The ASUN conference is getting a new challenger in athletics in the Bellarmine University Knights.

The Knights will become the 10th school to join the conference, Bellarmine announced Tuesday morning. However, the university will not join the conference until the 2020-2021 school year.

Bellarmine, located in Louisville, is a Catholic university with nearly 4,000 total students. It is set to become the only private D-I school in the state.

The Knights were formerly competing in Division II athletics as a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference, a conference it helped create in 1978.

Out of its 22 varsity teams, Bellarmine will compete in 17 sports sponsored by the ASUN conference, including basketball and soccer. Men’s lacrosse, field hockey and wrestling will all compete at other conferences or with independent D-I status; men’s and women’s swimming will compete in the Coastal College Sports Association.

Bellarmine showed it had the ability to compete at the D-II level, reaching the NCAA Division II basketball championship every year for the past 11 years and winning the tournament in 2012 under coach Scott Davenport. Knights baseball received an automatic berth into the D-II Midwest Regionals, and women’s soccer has reached its tournament six out of the past 10 years.

“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 in a press release. “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.

The move to Division I is part of a six-part strategic plan for Bellarmine, which includes points such as “Committing to equity and inclusion” and “Becoming a model for academic innovation.”

When Bellarmine joins the ASUN conference, it will become the third university to join in as many years. Liberty and North Alabama joined at the beginning of the 2018 school year. Both of those schools were competitive in athletics last season: Lipscomb faced Liberty in the men’s basketball conference championship, and UNA made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Half of the ASUN universities are now private schools: Bellarmine, Lipscomb, Liberty, Stetson and Jacksonville.

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