While it seems impossible to believe, there is a chance the tradition that is the NCAA Division III Johnnie-Tommie football rivalry will end just about a year from now.
Welcome to more potential collateral damage caused in part by big-time college athletics.
Never mind those 20,000 or so red- and purple-clad fans enjoying Saturday’s game at Allianz Field in St. Paul. Forget about 89 years of classic games, including a national-record crowd of 37,355 at the 2017 game at Target Field. And say goodbye to the small-college football matchup that got so big ESPN in 2015 broadcast its national “College GameDay” show from Collegeville.
All of that could end after next year’s game as the University of St. Thomas is forced out of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Enough MIAC peers this year decided the Tommies’ athletic success in all sports (along with its big enrollment) is too overwhelming.
And while that decision creates a major challenge for this rivalry, it puts a huge opportunity in front of the St. Thomas football program. The Tommies are attempting to skip NCAA Division II (think St. Cloud State) and jump all the way to the NCAA Division I level — think big-time college athletics.
While continuing the Johnnies rivalry is possible and desired by both schools, that seems a tough punt with the Tommies pursuing an invitation from the Summit League, a Division I conference with nine Midwest schools. The league does not include a football conference, but several member schools have Division I programs, most notably North Dakota State University.
Division I programs — even those in the lesser-known Football Championship Subdivision — have operating costs of several million dollars. ESPN recently reported NDSU’s football costs were about $5.6 million a year. Citing federal data, it set St. Thomas expenses now at about $1.1 million.
Common sense dictates that if St. Thomas makes that jump, keeping a rivalry game with St. John’s could become a high price to pay — literally. Not to mention Division I vs. Division III matchups on the field wouldn’t seem very appealing to either team.
So what are die-hard Johnnie-Tommie football fans supposed to do?
Savor the moments like Saturday, embrace what might be a final clash next fall — and be thankful such a great rivalry existed for almost a century in a college-football world that seems to change — sometimes drastically — by the game.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ST. CLOUD TIMES