Johnnie-Tommie 2019; and at least one more

St. Thomas ouster from MIAC could eventually end annual football game with Saint John's

WCCO Radio Newsroom
October 18, 2019 - 6:41 am
Football field on Allianz pitch



Saturday is the 89th edition of the storied football rivalry between Minnesota small-college powerhouses Saint John's and St. Thomas.

The future schedules for both teams have the 90th clash taking place on November 7, 2020.

Any Johnnie-Tommie football games after that is anyone's guess.

The rivaly that once drew more than 37,000 fans, and will surpass 20,000 Saturday at St. Paul's Allianz Field, is in danger of fading away.

If not after next year, but eventually.

"We're hoping to play as long as we can possibly play, and as long as it makes sense for both schools, " said Saint John's athletic director Bob Alpers.

Both teams are founding members of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is in its 100th year and is a Division III league. That's the largest, but lowest level, of the NCAA conference universe.

"Since none of us knows what the future holds, we're going to keep playing," said Alpers, adding that he remains in contact with St. Thomas AD Phil Esten about ways to keep the Johnnie-Tommie game alive.

The reason for the uncertainty is the sudden departure from the MIAC of St. Thomas, expelled by the league's school presidents for athletic parity reasons.

It would be hard for St. Thomas to find a new Division III home, but with rising enrollment, and competitive success outweighing the rest of the league, aligning with a higher level of competition may be the preferred option.

The rumblings of the Tommies moving up intensified when the Summit League inviting the St. Paul-based school to join its ranks.  Even though the Summit League doesn't sponsor football or ice hockey, St. Thomas administrators say they are still searching for a D-I league for those sports, if the NCAA allows the Tommies to make the jump.

RELATED: Summit League extends invitation to St. Thomas

Which brings us to the Johnnie-Tommie rivalry.  The numbers show the Johnnies dominating the series overall (52-35-1), but the Tommies winning six of the last nine added some pop to the annual showdown.

But a Division I team taking on a D-III opponent? It doesn't happen much.

Even big-time football programs like the Gophers, stung by critics in the past for facing cupcake non-conference foes, don't dip below FCS teams when putting together a schedule.

A D-I team beating a D-III team should be a given. The big boys losing that game would be a travesty. It's a lose-lose proposition.

It's not what Tommie coach Glenn Caruso is concerned about going into Saturday.

"It could be very easy, if you're not doing your job right, to make this into something it's not," said Caruso. "As much as we love and respect that it's a rivalry game, between one o'clock and four o'clock on Saturday, it's a football game between two really good football teams."

How good? Saint John's is 5-0 and ranked fifth in the poll, while St. Thomas is 4-1 and number 11.

And Caruso said his preparation for Johnnie-Tommie Number 89 has nothing to do with the possible end to the series.

"Not today, and probably not any time in the near future, right now it's all focused, all hands on deck on Saturday.

"That's all."

Alpers agrees that what might happen in future years won't have any bearing on what goes on between those two really good football teams.

"I surely don't think that there's going to be any bad blood or anything like that," he said. "I don't think there needs to be more."

AP Editorial Categories: 
Comments ()