St. Thomas announced an attendance of over 6,000 during the middle of Saturday's homecoming game with Valparaiso at O'Shaughnessy Stadium. The math was recalculated during the second half and the official attendance was listed for posterity at 7,443.
There were a fair number of late arrivals for certain, as it was a splendid fall afternoon and the pregame parties in the houses and on the lawns within a number of blocks of campus were still buzzing as kickoff approached.
There appeared to be ample quantities of beer and cocktails available, although they were probably mojito mocktails and non-alcohol fizzes for those in purple Tommies T-shirts who were under 21.
The enthusiasm of the overflow crowd was substantial, as the Tommies held tough with defense in the first half, put together a couple of drives in the second half and beat Valpo 20-13.
There are numerous questions as to how this move to Division I athletics is going to work for St. Thomas. There was a first-half announcement of self-congratulations issued to President Julie Sullivan and her administration for this rapid and historic transition from D-III, although the bills have only started to roll in.
The largest expense will be a hockey arena. The high school rink at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights is not a long-term answer for a men's team competing in the new CCHA and a women's team in the WCHA.
That arena might also need the technology for a quick conversion to basketball readiness, since the Tommies' hoops home, Schoenecker Arena (opened 2010), was sized for D-III.
Funding an arena … that is President Sullivan and her brilliant administration's problem. Personally, I'm more interested in how Tommies fandom will take to these visits from the unfamiliar foes of the sprawling and mysterious Pioneer Football League.
Everything was in the Tommies' favor Saturday —weather, homecoming, nearby beer kegs —but I did have a general impression:
Current students and those of recent vintage are ready to embrace the move upward in athletics. Yes, they will miss that one Saturday per autumn when they could stumble about with red-clad Johnnies and exchange insults, but beyond that ... D-I, we're special now, and Valpo or Marist have to be more interesting than Hamline or Carleton.
The Pioneer's official classification is Football Championship Subdivision, although with no scholarships, the talent level is much closer to the very top of the MIAC — meaning St. John's and Bethel — than that of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, with North Dakota State and company.
The Tommies tried one of those power-FCS teams, Northern Iowa, last month and lost 44-3. Meantime, Glenn Caruso's bunch is 2-1 in the Pioneer, with games remaining against Stetson, Marist (home), Davidson, Drake and Presbyterian (home).
Odd as does that schedule look, the Tommies are coming out of their divorce with the MIAC in better condition, football-wise, than what they left behind after 100 years in Minnesota's traditional private-school conference.
The Tommies were headed out of the MIAC eventually. The damaged relations from some beatings administered by Caruso's football team merely hastened that by a few years.
The MIAC already was bottom-heavy in football, with Augsburg and St. Olaf joining Carleton and Hamline in recent seasons. The response to losing St. Thomas was adding two more teams to the bottom: St. Scholastica and Macalester.
St. Scholastica was a power for a few years among the mini-schools of the UMAC. Then, it opened with a 98-0 nonconference loss vs. St. John's in September 2017, and lost coach Kurt Ramler the following January.
The Saints' ability to compete against the upper half of the MIAC was on display Saturday in Duluth when they lost 72-7 to on-the-rise Gustavus Adolphus.
Macalester packed up its MIAC futility in football 20 years ago and played as an independent before joining the intellectuals in the Midwest Conference in 2014, where it won the title in its first year as a member. Macalester remained in the MIAC in all other sports, and returned to the football fold once the Tommies left.
Early scouting report: The Scots lost the Book of Knowledge game to Carleton, so how good can they be?
To mollify the football have-nots, the MIAC came up with two five-team divisions. There are three crossover games, giving the teams at the bottom a chance to avoid (theoretically) a couple of beatings.
The regular season ends with inter-division matchups: 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, etc. And only the four divisional games count for setting those games. Meaning, St. John's beating Bethel in an emotional, outstanding game in Collegeville last month means as much to the MIAC as Carleton beating Crown.
You got away from some brain surgeons running that league, Tommies. Congratulations.