St. Thomas receives Summit League invitation

D-III program looking for new home after getting kicked out of conference

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St. Thomas has received an invitation to join the Summit League.

About a year ago, Minnesota became the butt of a silly college sports joke. The University of St. Thomas, located in St. Paul, was kicked out of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The reasoning? Because they were too good at sports.

To be fair, the MIAC came out with more politically correct wording. But no one was buying the reasoning for kicking out a founding member of the conference.

It is important to note that UST was a big school in the MIAC, both in terms of athletics and the university itself. Undergraduate enrollment has been of 6,212 is by far the largest of the conference’s schools. The Tommies have also won the last 11 all-sports championships.

St. Thomas has made it clear that they will be aggressive in the search for a new home, with athletic director Phil Esten being quoted in the Star Tribune that, “We’re going to attack what’s next like we attacked the last 99 years in the MIAC,” shortly after their announced removal.

Attack they have, and on Friday the school received an invitation from the Summit League to join the conference.

While the move is not set in stone, it seems likely that the Tommies will join the conference, as the Summit League board of directors was unanimously in favor of the invitation.

The largest obstacle for the school to join is the NCAA. Normally, the NCAA requires schools to move up just one division at a time, so D-III to D-II in this case for St. Thomas. The school is asking the NCAA for reclassification in order to join the Summit League once their expulsion from the MIAC occurs in the spring of 2021.

“Joining the Summit League would be a unique and exciting opportunity for St. Thomas, allowing us to significantly expand our impact and reach. It is a strong Midwest Division I conference that includes both public and private competitors,” St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said in an email to students Friday.

It is worth noting that there is nothing normal in the circumstances surrounding the expulsion. Being forced out of a conference for competitive reasons is unheard of, so that is a point for the NCAA to consider.

In terms of affecting NDSU, UST brings competition in two forms. The obvious one is on the field of play, but with the move from D-III, it is hard to gauge what type of competition that would be.

The other, and possibly more concerning will be the recruiting battle. The Twin Cities is a fertile recruiting ground in the Midwest, but now there is one more mouth to feed. St. Thomas will have the upside of being extremely close to those recruits.

One big question mark still remaining for St. Thomas revolves around the two sports on offer that the Summit League doesn’t sponsor, hockey and football.

As NDSU doesn’t sponsor hockey, football remains the biggest concern. St. Thomas has been a dominant force in D-III football under the watch of coach Glenn Caruso and can be considered the main reason UST got the boot.

St. Thomas has made two national championship games in the past decade, losing to the ever dominate Mount Union in 2012 and 2015. In 2017, UST made headlines after beating St. Olaf 97-0. The Tommies won two games by 60 points or more last year.

If St. Thomas expresses the same type of aggressive promotion with football as they have elsewhere, joining the Missouri Valley is not out of the question.

That brings up some other questions however, starting with the stadium. Currently, the Tommies play at the 5,000-person capacity O’Shaughnessy Stadium. The average in the Valley is 15,000 capacity, and there is not much space to expand O’Shaughnessy due to location.

If anything, an NDSU-UST game will be a highly sought-after ticket, due to location. Bison Nation travels well and brought over 34,000 fans to a game at Target Field this season.

Oddly enough, that number falls short of the rivalry game St. Thomas hosted St. Johns at the same stadium, 37,355 in 2017.

Playing that game at a “neutral site” could be an option. Both sides have relationships with other stadiums, Target Field being one. UST is set to host St. Johns again in two weeks, this time at Allianz Field, home of Minnesota United.

Bison head coach Matt Entz has expressed interest in a game at US Bank Stadium in the future as well.

At the end of the day, St. Thomas joining the Summit League will pose a couple of issues for NDSU, but significantly more questions at this time.

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