If you can’t beat them, kick them out. This appears to be the main rationale behind the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s decision to remove the University of St. Thomas from participating in its athletics competitions after the spring of 2021. Though as a current Johnnie myself I subscribe to the historic rivalry between St. John’s and St. Thomas, I feel it is fitting to speak out against such a misguided action. The “involuntary removal” of St. Thomas from the MIAC is wrong from a moral, financial and public relations standpoint.
To start, what is the MIAC? In 1920, seven private colleges in the state, including: Carleton College, Gustavus, Hamline, Macalester, St. John’s, St. Olaf and St. Thomas, founded the conference to organize athletics competitions. Throughtout the years, these original seven were expanded and eventually grew to the 13 members the conference has today. The MIAC competes on the NCAA Division III level, which means no athletic scholarships are awarded and programs are usually smaller than at higher competition levels. This format fits the schools in the MIAC, which are all small private colleges within Minnesota.
Though the Tommies’ football success and strong performances in other sports are often cited as being a reason for St. Thomas needing to move up to another conference, they don’t tell the whole story. If dominance in one sport was a rationale for kicking a team out of an athletic conference, Alabama and Clemson football should have long been ejected from the SEC and ACC respectively. Other college conferences have long experienced schools that dominate in one sport or the other.
Every college is different and attracts different kinds of students. The other MIAC schools have strong programs in other sports that consistently beat St. Thomas for titles. Just because St. Thomas has more teams placing higher in the standings across 22 men’s and women’s competitions sponsored by the MIAC doesn’t mean they’re winning every title or game.
What did the MIAC schools even have to gain by kicking St. Thomas out? I’ve struggled to answer that question myself. Kicking out a conference member doesn’t make the remaining teams any better. It’s more telling to look at how this process was conducted. On May 22, the MIAC schools decided in secret to expel St. Thomas. There was no on-the-record vote, though St. Thomas, St. John’s, St. Benedict and Bethel voiced opposition to the action. Because a vote of nine members was required to take this action, the remaining nine schools in the MIAC must have voted to remove.
Shame on them. If the presidents of the MIAC schools really believed this was the correct decision to make, they would have had a public news conference and personally laid out the reasons why they believed the MIAC was better off without St. Thomas. Instead, the conference issued a press release and the presidents have largely refused to make any statements about the matter. This running and hiding is a clear sign even they know the terrible consequences this decision will have.
Morally, especially for the religious tradition these schools have, kicking out someone because they are better than you is a terrible message to send students. In the real world, there will always be people who are better than you at something. You won’t always win, but the most important thing is making your best effort, and then learning lessons to improve your performance in the future.
Financially, having St. Thomas in the conference, especially with the Tommie-Johnnie football rivalry, has been a massive publicity boost to the MIAC, even resulting in ESPN2 coming to Collegeville to cover the game. Losing St. Thomas would take this focus somewhere else, reducing the exposure the MIAC has to prospective college students. It has already been a public-relations disaster as well, with several national outlets commenting on St. Thomas being booted for being “too good,” harming the reputation of the MIAC across the nation.
This decision was a self-serving ploy by nine of the MIAC schools to satisfy their interests, rather than the conference as a whole. The students and alumni of the MIAC should stand together to make known their opposition to this action, and advocate for it to be reversed.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.
Author: Connor Kockler
Kockler enjoys extensive reading, especially biographies and historical novels, and he has always had an almost inborn knack for writing well. He also enjoys following the political scene, nationally and internationally. In college, his favorite subjects are political science and economics. Two of his other hobbies are golfing and bicycling.