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Kolpack: It's time to boot St. Thomas from MIAC to Division I

St. Thomas head coach Glenn Caruso, center, a former assistant coach at North Dakota State, has built the Tommies into a Division III football powerhouse. Some MIAC member schools may want St. Thomas out of the league, according to a report. Holly Peterson / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Craig Bohl was hired as the head North Dakota State football coach in 2003, taking a NCAA Division II job with the task of bringing the Bison back up to speed. The squad finished 2-8 in 2002 in front of a half-empty Fargodome and that doesn’t fly in Fargo.

In reality, the task given Bohl was much bigger. The university president at the time, Joe Chapman, had something more in mind than making a run in the Division II playoffs.

“The marching orders were given,” Bohl would say later.

They weren’t public marching orders, but he knew what Chapman meant. It was time for Division I.

Maybe the same thing should be happening down Interstate 94 in St. Paul.

In a couple of weeks, the presidents of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will meet to discuss whether the University of St. Thomas should remain in the league, according to a recent Star Tribune report. Some have had enough trying to compete with Tommyball, especially in football where the scores have resembled Duke vs. St. Olaf in men’s basketball.

Call it what you want — schools tired of the Tommie success or coaches sick of trying to keep pace on the recruiting trail — but for the issue to get to this level of a public stage tells us something of the league mindset.

Here’s the other thing.

The presidents should kick St. Thomas out of the league, but not for that reasoning.

The Tommies should bypass any thoughts of moving to Division II and go where they need to be. Giving UST the boot would do the Tommies a favor because the school is more D-I than a lot of mid-major D-I universities out there.

Thanks to NDSU’s Division I move that has taken the Bison across the country, I’ve walked a lot of Division I campuses. I’ve also taken a college student tour of St. Thomas and there’s not much difference between the old, historic school in St. Paul and schools in the Summit League, Missouri Valley Football Conference, Southland or Big Sky conferences.

St. Thomas is more D-I than it thinks it is.

So where do the Tommies go? Pretty simple. At nine schools, the Summit League could use another member and the St. Paul location is well within the Summit footprint. Some have suggested Missouri-Kansas City coming back into the league, but if I were Summit commissioner Tom Douple, I’d take St. Thomas over UMKC. Easy decision.

St. Thomas has money, facilities and tradition — three things UMKC does not. UST football could glide into the Pioneer League, the non-scholarship, football-only conference. Granted, the travel budget would have to be enormously boosted, but as NDSU found out, there’s something about being in Division I that opens a donor’s wallet.

In the Pioneer, there would be a bus trip to Drake (Iowa) and maybe Augustana University (S.D.) will take the Pioneer plunge. But everything else would be a flight. So what? It’s 5.3 miles from St. Thomas to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Total travel time to most of the Pioneer wouldn’t be much more than taking a bus to Moorhead.

And speaking of, we’re not sure where Concordia stands on all of this. The Forum’s attempts to reach the school for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

The MIAC presidents are meeting on April 18 with a final vote set for May. They can’t take action without some sort of criteria, so they came up with the idea of changing league bylaws with an enrollment stipulation.

Brilliant. At 6,200, St. Thomas’ student population far outpaces anybody else in the MIAC.

When NDSU made the move to Division I, the prevailing thought was the school had miles to go before reaching the financial and infrastructure levels of that division. Thanks to some heavy fundraising lifting, it was closer than everybody thought.

There is precedent of a multi-level division move. In 2003, Utah Valley State College declared it was going to move from junior college to Division I. It is now Utah Valley University and plays in the Western Athletic Conference and the Big 12 Conference for wrestling.

The Tommies have looked at D-I before in hockey, once hiring a consulting firm. Again, another doable transition. There’s plenty of hockey talent to go around in the Twin Cities and beyond. They fit perfectly into the WCHA footprint. I’m sure Mankato, Bemidji and the Michigan schools wouldn’t mind another bus trip for games.

There are currently four Division II schools in a reclassification for Division I: Merrimack College (Mass.), UC San Diego, Dixie State (Utah) and Long Island University (N.Y.). I’d take St. Thomas over any of those four. The Tommies’ multi-million dollar facilities are practically D-I-capable already.

If the MIAC votes to oust the Tommies, the athletic department should throw a party. A toast to the future. The time has come for a Division I move.