LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Bellarmine University’s athletic program will make the move to Division I.
The announcement was made Tuesday in the atrium of McGowan Hall at the private Catholic university on Newburg Road.
There had been speculation for several months that Bellarmine would be joining the Atlantic Sun Conference, becoming the 10th member of the league. The other ASUN members are Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Liberty University, Lipscomb University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of North Alabama, University of North Florida, and Stetson University.
The ASUN is headquartered in Macon, Ga., and sponsors eight sports for men and 11 for women. The conference does not sponsor football, but six ASUN teams with football programs compete in other conferences.
In April, Bellarmine released the following statement to WAVE 3 News about a possible reclassification.
"In January 2018, Bellarmine began developing a new strategic plan to shape the university’s future.
In addition to a number of academic and administrative priorities, the plan calls for the university to review its athletics conference and divisional alignment. The goal of this review is to ensure the university is maximizing student opportunities for leadership and growth, alumni engagement, and the reach, visibility and impact of Bellarmine both regionally and nationally.
This process is under way, with opportunities for continued input from the Bellarmine community."
Outside of the men’s lacrosse program, which has competed in Division I since its founding, Bellarmine athletic teams currently compete in NCAA Division II as a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The GLVC is comprised of 14 schools in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Two new teams will join the conference this fall to bring the total to 16 schools.
A reclassification to Division I means a four-year transitional period for Bellarmine before Knights teams would be eligible to compete for NCAA championships. The school also will pay the NCAA a one-time fee of $1.7 million, as well as an ASUN buy-in fee of $500,000. Annual league fees will set Bellarmine back $40,000.
Bellarmine is also planning a wave of renovations to baseball and softball facilities, then improvements to Knights Hall. There is no timetable for construction.
“We’ve decided this is a great investment for us,” Bellarmine University President Susan Donovan said Tuesday.
In return, Bellarmine anticipates raising its national profile. Home arenas in the ASUN conference give Bellarmine a marketing stage to reach college-age teens, most in metropolitan areas, some in cities larger than Louisville.
“And that helps us,” Donovan said. “And they’re in the south, where the 18-year-old population is expanding, those attending college. So it is definitely a part of the strategic plan. It has been since the beginning.”