Bellarmine University has reached the premier division of college athletics, as the school announced on Tuesday that it will be moving to Division I and joining the ASUN Conference in 2020-21.
“The addition of Bellarmine University to the ASUN continues the rising trend of our league,” ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart said. “We are extremely proud to become teammates with a great university and the Louisville-area community. Today, we celebrate a new beginning with students, coaches, faculty, administration, alumni, boosters and Knights fans everywhere.”
The Knights currently play most of their sports at the Division II level in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Knights’ men’s basketball team won the DII National Championship in 2011.
Bellarmine currently has one athletic program competing at the Division I level. Its lacrosse team was already competing at the DI level in the Southern Conference. It has been a DI team since 2005. The lacrosse team will remain in SoCon, while the men’s and women’s swimming teams will compete in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association, and the field hockey and wrestling teams will be independents. Seventeen of the university’s athletic programs will move to the ASUN.
“This really seems like just the next part of the foundation of Bellarmine’s future,” said Athletic Director Scott Wiegandt. “I’ve seen us win a national championship in basketball, we had an individual high jump champion this year. Both dance and cheer won national championships on the same day. So today we’ll continue, and going forward, to build on the Bellarmine tradition.”
This move will bring increased exposure for the university, which President Susan M. Donovan said she hopes will promote academics and bring in new students.
“As a Division I school, we will be able to share all that Bellarmine has to offer with a larger audience than ever before through increased media coverage and event attendance,” Donovan said. “This will allow us to recruit excellent students from a much wider geographic area, and ASUN is a market where the number of traditional-age college students is growing. Exposure to new markets will allow us to increase the diversity of our student body.”
The move will also bring some facility upgrades, as the university is looking to make changes to a few athletic facilities to accommodate more fans and improve their experience. The total cost of these renovations is expected to be $6 million to $7 million, Donovan said.
Knights Hall will be expanded to add seats and boxes. The exterior will also see upgrades. As it stands, it would not be the smallest basketball arena in the ASUN, but it currently only seats 2,196 fans.
The baseball and softball facilities will be the top priority in renovations so that the school can improve fan experience, but Donovan thinks Knights Hall could be finished quickly as well. Bellarmine will look to use fundraising for these renovations.
The cost of those renovations won’t be the only expense for the move to Division I. The university’s buy-in to the NCAA is $1.7 million, and the buy-in for ASUN is a half-a-million-dollar fee, Donovan said.
While the university is excited about the growth of its athletic programs and is spending money on this move, Donovan said that the university’s focus will still remain on academic programs.
Upon moving into the ASUN, Bellarmine will be immediately eligible to compete for conference championships. The NCAA’s four-year transition rule will still apply, meaning the Knights will not be able to compete in NCAA postseason play right away.
Bellarmine’s enrollment, as it stands, would be the lowest among all ASUN schools with 3,369 students. The next-lowest is Jacksonville University with 4,213.