Minnesota finally has its second Division-I football program.
The University of Minnesota no longer has a monopoly on Division-I football in the state of Minnesota. It was ruled this week by the NCAA that the University of St. Thomas athletics programs found a conference for each of its sports, except for men’s hockey.
Now in the Pioneer League, the Tommies will travel to California, Florida and plenty of places in between. While the University of Minnesota is in the Football Bowl Subdivision and St. Thomas moves into the Football Championship Subdivision of Division-I, they are still making an unprecedented leap from Division-III directly to D1.
What does this mean for fan allegiances in the state?
Overall, it shouldn’t mean too much for those existing fanbases. St. Thomas’ enrollment is still far behind the University of Minnesota, and people who are currently both fans of St. Thomas and the Gophers will likely continue to support both programs.
This isn’t a “share of the pie” situation for local fans. Minnesota is a diehard football state even though amateur hockey and basketball are well supported here. Football is king, and for the foreseeable future, it’s going to remain that way. The addition of St. Thomas to Division-I should only increase the overall number of invested football fans regionally.
Because of the difference between FCS and FBS subdivisions, the Gophers and Tommies will never be competing for the same championship. It would be easy to root for both teams simultaneously, as some UST fans undoubtedly do already — although a Gophers-Tommies matchup could prove an intriguing non-conference game to begin the season for both programs.
Unlike the Big 10, which consists mostly of Midwest schools, St. Thomas will be competing with programs in New York, Florida and California in addition to Midwest schools like Butler, Drake and Valparaiso.
Given the gap between Division-I and Division-III programs, the Tommie-Johnnie game every year that traditionally was the highlight of both teams’ seasons is unlikely to continue beyond next season.
For St. Thomas this is only the beginning. The formal admission to the Pioneer League is one thing, but the steep curve of going from Division-III to Division-I will be tough as they make their way into uncharted territory for a Minnesota program.