WCCO's long radio relationship with Gophers football is over, with that team's rights belonging to KFAN starting this fall. But WCCO's booming signal has a new and intriguing football partner: Division III St. Thomas.

The St. Paul school and station announced Wednesday a two-year agreement by which WCCO (830 AM) will broadcast all University of St. Thomas football games in 2011 and 2012. Dave Lee, who called Gophers games for WCCO, and Joe Senser, who played for the Vikings and previously served as an analyst on Vikings broadcasts, will be in the booth.

Mark Dienhart, the executive vice president and chief operating officer at St. Thomas, said the two sides started talking after the Gophers' new deal with KFAN was announced in March.

"We've never really had a long-term commercial carrier on the radio," Dienhart said. "The thought that we could do this with WCCO had never really entered our minds."

Terms were not disclosed, but Dienhart said St. Thomas will pay WCCO a "very reasonable" fee to carry the games. The move allows WCCO to continue broadcasting college football, which it has done since 1924. While St. Thomas doesn't have the same regional appeal as the Gophers, the school does have a "certain amount of financial robustness," Dienhart noted, with "donors deeply involved in the community." Those donors could be potential advertisers.

WCCO executive Mick Anselmo described in a press release St. Thomas' "rich history of athletic success and its traditional rivalries in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference" as reasons the move made sense on the station's part.

The Tommies are 30-6 over the past three seasons under coach Glenn Caruso. Some might view the partnership as an attempt by St. Thomas to raise its profile and perhaps separate itself from MIAC peers. Dienhart, however, takes an opposite stance.

"I think we'll make people aware of the good football in the conference and the great stories about the kids that play," said Dienhart, who added that St. Thomas remains committed to staying in Division III. "Rather than looking at it as having a leg up, I was thinking it was something that could help the MIAC. Other schools [that play against St. Thomas] are maybe thinking, 'Hey, we're going to be on WCCO.' "