Something seems totally unfair within the MIAC, an inequity that demands drastic measures, perhaps expulsion of one institution.

St. Olaf College is just too dang good at choir.

Just ask them.

“St. Olaf College is recognized worldwide for the exceptional breadth and depth of its music program,” the school’s website boasts.

Why, if the MIAC held a singing competition — their version of “American Idol” — St. Olaf would embarrass some rivals so badly that, if they kept score, the outcome would be something like 97-0.

“The St. Olaf Choir continues to attract capacity audiences at top venues around the country including Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall, the Kennedy Center, Cleveland’s Severance Hall and the Orchestra Halls of both Chicago and Minneapolis,” the school notes.

This is outrageous! Who can compete with that kind of talent? The other MIAC schools should band together and boot those baritone bullies right out of the conference.

How dare St. Olaf make a sizable investment in something that enhances the school’s overall image and pursuit of excellence.

Sound silly? Of course it does.

So why is one of the MIAC’s brethren, St. Thomas, potentially being punished for building a strong athletic program, led by a football team that produces lopsided scores — too lopsided sometimes — against weaker conference foes?

Are MIAC schools really this petty?

The Star Tribune reported in April that MIAC presidents are considering a change in bylaws involving enrollment size that would essentially push St. Thomas out of the league. St. Thomas helped found the conference 99 years ago.

Coaches and school officials throughout the MIAC have declined to discuss the matter publicly since the initial news story, an awkward silence that reflects the mysterious nature of all this. Lack of transparency with a decision this important is both cowardly and just plain wrong.

In speaking on background with several people with ties to the league, I have the sense St. Thomas’ ouster has become a matter of when, not if. Either the school will be forced out, or it will decide to leave before getting an official heave-ho. My best guess is that St. Thomas would land in Division II.

Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. MIAC presidents should come to their senses and realize that moving forward without St. Thomas would weaken the conference, not make it more vibrant.

It’s fine to be mad at St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso for running up the score — yes, edging St. Olaf 97-0 in 2017 was a bad look and Caruso should display more sportsmanship — but expulsion from the conference? Come on. For the record, the Tommies finished third in the MIAC in football this season.

Sources said athletics is a factor for this potential watershed decision but not the only reason, and that other issues outside of sports have been simmering. Fundamentally, though, a divide exists over the role of athletics in Division III and varying commitment made by schools.

The arms’ race has trickled down to Division III in recruiting, facilities and money devoted to athletics. Some schools have made it a priority. Others have not.

The problem isn’t that St. Thomas has outgrown the MIAC. Some rival schools simply don’t like St. Thomas’ strong commitment to athletics and an ever-expanding emphasis placed on sports throughout Division III.

Athletics can be used as a marketing device that benefits the school’s undergraduate recruitment. St. Thomas fields nationally recognized programs in various sports, generating media exposure, which helps the school’s brand. Why is that a bad thing?

A successful athletics department should matter, whether a school offers scholarships or not. Sports can still be a window to those institutions.

Elite liberal arts schools shouldn’t abandon their identity or their mission. Those schools are attractive because of their prestigious academic reputation. But taking a stance of “If you can’t beat ’em, boot ’em” is a weak argument.

That this discussion is even happening still seems unfathomable. The secretive nature only makes it more confusing. The reasons given privately don’t make sense.

There’s nothing untoward, or even unfair, about a school investing and making a commitment to be great in something, whether that’s athletics or choir.

 

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com