Beginning in the 2020-21 season, Bellarmine University Athletics will be a part of the Division I ranks and also the Atlantic Sun Conference, the school announced on June 18.
“ASUN is a perfect fit for the Knights, because – like Bellarmine – every school in the conference is committed to putting students first,” Bellarmine Athletic Director Scott Wiegandt said. “Our student-athletes already meet Division I academic standards, and our players and coaches will be ready to compete when we join our new conference next year. While our facilities generally meet DI standards, we’re planning some upgrades that will enhance the experience for our student-athletes, our opponents and our fans. The improved reach offered through ASUN and ESPN will shine a brighter spotlight on Bellarmine, drawing more regional and national attention.”
A private university with 3,797 students is located in Louisville, Kentucky. Bellarmine currently competes in Division II in all sports except men’s lacrosse, which has been Division I since 2005 and is part of the Southern Conference. The remainder of the school’s teams except field hockey, which is a Division II independent, participate in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, of which Bellarmine was a founding member in 1978.
The Knights field 22 sports teams, 11 men’s and 11 women’s, 17 of which will compete as part of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Men’s lacrosse will maintain its spot as part of the Southern Conference. Field hockey and wrestling will compete as Division I independents, while men’s and women’s swimming will join the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association.
Bellarmine will become the 10th member of the A-Sun alongside Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, NJIT, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson. The Atlantic Sun is an ESPN broadcast partner and has been since 1989. Event coverage airs on ESPN+. The ASUN doesn’t sponsor swimming.
The CCSA, in which both swimming programs will compete, includes seven other schools on the men’s side in Florida Atlantic, Gardner-Webb, Howard, Incarnate Word, NJIT, and Old Dominion. The CCSA women’s ranks currently include nine schools: Campbell, Florida Gulf Coast, Gardner-Webb, Georgia Southern, Howard, Incarnate Word, Liberty, North Florida, and UNC Asheville. The CCSA is a conference that sponsors only swimming and beach volleyball, and its members are all parts of other conferences for the majority of its sports.
The Bellarmine women’s swimming team is coming off a program-best fifth place effort at the GLVC championships with 373 points, behind Drury and UIndy. The men’s team registered a program record tally (197 points) in an eighth place finish at the conference meet. The school sent three athletes and one relay team to the NCAA Division II Championships: freshman Rachel Walker (1000 free, 1650 free), sophomore Sophia Noren (100 breast), and freshman Matthew Sims (200 fly, 1650 free), the first BU men’s swimmer ever to compete at nationals. The Knights’ women’s 200 medley relay also competed (15th) at NCAAs. The women placed 35th with 11 points, while the men were 28th with 15 points.
Bellarmine notes on its website, Bellarmine Rising, which explains the hows and whys of the transition to Division I that “Other schools of similar size, such as Abilene Christian and Lipscomb, which have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in recent years, have demonstrated that smaller institutions that have reclassified can compete.”
The school’s reclassification is part of its recently announced strategic plan to grow the school’s reach, ensure financial stability and deliver a transformative student experience, while maintaining its high standards.
“I’m happy to announce that one of the first initiatives in Bellarmine’s new strategic plan is being realized today,” University President Susan Donovan said. “This move gives us the opportunity to compete against the best rivals in college sports, and it allows us to share the Bellarmine story with a larger audience than ever before. As we make the move to DI, we will continue to maintain our academic rigor and pursue ways to innovate and enhance the exceptional educational experience that Bellarmine University has offered students since its founding.”