St. Thomas Coach Glen Caruso leads his team onto the field for a game against St. John's in 2014. The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has decided to oust the NCAA Division III league's largest school, St. Thomas, for competitive purposes. (Jim Gehrz/Star Tribune/AP)

University representatives for an NCAA Division III athletics conference in Minnesota voted to oust the league’s most successful school — one of its charter members — over “athletic competitive parity.”

The University of St. Thomas, located in St. Paul, Minn., helped found the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1920 and has emerged in recent seasons as the 13-school league’s dominant force in multiple sports. The MIAC’s presidents’ council voted to “involuntarily remove” St. Thomas after the 2021 spring season, while noting the school has not violated any conference or NCAA rules and leaves in good standing.

The conference did not reveal which institutions voted to force out St. Thomas.

“I think it’s a sad day for St. Thomas. It’s a difficult day for us,” the school’s athletic director, Phil Esten, said in a phone interview. “And it’s a sad day for the MIAC.”

Conference university presidents conducted the campaign to banish St. Thomas in secret, according to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, after the Tommies defeated St. Olaf College in football, 97-0, in 2017. Since Coach Glenn Caruso took over the St. Thomas football program in 2008, the team has won six conference titles and played in two national championship games.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams, volleyball team and softball team have also stood atop the conference. Each has won more league championships than any other MIAC member.

By the time Esten replaced Steve Fritz, who had been at the school for 52 years, as athletic director in January, conference presidents already were well on their way to gathering the nine votes necessary to cast out St. Thomas. Esten and St. Thomas President Julie H. Sullivan met with officials from other institutions in an attempt to preserve St. Thomas’s place in the MIAC, but those discussions never swayed any votes.

“When I started, these were conversations that were going on,” Esten said. “Ultimately, there was just an inevitability. We realized this was going to happen.”

“St. Thomas expended tremendous effort to remain in the MIAC and stabilize the conference,” Sullivan wrote in a letter to the campus. “However, the presidents came to a consensus that the conference itself would cease to exist in its current form if St. Thomas remained.”

St. Thomas’s undergraduate enrollment of around 6,200 students is close to double that of every other MIAC member, and the universities probably will push to establish an enrollment cap, the Star Tribune reported.

The MIAC’s move endangers one of Division III’s richest football rivalries between St. Thomas and Saint John’s, which is in Collegeville, Minn. The two schools have played the “Tommie-Johnnie Game” 88 times, with the result often weighing heavily on the conference championship.

St. Thomas said in a statement, “We would like to find a way for this historic rivalry to continue into the future,” but did not provide any details.

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