Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple said Friday that "very positive progress" was made at the NCAA convention regarding St. Thomas's bid to reclassify to NCAA Division I, setting the stage for a final resolution in April.
The NCAA's Strategic Vision and Planning Committee discussed the matter in a Tuesday meeting. Though Douple will not receive an official briefing until next week, he said the information he has at this point makes him "very optimistic" that the NCAA will create a way for St. Thomas to move directly from Division III to Division I. Current NCAA rules require D-III schools to move up to D-II first and spend five years there as a full member before taking the next step.
Rather than granting an exception for St. Thomas, the NCAA is considering a process that would allow any qualified school to make the jump from D-III to D-I. Any rule change must be approved by the NCAA's Division I Council, which meets April 23-24.
St. Thomas' membership in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will end in 2020-21, after a vote last May to kick the St. Paul school out of a league it helped form 100 years ago. The Tommies have been invited to join the Summit League and could begin play in 2021-22 if the reclassification rule is changed soon.
"We always thought it was going to come down to that April meeting, and that's where we're headed," Douple said. "The good news is, it looks like we'll have a resolution in April and figure it all out. … I'll say I'm very optimistic.
"The committee met and had very good discussion on the reclassification. I think we made some very positive progress toward our April meeting."
St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten, who was attending meetings Friday at the convention in Anaheim, Calif., said "that is my understanding as well" when asked for comment on Douple's assessment.
Douple has been working with both St. Thomas and the NCAA as the organization explores the idea of creating a direct path from D-III to D-I. Within the next couple of weeks, he expects to get more information on what the next steps will be.
Douple anticipates that NCAA staff will work with Division I Council members to develop a formal proposal, which would be voted on by the council in April. He said the Strategic Vision and Planning Committee studied the issue in depth at last week's meeting, "looking at different angles and perspectives" of a potential D-III to D-I pathway.
In the coming weeks, Douple said he will continue working with St. Thomas, NCAA staff and the Division I Council "to make sure we're doing all our due diligence." He has said repeatedly that the process would be slow and deliberate, but he also believes the NCAA does not want to leave St. Thomas waiting any longer than necessary.
"The coaches, they're trying to recruit and schedule, and the unknown is just a killer right now for them," Douple said. "We need, and St. Thomas needs, resolution of some type because of their timeline and scheduling and so forth.
"We're working under the gun here, but there are good people at the NCAA and on the council. We'll figure it out somehow.''