COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – The MIAC regular season was ending on Saturday afternoon, with Concordia and St. John’s playing to finish as runner-up and with the expectation of being included in the NCAA Division III’s 32-team bracket when it is announced on Sunday.
St. Thomas had given the lone losses of the season to Concordia and St. John’s, guaranteeing itself the automatic MIAC bid. The Tommies were in Northfield to play St. Olaf and complete another unbeaten run through the league schedule.
There were two more season-enders: Hamline at Bethel and Carleton at Gustavus Adolphus. These were curiosities as to whether Carleton would conclude a winless season and if Hamline would take another whipping from the first division of the MIAC.
Hamline had lost 45-0 to Concordia, 72-6 to St. John’s and 84-0 to St. Thomas. Carleton lost 63-0 to St. Thomas, 49-0 to Bethel, 35-12 to Concordia and 35-0 to St. John’s (in the mud).
The Knights also lost to Hamline in the battle for eighth place. And both Carleton and Hamline lost non-conference games to Macalester, which stopped playing football in the MIAC in 2001 because of an inability to complete.
There are numerous people who want to hold St. Thomas and St. John’s (in particular) responsible for closing the gates of mercy vs. the bottom dwellers in the MIAC.
The real problem is teams at the bottom of the league that don’t belong on the same field as those at the top.
St. Thomas has become a dominant force, and St. John’s, Concordia and Bethel have proved capable of challenging in this decade. Gustavus can be classified as the middle program in the standings, and Augsburg, St. Olaf, Hamline and Carleton make up the second division.
Augsburg enters each season with a chance to win half of its conference games, and so does St. Olaf, now that the administration has resumed taking at least a modest interest in its football program.
But what happens to the MIAC if Hamline and Carleton say enough of this nonsense and decide to give up football, or seek another alternative, such as football-only membership in the UMAC.
Macalester managed to get into the Midwest Conference four years ago, but that league has stated that it is not interested in admitting more football-only schools.
Jason Verdugo is the Hamline athletic director. He has been aggressive in hiring coaches (Natalie Darwitz in women’s hockey, for instance) and trying to compete in the D-III arms race against schools with much-greater resources.
The Hamline baseball team has a clubhouse and is playing its home games at CHS Field, the Saints’ wonderful ballpark in downtown St. Paul. Starting in January, the Pipers’ hockey teams also will be playing home games downtown at the new Wild practice facility.
“I communicate with the other ADs, including Macalester, and we all appreciate that there’s a chance to be competitive in nearly all sports,’’ Verdugo said. “I don’t think any school would be interested in losing those opportunities because of football.’’
What’s the solution then … since getting beaten 72-6 and 84-0 in a period of three games doesn’t seem to be it?
“I think one thing we should do is to take a look at roster sizes,’’ Verdugo said. “St. John’s has had 198 (180 now), St. Thomas was at 130, and Bethel and Concordia also have large numbers.
“Putting a limit on roster size should be worth a discussion, if nothing else.’’
The travel squads in the MIAC are limited to 60 players. A St. John’s assistant coach told me that the Johnnies’ traveling squad when it played at Hamline was a greater number than the Pipers had in uniform for the home game.
Hamline started practice with 75 players a couple of years ago; that number was 65 this summer, and now it’s in the 50s.
“There’s attrition at all schools,’’ Verdugo said. “St. Thomas has around 30 seniors, which is unbelievable, but that freshman class was close to 60 … by my analysis.’’
Verdugo pointed out there is a natural limit on player numbers in the scholarship classifications: 85 in FBS, 63 in FCS and 36 in Division II. Nearly all of the D-II scholarships are partials.
‘’There are walk-ons, obviously, but you can’t take an unlimited number of players at the scholarship schools,’’ Verdugo said. “As I said, all Division III schools have attrition, but when you’re starting at 130, like St. Thomas, or half that many at Hamline …
“I think that could be part of the answer for the talent imbalance. Even if the limit was 100; it’s a worth a discussion.’’
You wonder what the reactions of the powerhouses with the large numbers would be if this became the option:
Put a limit of 90 or 100 on your rosters to start a season, or a couple of schools are going to forget about football and pump all resources into sports that are competitive.
And then you have a seven-team league, with six conference games and a need to find four non-conference games for a complete schedule.
That certainly would make it worth a discussion. Something has to be considered, because 84-0 doesn’t work.