In the fascinating, escalating story of conference power St. Thomas’ possible ouster from the MIAC, the Tommies seemingly have few allies. The latest piece of Star Tribune reporting on the matter notes that Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow wrote in an email that a consensus has formed among conference schools to make the bold change.
Nothing is official yet, of course, and things can certainly change when it’s time to tally up actual votes.
In the meantime, St. Thomas has found at least one helping hand from a source that’s either likely or unlikely, depending on how you look at it: a student from St. John’s, the longtime St. Thomas rival school.
Brendan Klein, a graduating senior at St. John’s and the former student body vice president at the school, started a petition on Change.org addressed to “Presidents of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Members” and titled “Keep St. Thomas in the MIAC.”
As of 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, 2,260 people had endorsed the petition on change.org.
Klein said his initial hope was that at least his roommates would sign it, but it has grown larger than that. The petition went live about a week ago and had more than 2,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
"What kind of shocked me is this assertion that St. Thomas dominates athletics throughout the MIAC,” said Klein, who was a walk-on with the St. John’s track and field team for three years, in a phone interview Monday. “I felt like they’re good but not so many standard deviations above the rest of the competition."
In the petition, Klein lays out the case for keeping the Tommies in the MIAC, arguing that the reported motives for booting St. Thomas from the conference — that its “enrollment has become too large and its athletic program too powerful,” per the Star Tribune’s earlier report — are not sufficient.
“We believe it to be short-sighted and against our values to remove a school due to their success in one aspect of the holistic college experience,” writes Klein, who is listed as a member of St. John’s track and field team.
Klein, a Bloomington native who attended Jefferson High, goes on to write: “As athletes will tell you, competition brings the best out of those willing to face it. A competitive MIAC makes all teams better, in all sports, even if the results do not go the way you wish. It is our belief that a competitive MIAC is one with the University of St. Thomas as a member.”
The petition later enumerates points about St. Thomas being singled out for a specific inequality when others exist within the conference.
“We believe that membership in the MIAC should be based off a school’s commitment to private, liberal arts education, not their enrollment size. If a school is able to provide this type of higher education experience to their undergraduate students, no matter the amount, they should always have a home in the MIAC if they choose,” Klein writes.
That support might seem strange or at least out-of-place from a student at a rival school, but consider: St. John’s probably has as much to lose as any school in this (aside from St. Thomas) because of the prestige of the rivalry and strength of competition between the two schools, particularly in football.
While that could survive in some form even if St. Thomas was in a different conference, the rivalry would inevitably be dulled. (If you don’t believe me, just ask fans of Minnesota and North Dakota hockey).
"My mom was a Tommie. My grandpa was a Tommie," Klein said. "I have a lot of friends who enjoy the rivalry."