In the last five years, St. Thomas athletics have taken huge steps forward. The addition of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex may have something to do with the teams’ successes, but ultimately, great coaches and driven, devoted athletes are what have made Tommie sports so great.
There are plenty of examples to show just how far the programs have come. From the men’s basketball team’s 2011 national championship, to the football team’s No. 4 finish in the nation among Division III schools, to the dance team being named the 2012 Open Jazz national champions, all among many other teams’ recent successful seasons, St. Thomas has really swept the MIAC and made a name for itself nationally in recent years.
When you consider the fact that the Tommies often take on some Division I talent like the University of Minnesota–and have had some success–they could consider moving up to compete at the Division I level full-time.
St. Thomas Athletic Director Steve Fritz has acknowledged this possibility and said it will not be happening anytime soon, or possibly ever.
“We are very pleased to be part of Division III and expect to remain a member of that division for quite some time to come,” he said.
Fritz went on to explain that this is not a decision that can be made lightly or just for one team at the university.
“This is not a single sport decision,” Fritz said. “The NCAA requires movement of all programs if any programs are moved.”
But, why not? Why not move all of the programs up to that level? It’s not like it is just the football and men’s basketball teams winning. Baseball, softball, hockey, and women’s basketball all took home MIAC championships this year; in some cases, it was not even close.
Sophomore Nate Stanoch said the idea interests him. He said he loves going to sporting events on campus and wants to see how the Tommies would stack up against some tougher competition.
“We’ve just been so good while I’ve been in school here,” Stanoch said. “It just feels like we’re such a big fish in a small pond in the MIAC.”
TommieSports.com blogger Gene McGivern, on the other hand, dismissed the notion for multiple reasons.
“There are also philosophical issues,” McGivern explained. “St. Thomas leaders, the Board of Trustees, the athletic department leaders and coaches like what Division III offers with the balance between a high-level of competition, academics and opportunities and time for other student opportunities like study abroad, internships, etc.”
McGivern added that the 90-year history with the MIAC and relationships with other private schools is something “that you don’t want to walk away from.”
St. Thomas’ rivalry with St. John’s is about as good as it gets in Division III sports. Junior Max Romanaggi embraces the Tommie-Johnnie rivalry and said he does not know what St. Thomas would be like without it.
“There’s nothing quite like the Tommie-Johnnie games,” Romanaggi said. “I can’t imagine not getting to buy my new ‘Johnnies-suck’ T-shirt every year and arguing with my friends who go there about which school is better.”
Granted, the rivalry is great. But in my mind, a potential rivalry with the Minnesota Gophers is more tantalizing than what we have right now. Maybe this is just a ‘grass-is-greener’ kind of opinion to have, but a “Battle of the Twin Cities” would just be incredible.
One of the greatest rivalries in sports, Duke vs. North Carolina Basketball, gains national attention twice, and often three times, a year. The beauty of that rivalry, in my opinion, is the public vs. private school aspect that it offers. The two schools are divided by one mile of tobacco road, while the Tommies and Gophers are basically divided by a few miles of road construction. The potential is there, there would just be competition for recruits.
Romanaggi was skeptical of St. Thomas’ size playing into its potential of not only securing recruits, but competing as a whole.
“We’re such a small school, it would be tough to compete with ‘The U’ or other Division I schools for that matter,” he said.
As a matter of fact, St. Thomas compares pretty well size-wise with some smaller Division I schools. According to the St. Thomas website, currently there are 6,176 undergraduate students enrolled here. Compared to Notre Dame’s undergraduate enrollment of 8,437 listed on the university’s website, St. Thomas is really not that far off.
Minnesota is the only Division I program in the state. Offering some competition for the school’s recruiting staffs might not be the worst thing for the state’s athletic situation as a whole.
One athlete the state has no problem producing, however, is hockey players. Schools like Bemidji State University, University of Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota State University-Mankato and ‘The U’ all have some top-notch players. With St. Thomas in the thick of this same region, it just seems wrong that the Tommies don’t compete at that same level when we clearly have access to the same recruits.
“I’m a huge college hockey fan,” Stanoch said. “It would be great to see the ‘Purple and Grey’ flying up and down the ice against the Gophers and the Bulldogs.”
It really may never happen, and many seem to think it never should happen, but I remain convinced that the Tommies could take it to another level athletically. It would benefit the university in countless ways, including plenty of promotional opportunities for the university if a switch was ever made.
Nick McAndrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.