The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) boasts some of the best Division-III athletics in the country. For decades, there has been a unique interest in Division-III sports in Minnesota that is rare to find anywhere else.
However, the departure of the University of St. Thomas from the MIAC after the 2020-2021 school year will deliver a considerable blow to Division-III sports and especially the MIAC conference.
The effects of the departure are already taking shape. On Wednesday, the MIAC announced that it will add the College of St. Scholastica as a full member of the conference. It also announced that Macalester College will resume participation in football.
College sports are lopsided in nature, as different programs go through period of great success followed by periods of great struggle. This is even more true in Division-III, where sports are not typically as prominent as they are at Division-I schools.
St. Thomas was forced out of the MIAC due to concerns about the school having too much of an athletic advantage over other schools in the conference. UST’s enrollment is considerably larger than the rest of the MIAC schools, and this difference showed in nearly every sport. It was particularly evident in women’s sports as St. Thomas was steamrolling the competition.
The news of UST’s departure from the MIAC was met with conflict. On one hand, it seemed as if UST was being punished for successfully building its school and athletic programs so that it could allow for more enrollment and added resources to be allocated to athletics. On the other hand, it does not appear an end to UST’s dominance is in sight.
The bottom line is that UST was forced out because of what was perceived as an overwhelming competitive advantage over the rest of the conference.
The latest changes to the MIAC beginning in the 2021-2022 school year could very well enhance the competitiveness of most sports. But the modifications made to the football format specifically appear to only inflate the issue of a competitive disadvantage.
Despite UST being the school forced out of the conference, St. John’s has defeated UST back-to-back years in football — and done so convincingly by scores of 40-20 (2018) and 38-20 (2019).
The MIAC’s pivot to a two-division format pits the Johnnies in the Northwoods Division with Gustavus Adolphus, Carleton, St. Olaf and St. Scholastica. SJU has not lost to any of these schools since 2013 in a double-overtime loss to Gustavus. In fact, SJU has never lost to Carleton in football in 37 all-time matchups. The last time St. Olaf beat the Johnnies was in 2004.
And as for St. Scholastica? Well, SJU and CSS have met three times since 2014. They met in the Division-III playoffs in 2014 in Collegeville for a game the Johnnies won 35-7. Two years later, the Johnnies hosted the Saints again in Collegeville to open the 2016 season. SJU won that one 49-7.
The following season, St. Scholastica again opened the season in Collegeville against St. John’s. The Johnnies won that game 98-0. That’s right: 98-0.
According to the MIAC, the divisions were chosen with parity in mind. However, the Northwoods Division seems to heavily favor the Johnnies based on results in the past decade or so. Concordia-Moorhead and Bethel, the other two schools that have given SJU the most fits in the conference, have been placed in the Skyline Division with Augsburg, Hamline and Macalester.
The format does create a “championship week” at the end of the season that would pit the top-ranked team from the Northwoods Division and the top-ranked team from the Skyline Division against each other for an automatic bid into the NCAA Division-III playoffs.
Again, based on recent results, it would appear the Johnnies will almost certainly earn a spot in the next several MIAC Championship games as the Northwoods Division leader until either a major upset takes place or a major turnaround of one of the other football programs in the Northwoods Division develops.
This all comes back to the impact of St. Thomas’ departure from the conference. In other sports, the addition of St. Scholastica and removal of St. Thomas will likely create more parity and better competition for conference titles.
However, as it pertains to football specifically, the MIAC’s perceived issue with parity may continue for some time based on this new format.