St. Thomas (MN) Kicked Out Of Conference 1

By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Possibly the strangest situation in college baseball history is unfolding right before our eyes.

The University of St. Thomas (MN), an NCAA Div. 3 powerhouse for decades in all sports, was kicked out of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in May of 2019 simply because the entire athletics’ program was too strong.

After almost 100 years in the conference and a founding member of the league in 1920, St. Thomas was informed that their athletics’ teams would be allowed to compete in the league through the spring of 2021.

Then they were out.

It may have been the first time in sports history that excellence was being vilified.

Can you imagine Alabama being booted out of the SEC for having a superior football program?

Excellence in academics and remarkable professors at St. Thomas were never a talking point for university presidents in the MIAC — only athletics.

After exploring every possible option, St. Thomas decided that venturing into NCAA Div. 1 was the best course of action despite the huge financial hit the school would take.

St. Thomas, a private, Catholic university which was founded in 1885 as a Catholic seminary, was ultimately invited to be a member of the Summit League.

It is the first time in history that an entire athletics’ program has gone directly from NCAA Div. 3 to NCAA Div. 1.

Over the next five years, St. Thomas’s athletics teams are expected to be fully funded with athletic scholarships.

The baseball program is now embarking on an NCAA Div. 1 schedule under Head Coach Chris Olean who is entering his 13th year with the program.

In baseball over the years in NCAA Div. 3, the Tommies won a league-best 37 regular-season championships — twice as many as the next school through 2021.

St. Thomas also captured 10 of the 20 MIAC tournament titles since the format began in 2000.

The Tommies reached the NCAA Div. 3 Regional playoffs 22 times, including 21 trips in their last 26 seasons in NCAA Div. II.

St. Thomas advanced to seven NCAA Div. 3 College World Series and claimed the national title in 2001 and 2009 and finished second three other times.

Athletic Excellence
At the time university presidents voted to jettison St. Thomas from the MIAC in 2019, the school had won 525 championships (regular season and playoffs) in all sports.

This was more than twice as many as the second winningest school in the MIAC, according to St. Thomas Sports Information Director Gene McGivern.

“In many of our sports, we weren’t beating conference teams with lopsided scores.

“The biggest part of the problem was football. We had a couple of 97-0 and 81-0 wins. The optics of that really stung with the teams you beat and their alumni.

“It is one thing to lose a game. But when you get beat that bad, the president of schools gets calls from alumni complaining about being more competitive.

“It ultimately came down to different schools in the league saying either St. Thomas would leave or they would.

“Then there were a bunch of schools caught in the middle. Administrators were worried about the MIAC being disbanded if five schools at the bottom pulled out.”

St. Thomas Head Coach Chris Olean said his school had two years to find another league.

“The Summit League was very gracious in extending us an invitation.

“They saw a great opportunity to have a team in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (with a population of about 3.6 million).

“Long term, we felt it would be a good fit for us. I understand we are the first school to go directly from NCAA Div. 3 to Div. 1 without a stop in Div. 2.

“The ruling by the MIAC was a very hot topic for quite some time when the announcement was made in 2019.”

To read more of this story, purchase the March 11, 2022 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. It explains all the details on St. Thomas’ move from NCAA Div. 3 to Div. 1 and how challenging it will be.