LOUISVILLE (March 18, 2019) — Bellarmine University’s president, Dr. Susan M. Donovan, announced today that she has accepted an invitation for the university to join the ASUN Conference. The move will elevate the university’s athletic programs to NCAA Division I status beginning next summer.
Bellarmine will be the only private DI university in Kentucky, and one of the few Division I Catholic universities in the South.
Donovan, joined on campus for the announcement by ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said the move is the first major achievement of an initiative contained in the university’s new strategic plan, approved last month by Bellarmine’s Board of Trustees.
With the addition of the Bellarmine Knights in the 2020-21 season, the ASUN Conference will have 10 members spread across 7 mostly southeastern states, from Florida to New Jersey. The conference has been an ESPN broadcast partner since 1989, with game coverage airing on ESPN+.
“The addition of Bellarmine University to the ASUN continues the rising trend of our league,” said Gumbart. “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. We appreciate the visionary leadership of President Donovan, the Board of Trustees, Athletics Director Scott Wiegandt, and the entire leadership and athletic department team at Bellarmine that made today possible. On behalf of the ASUN family, we welcome our newest member and look forward to growing this partnership as we work together in our goal of Building Winners for Life. Swords Up!”
Bellarmine fields 17 sports sponsored by the ASUN Conference. Additionally:
- Men’s lacrosse, which has been a DI program since 2005, will continue as a member of the Southern Conference.
- Men’s and women’s swimming will participate in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association.
- Field hockey and wrestling will compete in DI with independent status.
“I’m happy to announce that one of the first initiatives in Bellarmine’s new strategic plan is being realized today,” said Donovan. “Our athletics program will move to NCAA Division I through an invitation from the ASUN Conference. 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.”
Donovan stressed that the move to DI is just one aspect of the university’s new strategic plan, which has six priorities:
- Delivering a transformative student experience
- Becoming a model for academic innovation
- Expanding enrollment and geographic reach
- Committing to equity and inclusion
- Becoming a fully engaged partner in Louisville and the region
- Ensuring affordability and access while being good stewards of the university’s resources
“ASUN is a perfect fit for the Knights, because – like Bellarmine – every school in the conference is committed to putting students first,” said Scott Wiegandt, Bellarmine’s director of athletics. “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.”
The Knights will compete for one more season in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, a DII conference that Bellarmine helped launch in 1978.
“Joining NCAA Division I will help Bellarmine raise its regional and national profile,” said Fischer. “That will help Bellarmine continue to grow and Bellarmine’s growth is great news for Louisville because we want to continue to attract talented, ambitious young people to come here, get their degree and then stay here to start careers, businesses and families. Bellarmine’s success fuels Louisville’s success.”