What an exciting time to be a Bellarmine Knight! I am happy to announce that one of the first initiatives in our new strategic plan is being realized today. Bellarmine University’s 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. More important, it allows us to share the Bellarmine story with a larger audience than ever before, increasing our geographic reach as outlined in the strategic plan

Our decision to accept the ASUN invitation came after much deliberation. In consultation with the Board of Trustees, the university has been weighing the impact and benefits of becoming a DI school for several years, as our athletics teams gained national prominence. We have listened to the input of students, faculty, staff and alumni with a shared understanding that a move to DI would be made only under the right circumstances and with the right conference affiliation. The time is right, and ASUN is that conference—an ideal fit for Bellarmine.

As we make the move to Division I athletics, 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. Our academic programs are—and will remain—our No. 1 priority.

On behalf of Bellarmine, I would like to express gratitude for our students, past and present, as well as our coaches, faculty and staff, as their collective pursuit of excellence has created this opportunity. Of course, we must also recognize the support of every Knights fan—on and off campus—as they have given us the confidence to compete at this new level. 

Bellarmine students are passionate, fearless, loving and eager—ready to take on the world. As we begin the transition to DI, I encourage all of us to enjoy this moment with great pride as a family and look forward to the excitement that lies ahead on this journey. The future is bright for Bellarmine University. 

Go Knights!

—Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D., President



Competing in NCAA Division I gives Bellarmine the opportunity to showcase our athletic excellence on a bigger stage than ever before. However, it also provides a platform for the university to tell the story of our steadfast commitment to academics.

The rosters of Bellarmine athletic teams are filled with exceptional students who deserve recognition. Introducing the world to high-caliber student-athletes who wear scarlet and silver enhances Bellarmine’s academic reputation by demonstrating that we are, first and foremost, dedicated to providing a demanding, well-rounded educational experience.


One of the key requirements of accepting an invitation to join a DI conference was that the member schools be highly regarded in academics. ASUN meets this requirement; it is home to member institutions that share Bellarmine’s commitment to high-level academics, including Lipscomb University, Stetson University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In addition to competing against higher level athletes, a move to DI also means meeting more rigorous academic standards. We are glad to say that Bellarmine student-athletes already meet and exceed DI academic standards, and we invite the opportunity to serve as an example to educational institutions that seek to achieve excellence both on and off the field of play.



The rise to DI comes with a new set of challenges: the level of competition will be higher, as will the academic standards. Bellarmine student-athletes are well prepared to meet these challenges, as we’ve shown with a long history of success.

Bellarmine lacrosse already competes at the DI level, and we actively recruit and attract DI-caliber athletes across all sports offerings. We have won DII national championships in basketball and track & field, and our basketball and baseball teams won conference championships during the 2018-19 season.

Bellarmine teams also earned top finishes for core sports in the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC). Men’s and women’s soccer, women’s basketball and women’s tennis finished as runner-ups in their conference tournaments, and we were named GLVC Commissioner’s Cup Champions for all-around excellence.

Women's basketball celebration

In addition to outstanding team achievements, 20 Bellarmine student-athletes have been named All-Americans over the past two years, with 204 student-athletes garnering conference academic honors during the 2018-19 season. These successes, combined with our consistently high academic performance, helped us earn the opportunity to join the ASUN.

Many of our facilities are already suited to accommodate DI events, and we have improvement plans in place to elevate the experience for student-athletes and fans over the near and long term. 



One of the immediate benefits of making the transition to DI will be increasing Bellarmine’s national profile.

With greater event attendance and media coverage, our school will be exposed to a larger, more diverse audience than ever before in key markets that will serve to grow enrollment and foster diversity in our student body.
Fans at a basketball game
We have conducted studies of similar schools that have transitioned to DI athletics and found many experienced measurable growth in enrollment, the majority of which came from non-athletes. In the coming months and years, Bellarmine stands to gain more and more national recognition and new opportunities to inspire potential students to discover the educational experience we have to offer.

All in all, Bellarmine is fortunate to be in position to promote our academic reputation through athletics, and transitioning to DI will move us closer to achieving many of the objectives set forth in our strategic plan.



For many years, Bellarmine leadership has tried to imagine what an ideal move to DI could look like, and we have clearly defined criteria to help guide the decision-making process. For instance, do the member institutions share our commitment to education? Will their athletic programs challenge us to raise our level of competition? Will the geography be of strategic benefit to Bellarmine?

We are happy to say ASUN checks all the boxes. As a member of ASUN, Bellarmine will compete against similarly sized schools that value the educational experience above all else. The conference will also accommodate all of our current athletic offerings, with basketball being a signature sport.

Knights celebrating

In addition, ASUN’s geography opens up strategic new markets in the South, where college-aged populations are growing. This will allow us to expose more potential students to the benefits of pursuing a liberal arts education at Bellarmine.

Thanks to a significant number of DI schools in our region, moving to ASUN also means we’ll be able to schedule more compelling non-conference games closer to home—and less time on buses for our student-athletes. 

Last but vitally important, ASUN also offers Bellarmine the unique opportunity to compete in conference tournaments in the first year after transition to DI, an important factor for top-caliber student-athletes.




Why is athletic divisional alignment part of Bellarmine’s strategic plan? 
Since 2005, Bellarmine has successfully competed at the DI level in men’s lacrosse. Our athletics staff is familiar with the requirements and challenges that accompany DI membership.

The move to DI will support Bellarmine’s already-high academic standards for our student-athletes, while extending the university’s geographic reach and broadening awareness of, and engagement with, the university. This can make Bellarmine more attractive to all students—athletes and non-athletes alike—which will support enrollment growth, improve diversity, achieve better gender balance and attract more international students. In addition, the increased exposure will greatly enhance institutional awareness, improve communication with stakeholders within Kentucky and the region and expand partnership opportunities.

What is the timing to move to DI?
Bellarmine will compete in DII in the 2019-20 school year and make the move to compete at the DI level in the 2020-21 school year.

Can Bellarmine compete with DI schools?
Bellarmine already competes effectively in men’s lacrosse and has for 15 years. Bellarmine has a long and distinguished history of success in men’s basketball competing at, or near, the top of DII for many years. In the 2018-19 season alone, the Knights won national titles in track and field, dance and cheer. Men’s basketball and baseball also took conference titles while men’s and women’s soccer and women’s basketball were conference tourney runners-up.

We believe in our student-athletes and our coaches. Our coaches have long recruited DI caliber student-athletes who chose to play in DII. 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.

How did you choose which conference to join? Why ASUN?
First, it is important to note that a conference must invite a school to join, and if that invitation is accepted, then the formal application is made to the NCAA to move to DI. Throughout Bellarmine’s study of a potential DI transition, it was evident that an invitation from a conference providing the right fit is paramount to success. And we wanted a conference partner that helps realize the priorities of the strategic plan—including providing a transformative student experience, expanding our geographic reach and impact and demonstrating commitment to equity and inclusion.

As part of this, our ideal conference partner would offer the opportunity to greatly expand our geographic reach into large metropolitan areas in eastern and southeastern cities beyond our traditional recruiting boundaries. Further, in greatly increasing student recruiting geographically, there is greater opportunity to become a more diverse and inclusive institution. The increased media exposure that accompanies a DI move not only increases our visibility in those large markets but provides additional financial resources to ensure our financial strength and stability.

ASUN also offers us the important opportunity to compete in conference tournaments in the first year after the transition to DI. Many other conferences require transitioning schools to wait several years, which can be a detriment to recruiting. For all these factors, ASUN is a great conference fit for Bellarmine.

How long will it take to be competitive at the DI level?
Transitions are challenging, but that’s the nature of sport. Bellarmine believes in its student-athletes and coaches and we are confident we can establish ourselves quickly as a competitive program. The first two years in a new conference (2020-21 and 2021-22) are anticipated to be the most difficult due to the dynamics of recruitment and limits on post-season play. With each passing year of the reclassification process, these challenges will lessen, and BU will have the opportunity to demonstrate its growing commitment to excellence.

Many other schools, including Lipscomb, Abilene Christian, Northern Kentucky and more, have successfully made the transition and competed well in their conferences.

Will Bellarmine be able to handle the increase in costs for DI athletics without affecting other parts of the university?
Yes, BU is committed to close monitoring of athletic expenses in order to continue to promote the academic core of the institution. The construction of a financial plan built around this goal has been an essential part of the exploration of a move to DI. A new development plan is in process to fund the transition cost of specific facility upgrades and operational expenses over the next five years so as not to divert resources from academic programs. Additionally, fundraising for athletics is done in conjunction with the university’s other fundraising efforts, in order to ensure we maximize opportunities and that one does not take away from the other.

The administration and Board of Trustees are mindful of athletics expenditures as a percentage of the university’s total budget. In planning for a DI transition, the percentage of the total spend will remain the same, and the funding plan will cap the amount of direct support provided to athletics from the university at generally the same level it has been over the past several years. Keeping athletic spending consistent with prior budgets represents an important institutional commitment to fiscal responsibility.

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