St. Scholastica leaving UMAC to replace St. Thomas in MIAC

The Saints will begin play in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 2021-22. The 2020-21 season will be their last in the UMAC.

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St. Scholastica offensive lineman Dalton Meyer (54) lifts wide receiver Eddie Lund (1) after Lund scored a touchdown in the first half of the Saints' 2019 season opener against Mayville State at Malosky Stadium. The Saints are moving from the UMAC to the MIAC starting in 2021-22. (File / News Tribune)

St. Scholastica had long shown an interest in joining the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, making inquiries about joining in the 1980s and 1990s, but it never came to fruition. The conference even had a moratorium on adding new schools for years.

That changed earlier this spring when the MIAC, for the first time, approached the Saints, and the result was Wednesday’s announcement that St. Scholastica would join the MIAC beginning in 2021-22.

“It absolutely is a historic day for St. Scholastica,” Saints athletic director Franco Bari said. “We align with the profile of the conference membership, which are all Minnesota private colleges. So if anything, this really fits us with a conference that really shares similar values.”

With the MIAC, St. Scholastica joins a higher-profile conference with 100 years of tradition. The league was founded in 1920 and had Minnesota Duluth as a member from 1951-75. It is regarded as one of the most competitive NCAA Division III conferences in the country. According to the conference website, MIAC teams have won 45 team national championships and 245 individual national championships.

“This is an exciting day as we welcome St. Scholastica to the MIAC,” Rebecca Bergman, Gustavus Adolphus College president and chair of the MIAC Presidents’ Council, said in a release. “St. Scholastica has a strong commitment to the NCAA Division III philosophy and shares the vision of quality athletics, academics, student-athlete well-being and integrity that we value in the MIAC. The Saints have been a familiar opponent for many years and it is with great pleasure that we now welcome them as a conference member to begin this new chapter in MIAC history.”


St. Scholastica’s move to the MIAC will end its tenure in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, a conference the Saints have dominated since joining in 1995 and a league which includes Wisconsin-Superior. St. Scholastica has won the conference’s Jerome Kruse All-Sports Award 16 times, including the last 11. The Saints have won 210 UMAC regular-season championships and 106 UMAC postseason titles, but that success often didn’t translate well outside the conference. Being part of a nationally-regarded conference could help change that and could be attractive to potential recruits.

St. Scholastica’s addition coincides with perennial power St. Thomas, easily the largest school in the 13-member MIAC, being involuntarily removed from the conference after 2020-21.

“The why now is that both the MIAC and St. Scholastica see value in working closely with each other,” Bari said. “With all our sports in general, we have an understanding that we will have to raise the bar to a certain extent, but we are committed to enhancing areas to pave the way for success. We will use this next year in preparation to make sure our teams are ready to compete within the MIAC.”

With the exception of men’s and women’s swimming, St. Scholastica will compete in 20 of the 22 championships that the MIAC sponsors (the Saints also sponsor Nordic skiing, which will remain part of the Central Collegiate Ski Association). St. Scholastica’s hockey teams will be under the same conference affiliation as the rest of the athletic department for the first time after competing in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.

With Macalester College rejoining the MIAC in football, St. Scholastica will be part of a 10-team, two-division format in 2021. One division will consist of St. Scholastica, Carleton, Gustavus Adolphus, St. John’s and St. Olaf and the other division will consist of Augsburg, Bethel, Concordia-Moorhead, Hamline and Macalester.

St. Scholastica had been a football power in the UMAC, having won five straight regular-season conference titles from 2011-2015, but the Saints got crushed playing the MIAC’s top teams.

St. Scholastica coach Mike Heffernan knows there is work to be done.

“We’re excited for the new challenge and are looking forward to the rebuilding phase of our program,” Heffernan said. “I know that the MIAC is good football. I know it’s going to be a great challenge for us. I know our guys are going to work really hard, and we’re going to coach them hard. They’re excited about the new adventure, the new challenge. The bar just keeps getting higher. It might not happen right away, but I’m confident that our guys are going to answer it.”


This story was updated at 8:20 p.m. May 27 with comments from St. Scholastica coaches and officials. It was originally posted at 2:46 p.m.

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