Benedictine looking to D2

After finishing one win short of a Division III national championship in men's basketball in 2016, Keith Bunkenberg and the rest of the Eagles' athletic department are eyeing a move to Division II.
Benedictine athletics file photo

By staff

After announcing last April that it would explore a move to NCAA Division II, Benedictine University, in Lisle, Illinois, is poised to make that move. The university's board of trustees approved the school's application and the NCAA will now consider Benedictine's candidacy.

In April 2017 the university announced that it would explore the feasibility of changing its membership from Division III to Division II as part of the school's broader strategic plan. 

"This assessment provided a thorough study of the university’s ability to meet the requirements of Division II membership and demonstrated that the change would serve the University’s mission and its future goals," a Benedictine University official told The information was provided anonymously because the school does not currently have a university spokesperson in place. "The committee’s comprehensive study was examined through a diligent process and the recommendation to pursue Division II membership was approved by the university’s Board of Trustees.”

An institution must be sponsored by a conference in order to apply for Division II membership. The Great Lakes Valley Conference, comprised of 15 schools ranging from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to Kansas City, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky, is sponsoring Benedictine's application.

Benedictine University has 2,733 full-time undergraduates, according to information it filed with the U.S. Department of Education in 2016.

"In Illinois, there are only four Division II schools including two that play football. There are only 32 Division II institutions in states surrounding Illinois including 22 that play football," the school's April 2017 announcement noted. "A move to Division II would increase Benedictine's regional and national uniqueness and visibility, and appeal to athletes seeking to play at a higher competitive level."

The school now awaits a decision from the NCAA Division II membership committee on their membership. If approved, Benedictine would become a provisional member of Division II and eventually transition to full membership. Applications to reclassify to Division II are due by Feb. 1, and Texas-Tyler, a Division III members of the American Southwest Conference, has also been mentioned as a school considering reclassification.

Benedictine is a member of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference for most sports except men's and women's lacrosse where its teams compete in the Midwest Lacrosse Conference and Midwest Women's Lacrosse Conference respectively. Benedictine was one of 12 schools in Illinois and Wisconsin to establish the NACC as charter members in 2006.

If Benedictine departs, the NACC would still be large enough to surpass the seven-member threshold and maintain its automatic qualifying bids to the NCAA playoffs in baseball, football and men's and women's basketball. Eureka joins the NACC for football in the fall of 2018, giving the NACC seven football-playing institutions without Benedictine.

While in transition, if approved, Benedictine would still play a Division III schedule in 2018-19, but not be eligible for the NCAA playoffs. The school could not offer athletic scholarships until 2019-20.

If Benedictine's membership in Division II is approved, the university will be the first Division III member to make that jump since Mississippi College did so in 2013. McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, also moved to Division II in 2012 and then returned to Division III and its prior conference, the American Southwest Conference, in 2014. Mississippi College's application for Division II was initially denied.

Contributing: Gordon Mann, Dave McHugh, Pat Coleman