The coronavirus pandemic is still roaring through the United States and thus impacting the return of sports. While most of the attention is on professional sports, or even Division I college athletics, Division III competition is also feeling the wrath of COVID-19.
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) announced this week that it will postpone competition for several fall sports — including football, soccer, volleyball and cross country — and hold the seasons in the spring of 2021.
Division III competition is widely respected in the state of Minnesota because of the prestigious rivalry between the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University. The annual football matchup between the two schools draws thousands upon thousands of fans and is the most-attended Division III athletic event nearly every year.
The 2020-21 year is set to be the final one in the MIAC for St. Thomas, as the school prepares to make the unprecedented jump to Division I beginning in the fall of 2021. Therefore, this year’s St. Thomas vs. St. John’s football game is expected to wrap up the historic rivalry.
The final Johnnie-Tommie matchup was initially scheduled to be played at U.S. Bank Stadium this November — and it surely would have set another Division III attendance record. However, it appears that won’t happen as planned.
Instead, players, coaches and fans on both sides eagerly wait to find out further details on the final meeting between the Johnnies and the Tommies. Where will it be played? When it will be played? Will it be played at all? And if it’s played, will fans be allowed to attend?
Of course, many of these questions can’t be answered now. But the idea alone of college football in the spring is unprecedented — and that alone will have a large effect on the student-athletes and coaches involved.
These football players, especially the seniors, are used to spending their spring semesters planning for the future, applying for jobs, or even competing in a different spring sport. Additionally, many members of the coaching staff on both sides also hold other responsibilities in their respective athletic departments that require attention in the spring. Some even coach other sports. How will that be navigated?
Plus, it was just a few months ago that St. John’s alum Ben Bartch was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Division III is generally not flooded with NFL talent; however, both of these schools boast some of the best talent in Division III. Those student-athletes with legit pro hopes, while few and far between, would surely have their hopes crushed if they cannot participate in workouts and pro days.
The factor that will interest fans the most is the game’s location. These fans were cruelly teased by the thought of a Johnnie-Tommie game at U.S. Bank Stadium, perhaps the best football stadium in the country. Energy is already through the roof for every one of these matchups — now imagine it at an NFL stadium, in the final game between the two schools.
If U.S. Bank Stadium is no longer an option, it could be played at a few other venues. The University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium could also be an option, as could Target Field — the site of the 2017 game. One thing to note is that it will officially be a home game for St. John’s, so Clemens Stadium in Collegeville is also a potential site.
Without a doubt, the final Johnnie-Tommie game will feel different than the 89 prior matchups for myriad reasons. The location will be different. The date will be vastly different. The meaning will be different, too. It’s likely that neither team will be competing for a national championship and instead only a conference title.
Even considering all that, the day of the Johnnie-Tommie game has always been circled on the calendars of those in the SJU and UST communities. On gameday, the date won’t matter. The stakes won’t matter. Heck, the location won’t even matter.
What will matter is bragging rights. That is, bragging rights for the rest of time.
Many questions remain, but as long as there is a conclusion to the Johnnie-Tommie rivalry, it will certainly be epic.