Moving Lindenwood University from NCAA Division II to Division I won’t be easy. Lions football coach Jed Stugart knows this from experience.
Stugart was an assistant coach at the University of Northern Colorado when the NCAA DII powerhouse made the Division I leap in 2003.
“A move like this definitely brings a new excitement,” said Stugart, who has guided the Lions to back-to-back conference titles and two Division II playoff berths in the past two seasons. “You look at our facilities and the talent that we have around us here in the St. Louis area and honestly I think the timing is right for a move like this. That will mean a lot of work, no question, but it’s exciting for everyone here.”
Stugart continues: “It starts with the management of the university. Our President, Dr. John Porter, and our (Vice President, Intercollegiate Athletics) Brad Wachler have worked hard to make it work and are committed to making it work.”
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On Wednesday, Lindenwood announced in a press conference at the Robert F. Hyland Performance Arena in St. Charles that it would be moving from Division II to Division I and attending the Ohio Valley Conference on July 1. The OVC participates in the football championship Subdivision of Division I.
Other schools in the OVC include Eastern Illinois, Morehead State, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, and University of Tennessee at Martin.
Three current OVC schools will switch conferences next year, with Austin Peay moving to the Atlantic Sun Conference while Belmont and Murray State are moving from the OVC to the Missouri Valley Conference.
Earlier this year, Southern Indiana, a GLVC rival of Lindenwood, announced it would move to Division I and join the OVC. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which previously attended the Sun Belt Conference, is also moving to the OVC.
“Throughout Division I there has been movement; these things tend to happen in cycles,” said OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche. “We have a long history of stability and feel very comfortable adding Lindenwood to our conference. From our perspective, this is an opportunity to grow and develop and look to the future.”
While Lindenwood is eligible to compete for OVC championships immediately, his eligibility to receive automatic bids for the NCAA championships does not begin until 2026-27, his first full season of Division I membership.
Lindenwood will join St. Louis University and SIU Edwardsville as the region’s only NCAA Division I programs.
Wachter said Lindenwood was first approached in August and the process moved quickly from there.
“We did some very detailed studies, ticked all the boxes and found that moving to Division I made a lot of sense for us,” he said. “But now that we’ve finished the press conference, the real work begins for us. We need to make schedules and also figure out what to do with our sports that aren’t in the OVC.
“But a step like this, whether perception or reality, definitely opens doors and helps raise the profile of the university and its athletic department. Soon we will be the only Division I football program in the St. Louis area.”
As one of the largest athletic departments in the country, Lindenwood supports 29 NCAA-level sports. Lindenwood has an enrollment of more than 7,000 and more than 700 of these student-athletes compete in an NCAA sport.