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Commentary: Northern Sun should be cautious with St. Thomas

St. Thomas' Vinny Pallini hauls in a pass against Concordia's Treyton Austvold on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at Jake Christiansen Stadium in Moorhead, Minn. David Samson / Forum News Service

MANKATO, Minn. - If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, you shouldn’t feel too good today.

On Wednesday, May 22, the NCAA Division III conference made the cowardly decision to expel St. Thomas for the high crime of being too aggressive in improving its campus, enrollment and athletic programs. Instead of accepting the challenge and working hard to make changes, several MIAC schools decided it was easier for the Davids to gang up on Goliath.

It’s such a 2019 move.

The MIAC’s reputation has taken a hit, and St. Thomas has been transformed from athletic bully to sympathetic victim. The secret debates and votes of MIAC leaders have just fueled the speculation as to which universities were so childish that instead of competing against a high-level opponent, they chose to”involuntarily” remove a member in good standing that has done nothing wrong.

Certainly, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference has taken notice. Likely to shrink from 16 teams to 15 in the next couple of years, the Division II league would seem to be active in finding a replacement for Augustana, which is beginning the process of transitioning to Division I.

But would St. Thomas be a good fit for the Northern Sun?

St. Thomas surely fits within the Northern Sun’s geographic footprint, easing the transition to the new league. It would take a while for the Tommies to compete for conference championships, but the resources and attitude are in place to elevate programs quickly.

However, the Northern Sun shouldn’t make this decision hastily, sensing an opportunity to expand the brand.

Anyone who thinks that St. Thomas will bring greater media exposure from the Twin Cities market is delusional. Once the Tommies would settle into the Northern Sun, the metro media would again largely ignore the league as newsrooms shrink and coverage becomes more narrow.

The only time Concordia-St. Paul gets attention from metro media is when the volleyball team wins national championships.

The Northern Sun needs to balance its league, either by adding one school or eliminating another. And the Northern Sun isn’t going to lop one of the members without good reason, as the MIAC did to St. Thomas.

There aren’t many good options for the Northern Sun, and St. Thomas would appear to be a perfect fit. But before the Northern Sun would offer any invitation to St. Thomas, there must be guarantees that it would be a long-term relationship. St. Thomas has the resources to some day transition to Division I, and the Northern Sun shouldn’t be the Division II stepping stone that the NCAA requires for a Division III university to eventually end up at Division I.

Does St. Thomas want to end up as the second Division I university in Minnesota? It’s possible.

The Northern Sun would need a solid answer to that question before considering an offer to St. Thomas.

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