling, Douple quickly changed course, “I don’t think we’re caught up in the numbers. Ten is ideal when you come to a balanced schedule, but we can make it work with 9, 10, 11, or 12. We can make it work. Numbers (don’t) really make a difference to us. We want to get the right fit, get the right teams in here, and we’ll make a schedule work.”
We’ve frequently written about the chummy relationship between Douple and Kelby Krabbenhoft, CEO of Sanford Health, in the past. Krabbenhoft is a major sponsor of the Summit League, a booster of Augustana University, landlord of the Summit League offices, owner of numerous Sioux Falls sports properties, and a close personal friend of Commissioner Tom Douple. Asked about the conflict of interest as well as Sanford’s recent ‘gift’ of $250,000 to member schools, Douple labeled the accusations of undue influence by good buddy Krabbenhoft as ‘hogwash’. Adding that the ultimate decision on league membership was made by league presidents. (perhaps aided by Krabbenhoft and his ‘gift’).
Augustana only has 2,100 undergraduates and a $91 million dollar endowment. Plus, it is too early to evaluate the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on member institutions. Other than an address in Sioux Falls, Augustana appears to have little in common with the rest of league membership. The Summit League should continue to push for St. Thomas and consider Augustana as a ‘last resort’ option to achieve a balanced schedule and maintain an automatic berth for the NCAA baseball playoffs.