Reusse: St. Scholastica could be appealing to MIAC

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2014 - 12:28 AM

The Saints have made great strides in football, but their AD is happy with the UMAC.

We now know the MIAC as Minnesota’s prominent Division III athletic conference for religiously affiliated colleges. It was not always an exclusive enclave for private colleges.

Minnesota Duluth was an MIAC member from 1950 through 1975. A glance at Twin Cities newspaper archives would indicate that institution was referred to as either UMD or Duluth Branch.

The Bulldogs were playing big-time hockey by then. It was decided by all parties that UMD would be better served in the Northern Intercollegiate Conference, with St. Cloud State, Mankato State and other public institutions.

There is now another Duluth entity that could be a natural addition to the MIAC, particularly when it comes to football.

The College of St. Scholastica made the bold move of adding football for the 2008 season and has reached a competitive level that should make the Saints appealing to the MIAC.

The addition of St. Scholastica would give the MIAC a total of 10 football teams, eliminating the need for bye weeks in the heart of the season.

St. Scholastica would not start off as a threat to St. Thomas and Bethel, the current powerhouses, or tradition-rich St. John’s and Concordia. There would be a shot at a few victories in the second division.

Athletic director Don Olson made an aggressive move on Monday when he hired Kurt Ramler as St. Scholastica’s football coach. Ramler was the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, St. John’s, for a year. Earlier, he spent six seasons as the head coach at Carleton — including an unlikely title challenge in 2008 when Ramler was the MIAC’s Coach of the Year.

Greg Carlson started the St. Scholastica program in 2008, lifting the Saints from the ineptitude of being new to three consecutive conference titles from 2011 through 2013.

The conference is the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. Years back, Sports Illustrated decided to rate every football program in the nation, and the UMAC was distinguished by the number of teams near the bottom of the list.

Some of those programs disappeared. For now, UMAC football consists of five schools that participate in the league full-time (St. Scholastica, Northwestern, Minnesota-Morris, Crown and Martin Luther) and five affiliated members (Iowa Wesleyan, Greenville, MacMurray, Westminster and Eureka).

The Saints are 25-1 in the league in the past three years. What followed were D-III playoff losses to St. Thomas, Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Bethel in which they were outscored 173-25.

This might explain St. Scholastica’s reluctance to make a new application to the MIAC. The school was last turned down by that league in the late ’90s.

Olson came to St. Scholastica as AD in 2008, after 32 years at St. Mary’s — as the hockey coach and athletic director. Counting cross-country, indoor and outdoor track for men and women as six entities, he’s in charge of an athletic program with 20 sports.

“There’s a good chance the UMAC will be growing, to 10 teams, maybe 12,’’ Olson said. “The all-sport competition with schools like Northwestern and Morris is very good. We’re happy to be where we’re at.’’

St. Scholastica was an all-women’s college with an emphasis on nursing from its start in 1912 to 1969. One reason for expanding the athletic program through the years has been to attract more men to the school. The decision to add football for 2008 was the exclamation point for that strategy.

There are now 2,050 undergraduates on the main campus in Duluth. “There are 550 ‘unduplicated athletes’ in our programs, meaning more than 25 percent of our students are athletes,’’ Olson said.

St. Scholastica attempts to enroll 475 freshmen per year, and usually takes in 100 transfers — yup, those northern Minnesota kids who leave but are drawn back home by the joy of a winter in Duluth.

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