Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow believes a consensus has formed among MIAC schools to remove St. Thomas from the conference and “reluctantly supports” that decision, according to e-mails obtained by the Star Tribune.
In an exchange with an Augsburg supporter, Pribbenow wrote that several schools have threatened to leave the MIAC in recent years. He said he wants “the MIAC to remain as whole as is possible,” even if it means St. Thomas must be expelled.
“My sense is that we have reached a consensus that will keep 12 schools together in the MIAC and that we will support St. Thomas’s efforts to find a new conference home,” Pribbenow replied to the Augsburg supporter, who wrote to express his opposition to removing St. Thomas. “I can assure you that if we had not reached this consensus, the MIAC would have imploded, leaving all of us in a far less attractive position.”
The Star Tribune reported last month that some MIAC presidents were moving to oust St. Thomas from the league it helped found 99 years ago. At an April 18 meeting, the presidents of the MIAC’s 13 member schools deferred any decision on the Tommies’ future in the conference, saying they would continue discussions at future meetings.
Pribbenow’s assistant said he was out of town and referred a request for further comment to a college spokesperson, who did not respond to an e-mail. A phone call and e-mail to Carleton President Steven Poskanzer were answered by athletic department spokesman Dave Pape, who said his school would not be commenting publicly.
The presidents at other MIAC schools, including St. Thomas, St. Olaf, Hamline and Gustavus, did not respond to e-mails and phone calls requesting comment.
The effort to banish St. Thomas has been conducted in secret, though sources have said it is rooted in a belief that St. Thomas’ enrollment has become too large and its athletic program too powerful. The Tommies have won the MIAC’s men’s and women’s all-sports championships in each of the past 11 years, and the football team defeated St. Olaf 97-0 in 2017.
In the e-mail exchange forwarded to the Star Tribune, Pribbenow wrote “the very existence of the conference is at stake.” He emphasized that his overriding concern is to preserve the MIAC with as many members as possible.
“I appreciate that press accounts and word of mouth about the situation with St. Thomas and the MIAC have painted a conspiratorial picture,” Pribbenow wrote. “What I can share with you is Augsburg’s position. I care deeply about the MIAC — its history, its standards and its shared values.
“What has happened over the past several years is that several schools have threatened to leave the MIAC because of what they perceive as competition inequities and shifting attitudes about the role of intercollegiate athletics among member schools. This is a conversation that goes back two or three years.
“My position has always been that I want the MIAC to remain as whole as is possible. In the end, if that means that St. Thomas must leave the conference, I will reluctantly support that decision. For me, this was not about removing St. Thomas, it was about saving the MIAC.”
Sources have said that the MIAC presidents could push out St. Thomas by changing league bylaws, adding a cap on enrollment that would be set below the school’s current undergraduate enrollment of 6,199. League bylaws state that any membership termination must be approved by at least nine of the 13 member schools.
In a follow-up e-mail with the Augsburg supporter, Pribbenow reiterated that “my concern is not with St. Thomas but with maintaining the core of the MIAC. … Where we have landed ensures that the conference will survive.”