The University of St. Thomas athletics program has been approved for exploratory membership in Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the 2018-2019 academic year. The exploratory year will officially begin on Sept. 1, 2018, and will provide the University a year to learn more about NCAA Division III. The University has also received, and accepted, an invitation of membership into the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC), becoming the 10th member of the NCAA Division III league.
Recently Director of Athletics and Recreational Sports Todd Smith and Head Men’s Basketball Coach Anthony Medina had a conversation about the Celts transitioning to NCAA Division III. Coach Medina was one of the very first men’s basketball student-athletes when UST re-introduced the team in 2009. Medina graduated in 2012 with a degree in English and still holds the record for the most three-pointers.
ANTHONY MEDINA: The Celts introduced volleyball and re-established UST’s athletics program in 2006. What has happened over the last 12 years?
TODD SMITH: The growth of our Athletic Department has been incredible over the last 12 years. We have grown to nine sports: women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf and—new in 2018-2019 men’s and women’s cross country. Since 2006, we competed as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and in 2010-2011 we joined the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC). As you know, in that time we have had success bringing home 11 RRAC Conference Championships and appeared in 11 NAIA National Tournaments. One of the achievements the University is most proud of would be our five consecutive RRAC Sportsmanship awards, and we are hoping to add No. 6 this year. From a personal
standpoint, I am most proud of how well our student athletes have done in the classroom. We have had success in competition and been able to do so without compromising ourselves academically.
AM: What will joining the NCAA Division III mean for UST?
TS: First of all, the “NCAA” brand association should benefit our entire university. Becoming a part of “the blue dot” (NCAA) will raise our academic and athletic profile in Texas, the region and even the country. Many people do not realize Division III is the largest of all NCAA divisions. There are over 450 institutions from California to New York that compete in Division III. There are 17 NCAA Division III schools alone in the state of Texas. Also, Division III member institutions tend to be well respected academic institutions. We will now be in the company of MIT, The University of Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, Williams College and Amherst College—all NCAA Division III members.
AM: In what ways do you see this transition benefiting the student-athletes most?
TS: Our student-athletes will benefit both directly and indirectly. We have already assembled the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). This committee is made up of student-athletes from each team on campus, and its focus is to improve the quality of life for our student-athletes on campus. The SAAC provides a voice for our student-athletes at the local, conference and national levels. Also, the SAAC will lead the Athletic Department in our campus and community service efforts. Along with the benefits of the SAAC, UST athletic teams will be broadening their travel schedules to compete in incredible facilities around the region. Austin, San Antonio and Denver are a few locations where teams will compete.
AM: Can you tell me more about the layout of the exploratory year?
TS: The transition to Division III has many layers to the process, the first of which is the exploratory year. We officially begin our exploratory year on Sept. 1, 2018. The exploratory year is designed for us to learn about NCAA Division III and start to operate under NCAA Division III rules, regulations and philosophies. Ultimately, this phase of our transition allows us to decide whether this is the right move for our studentathletes, Athletic Department and University. We will still compete in the NAIA and the Red River during the 2018-19 athletic season. If we decide to take the next step and apply for provisional membership, we will do so by Jan. 15, 2019.
AM: How does the NCAA Division III philosophy statement, which places the highest priority on the quality of the educational experience, fit with UST Athletics’ philosophy of academics? What is UST’s philosophy of academics?
TS: The academic rigors at UST are challenging for all students and at times can be even more difficult for any student tackling extra-curricular activities. Organization and time management are two essential skills for any student-athlete to develop and, in time, master. One of the goals of Division III athletics is to make the college experience as similar to that of a non-student-athlete as possible. They do so by limiting daily practice time, annual practice time and the number of contests in which teams can participate. The effort to create balance allows the student-athletes to get more involved on campus with student-life, research and have more time to devote to schoolwork. This balance helps develop the whole person from a mental, physical, spiritual and social standpoint. These philosophies align almost directly with the high standards of the UST Athletic Department. The objective is to create successful individuals in society, and academics and athletics have a place in helping to shape that person.
AM: UST has also accepted an invitation of membership into the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. What will joining the conference mean for UST?
TS: The opportunity to join the SCAC is a significant part of our decision to pursue NCAA Division III. This Conference is made up of some of the best academic schools in this part of the country. For them to recognize us as a peer is a huge compliment. The affiliation with the
SCAC should also assist us in recruiting quality student athletes. For that reason, I believe this opportunity will also open the door to very strong students who may not have been aware of UST before our association with the SCAC.
AM: Is there excitement among the coaches and players?
TS: Well coach, I don’t know, why don’t you answer this question? How do our coaches and student-athletes feel about this transition?
AM: We are all anxious, excited and curious about the next few years. While the coaches recognize the opportunity, we also understand these are uncharted waters, and it will be a learning experience for our entire department and University. The transitional years will provide some challenges we will have to work through, but nothing we are not all committed to enduring together. In the end, this is an opportunity for us to share UST with a new audience and represent the University in a new place. We cannot wait to get started.
AM: What steps need to be completed for us to make the transition to Division III?
TS: For us to become NCAA Division III eligible, we must have 12 total sports—six women’s teams and six men’s teams—so we will need to add three additional sports programs. We will add baseball and men’s and women’s tennis. These sports will compete on the fields and courts in 2019-20. Obviously, this will be challenging because of our facility constraints. Currently, we are locating a home for all three of these new teams. The addition of new teams means we will add new faces to the department by way of coaches and athletic administrative staff. We will also have to expand our offices, locker rooms and athletic training facilities soon. Currently, we have about 115 student-athletes, but by the start of the 2019-20 school year, we will have approximately 190 student-athletes.
WHAT IS SCAC?
UST accepted membership in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) in February, becoming the 10th member of the NCAA Division III league. The SCAC was formed to provide an association through which the member institutions may encourage organized competition in intercollegiate sports among teams representative of their respective student bodies. Members of this conference share a commitment to priority of the overall quality of academic standards and educational experiences.
“This is really recognition not only of the quality of our athletics program, but of the quality of our academics and institution as a whole. It is exciting to think about the level of competition we have been invited to join,” UST President Richard Ludwick said.
SCAC Members: Austin College, Centenary College, Colorado College, University of Dallas, Schreiner University, Southwestern University, Texas Lutheran University and Trinity University. Johnson & Wales University (Denver) recently accepted an invitation from the SCAC.