St. Thomas tossed from MIAC

St. Thomas is out of the MIAC, effective the end of the 2020-2021 season.
Photo by Ryan Coleman,

By Pat Coleman

MINNEAPOLIS -- After extensive membership discussions, the University of St. Thomas will be involuntarily removed from membership in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the conference announced on Wednesday, May 22. The MIAC Presidents' Council cited athletic competitive parity in the conference as a primary concern. St. Thomas will begin a multi-year transition immediately and meanwhile, is eligible to compete as a full member of the MIAC through the end of spring 2021.

St. Thomas is one of seven founding members of the MIAC and will leave the conference in good standing with a long and appreciated history of academic and athletic success, the conference said. 

The move to ouster a conference member in good standing is practically unprecedented in NCAA Division III. Among recent conference moves, Thomas More's departure from the Presidents' Athletic Conference was described publicly as voluntary on the part of the school, but clearly had connections to Thomas More's NCAA violations, in which they were forced to vacate the 2015 Division III women's basketball national title.

The most recent analogous case would in 1959-60, prior to the advent of Division III, when Wheaton (Ill.) left the College Conference of Illinois, now the CCIW. That followed a run of four consecutive unbeaten seasons for the school in the conference in men's basketball. The school rejoined the conference less than a decade later. 

"St. Thomas expended tremendous effort to remain in the MIAC and stabilize the conference," St. Thomas president Julie Sullivan said in a statement. "However, the presidents came to a consensus that the conference itself would cease to exist in its current form if St. Thomas remained."

Glenn Caruso, UST head coach
Although St. Thomas' dominance in football, including a 97-0 pounding of St. Olaf in 2017, has been frequently cited as a catalyst for the movement to oust the Tommies from the MIAC, St. Thomas finished in third place in the conference standings in 2018.
Photo by Caleb Williams,

"While this decision is extremely disappointing, we will continue to prioritize the welfare and overall experience of our student-athletes," Sullivan continued.

“We have had to navigate some challenging conversations with respect to membership over the last several years," said Rebecca Bergman, the president of Gustavus Adolphus College and currently the chair of the MIAC Presidents' Council. "After extensive discussions, the Presidents’ Council determined that there was no path forward that preserved the MIAC in its current form. For that reason, we have come to this agreement. Throughout this process, our goal has been to preserve the MIAC as a well-respected Division III athletic conference for the sake of our more than 7,000 student-athletes. Supporting the experiences and well-being of those student-athletes will continue to be our primary focus moving forward.”

It would have required nine of 13 presidents to vote to change the bylaws and start the ejection of St. Thomas by force. However, an agreement was reached which rendered a vote unnecessary. If St. Thomas had not left the conference, there was a distinct possibility that schools such as St. Olaf, Carleton and Macalester could choose to consider leaving the conference to find a home where it could win more contests.

St. Olaf College president David Anderson has been cited in local media reports as helping spearhead the campaign to remove St. Thomas, including changing the bylaws if necessary. St. Thomas could not be removed under current bylaws, as the university is in compliance with all MIAC guidelines. However, St. Thomas has dominated the conference's all-sports trophies, winning the past 12, including the most recent one in 2018-19.

The conference's competitive imbalance goes well beyond St. Thomas in football, however. Concordia-Moorhead, which finished fifth in the conference standings last season, defeated Augsburg 54-7, Hamline 55-0 and Carleton 51-14.

Ruth Sinn has coached the Tommies' women's basketball team to 71 consecutive win against conference opponents, and had her team in the Division III national semifinals this past season.
Photo by Dave Hilbert,

"Like every other collegiate athletic conference, we consistently evaluate membership," said conference commissioner Dan McKane. "We have been fortunate to avoid membership changes for 35 years, which really is extraordinary. The attention and passion displayed over the past several months demonstrate how much this conference means to so many people."

St. Thomas has nearly two years to evaluate options for further conference affiliation before it is removed from the MIAC. The department could choose to pursue alternate affiliation within Division III, perhaps in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is made up of public schools based in Wisconsin but not limited to rule to Wisconsin state schools. St. Thomas also could choose to pursue membership in NCAA Division II, although that would not leave a place for its ice hockey programs.