Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Gene's Blog: Old catcher bats 4-for-4, puts Toms on great path

Gene's Blog: Old catcher bats 4-for-4, puts Toms on great path
My oh my. This may sound redundant redundant. But the year 2020 has sure been crazy crazy.
Take the months of June and July. The Twin Cities were ground zero for initial protests in early June following the death of George Floyd in south Minneapolis. Emotions and challenges that spilled out of that story went worldwide and will echo for months and years to come.
July brought another large spotlight shining on St. Thomas. Except for patriotic parties and fireworks on the fourth day of the month, July is usually the calendar year's calmest time, especially on college campuses.
A quiet July 2020? Not this summer. Two of St. Thomas' biggest athletics stories in the last 75 years were announced last month.
Covid Continues
For the first time since World War II, the Tommies will not play football games in the fall. And for the first time since their sports debuted in the 1970s and early 1980s, varsity volleyball and soccer will not compete this autumn.
While disappointing, in the big picture, these are among the lesser consequences of the Covid outbreak that has gripped our nation. 
The 2020 fall sports changes became official with last week's announcement by the MIAC. Conference presidents decided that all football, volleyball, soccer and cross country competitions will be postponed, although they hold out hope that contests in those sports could be played in spring 2021.
Practices and some team activities will continue this fall on our campus, respecting social-distancing protocols. But the only Tommies competing against outside teams this fall will be golf and tennis, for men and women. Those will be limited to conference opponents only.
No decisions have been reached for MIAC winter sports. We shouldn't be surprised if conference basketball, hockey and swim-dive competitions are delayed until at least January.
The immediate task at St. Thomas? Continue our deliberate back-to-campus protocols; spotlight our time-tested learning envionment; welcome back our returning students plus the Class of 2024; and tap into the strength and energy of a united community.
Athletics -- and pandemics -- teach many lessons. Tommie teams are savvy at executing the tangibles in their sports. These days they will also need to master these intangibles: 
  • Be Positive: Discover the power of hope and gratitude
  • Be Purple: Work together as we navigate tough times together
  • Be Productive: Be ready when practices and games resume
  • Be Patient: Stay in the moment and appreciate that the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.
Before you know it, September will be here. Instead of dust, heavy construction equipment and the buzz of power tools, our campus will again be buzzing with the human energy that only a new school year can bring.
PHOTO: VP Phil Esten has helped forge four terrific conference partnerships for St. Thomas (Mark Brown photo)
There was one other historic campus story from July that almost needed a Richter scale to measure.
On July 15, an NCAA committee approved a waiver for St. Thomas to reclassify directly from Division III to Division I, beginning with the fall 2021 seasons. The NCAA's unprecedented ruling -- delayed weeks by the pandemic -- helps the Tommies forge ahead to more precise planning.
The Tommies will become just the second Division I institution in Minnesota, and the state's lone private D-I university.
For many of us, the game-changing news is still sinking in. It's the latest in a history of bold, entrepreneurial ventures at St. Thomas since our founding in 1885.
Here's one remarkable piece that was somewhat lost in the celebration and myriad of media stories over the last 20 days: Just 15 months ago, the Tommies were involuntarily removed from its conference home of 99 years. President Julie Sullivan and VP/Director of Athletics Phil Esten faced an urgent challenge of leading a university with no conference home into good long-term landing spots. 
Less than 450 days later, St. Thomas had received invitations into not just one, not just two, not just three, but into four exciting Division I conferences. Yes, the old Tommie baseballer Phil Esten put up another 4-for-4 stat line on the scoresheet.
Nineteen Tommie teams will compete in the competitive Summit League; Women's Hockey will join the elite Western Collegiate Hockey Association Women's League; Men's Hockey will compete in the resurrected Central Collegiate Hockey Association; Football will compete in the respected Pioneer League, America's only coast-to-coast college football conference.
We remain in Division III and the MIAC for our final run in the 2020-21 academic year, allowing us to celebrate so many good memories and friendships.
Meanwhile, as they continue to drive our transition, that strong Sullivan-Esten leadership and vision will embrace some Fleetwood Mac. They won't stop thinking about tomorrow... it will soon be here. 
You sometimes wish we had a crystal ball to see where St. Thomas will be in three years, five years or seven years. To illustrate how time flies at a vibrant university, consider that the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex on campus turns 10 years old this month. Ten years already? That's crazy crazy. Turn the dial ahead 10 years and imagine where we'll be.
For loyal Tommies everywhere, with a dose of patience and the right expectation level, our Division I journey should be a fun ride.
For those with a limited familiarity with St. Thomas but who are interested in rooting for a second Minnesota D-I program, let's go! We'll make room for you on the bandwagon.

Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is starting his 27th season at St. Thomas and 33rd overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division I and III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at