When I read that rivals of the University of St. Thomas are considering whether to boot the school from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (Patrick Reusse column, April 5), I found myself doing something I never thought I’d do in a million years: rooting for the Tommies.

After about 10 minutes as a player at Gustavus, before I could even confidently tell you if we were a 4-3 or a 3-4, I knew one thing: Nobody liked St. Thomas. After my first game against the Tommies (when we lost 66-9, despite going 7-3 overall and having our best offense in years), I changed my tune. For the rest of my career at Gustavus, any dialogue about St. Thomas football we had as players (apart from including several expletives to indicate how badly we wanted to beat them) usually included the sentiment that they shouldn’t even be in the league, which I wholeheartedly agreed with for a while.

My next two years at Gustavus, the Tommies not only outplayed us (40-6 and 58-7) but also outrecruited us, but how could they not? The school boasted near-triple our enrollment, a prime location in the Twin Cities and a state-of-the-art athletic facility, not to mention a game against St. John’s in front of more than 30,000 people at Target Field.

God knows I adore the people, academics and culture at Gustavus, but to immature-but-promising high school athletes, and Division I transfers (of which St. Thomas has had plenty), it offered an unfair advantage to purple in the eyes of our team.

That isn’t to say we gave up on the idea of beating them. That’s not the Gustie way. Instead, we used it as fuel for our training, and this year, despite all the individual talent on the Tommies, we carried a 13-0 lead against them into the fourth quarter.

Now, while we ultimately fell apart and lost 14-13 in what is undoubtedly the most disappointing moment of my career and life, I am extremely proud of the way we played, and I believe it proved to the Gusties, and the MIAC, that the talent of the Tommies is not insurmountable, as the hard work we did for three years to beat them fell only a play short.

So when I read the column outlining a “Game of Thrones”-esque revolt in the MIAC to banish St. Thomas, my jaw dropped. Just when the league is catching up to the Tommies, and the Tommies don’t even make the playoffs — that’s the time when it’s decided that they are a bad fit? I know we read a lot about head injuries in football, but I thought the risks were only for the players.

Maybe instead of kicking the Tommies out, other MIAC schools can continue to work hard to invest in high-quality academics and facilities (shout-out to Gustavus’ planned new fitness center expansion) to draw in better recruits?

While I’m sure it’s no fun to go against the Tommies for the teams that have traditionally been in the lower tier of our conference (especially when they keep their foot on the gas in a 97-0 rout of St. Olaf, which is one of many good justifications for their bad reputation), the Tommies are good for the league and have been instrumental in the MIAC’s status as one of the top two leagues in Division III in the nation.

While I’m not totally against potential solutions to the St. Thomas problem, such as perhaps a realignment of the teams in the WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) and MIAC to form two more top-to-bottom equal leagues, or St. Thomas being able to travel extra players to select away games (with permission) to allow them to put in more third- and fourth-stringers, simply booting them because they’re good is beyond lame, and not up to the championship-caliber of the MIAC.

With my career over, I can safely say I am exuberant that I didn’t decide to become a stinking Tommie and instead chose to be around the league’s best coaches and teammates at Gustavus, and I want to keep watching Gustavus play the Tommies for as long as I can before my concussions render me dumber than a St. Thomas student.

 

Before graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in December, Tanner Sparrow lost to St. Thomas four times in football and served as managing editor of the Gustavian Weekly. He will be attending the University of Minnesota Law School in the fall.