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St. Thomas athletics should compete at the Division I level

By , Reporter  |  Saturday, May 19, 2012 8:44 AM

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.  Ops_LOGO

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 mcan1933@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Opinions and has 9 comments so far.

9 Comments

  1. Alex Peavey
    May. 19, 2012 11:54 PM

    There’s no way UST could compete DI. Even in football where we crush most of our competition, there’s still a massive difference between us and even a mediocre program like the Gophers. Most of our other sports are competitive in the MIAC, not totally dominant. I can see the hockey argument, and possibly baseball or softball, but that’s it. I don’t think that UST has the marketability to recruit DI. I think DIII is great because it allows the athlete to focus on getting a degree while continuing to play their sport at an intercollegiate level.

  2. John Bruggeman
    May. 21, 2012 9:41 AM

    And to those who would say, “well we just start recruiting D1 athletes and remake the entire athletic program”…,even if this were feasible, where are you going to play the games?  All of the current athletic facilities are too small to accommodate the number of paid spectators that would be needed to support the granting of scholarships.

  3. tj murphy
    May. 22, 2012 2:50 PM

    ….and we don’t even have tennis courts to play a home match on. The MIAC is an excellent place to be.

  4. Pat Strathman
    May. 29, 2012 12:27 PM

    No way this would happen. Try to jump to DII first and see what happens then. If this school was getting DI talent, why are you still in DIII? Why would DI talent go to a school that doesn’t give athletic scholarships? The talent between DIII and DII is a pretty decent gap, so how do you expect to compete in DI? I just don’t see it happening. From what I know, the athletic facilities are just as big as some high schools in Kansas (which is where I am from). 

  5. Patrick Rosenquist
    May. 31, 2012 11:32 AM

    @Pat Strathman

    RE: Suggesting D-2. D-2 is horrible in every way. It’s the logistical nightmare of D-1, with the academics of a JUCO and the atmosphere of an abandoned tire plant.
    Horrible, horrible, horrible. There is absolutely no beneift to D-2. Go to an NSIC game and compare the atmosphere there to the atmosphere at any MIAC game. I’d pick the MIAC any day of the week. More spectators and no scholarship commitments in the MIAC. I’d like to see on average how much money NSIC athletic departments hemorrhage.

  6. John Cusack
    Sep. 9, 2012 6:35 PM

    I graduated from UST in 1998 and eventually moved back to Chicago, IL. I am sick and tired of people, particularly employers, having never heard of St. Thomas.  I have attended schools with similar academic selectivity since then, and the only thing that puts these schools on map are their D1 sports teams. I have also found the resources of these schools have to offer are tremendous. I can’t image a better move for St. Thomas, unless it is happy with being a school with no national reputation and limited regional reputation.

  7. carly reinke
    Sep. 10, 2012 9:24 PM

    John I totally agree. A St Thomas degree is essentially useless outside of Minnesota. Hence why I transferred to Madison after two years. Maybe a D1 program wouldn’t be the worst idea.

  8. Patrick Rosenquist
    Sep. 12, 2012 10:27 AM

    I disagree with that John and Carly. Amherst, Williams, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Washington University, Brandeis, Case Western are all top-notch, well known D-3 institutions. Switching a school’s focus from academics to athletics to raise national recognition can be a slippery slope.

  9. Kurt Weber
    Jan. 18, 2013 8:32 PM

    I think St. Thomas has great potential when it comes to college hockey. This school has bigger endowments than Bemidji State University, St. Cloud State University and Mankato State University, (both with successful hockey programs in division 1).  Especially with the new realignment with college hockey coming in 2013, the WCHA would be a great fit for St. Thomas. 

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