St. Thomas athletics will get opportunities in 2017 possibly unprecedented for a Division III institution.
Three Tommie teams -- men's hockey, baseball and football -- will play games in current professional stadiums during this calendar year.
Later this month, St. Thomas faces UW-Stout in a "Hockey Day in Minnesota" clash Saturday Jan. 21 in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Minnesota Wild.
Game time is 1:30 p.m., and there is no admission charge. The game will not be televised.
The Wild play later that night in the facility, an 8 p.m. puck drop against Anaheim.
This is the 11th-annual Hockey Day in Minnesota, sponsored by the Wild. This year's action includes two boys' and one girls' game played outdoors in Stillwater, plus a Minnesota-Wisconsin men's game and the Wild home contest.
This is believed to be the second time that MIAC schools have played at the 17-year-old Xcel venue -- St. John's and Gustavus played each other there in a January 2010 contest, a 10 a.m. clash won by the Gusties 6-4.
St. Thomas and other MIAC schools played NAIA tournament games in downtown St. Paul at the St. Paul Coliseum (now Roy Wilkins Arena) in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
For those keeping score at home, the arena is 6.4 miles east of campus, closer than the 7.6-mile trek to its usual home ice in Mendota Heights.
St. Thomas will have three doubleheaders in downtown Minneapolis at US Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings -- Tuesday Feb. 28 vs. UW-Stevens Point (10:45 a.m.); Thursday March 9 vs. UW-Whitewater (4:30 p.m.); and Saturday March 11 vs. Wartburg (9:30 a.m.).
An admission fee is likely for all games. That stadium is 5.0 miles from campus.
This ends a three-year stretch for Upper Midwest college teams that scrambled to find some early-season games. College baseball was played regularly in the Metrodome until it was dozed in 2013.
All 11 conference teams will play a total of 25 twinbills in the new facility between Feb. 21 and March 11.
St. Thomas will face archrival St. John's next Sept. 23 in downtown Minneapolis at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins. That stadium is 6.6 miles from campus.
General seating tickets to the event are already on sale on line. Most tickets range from $15-35 for the 1 p.m. game (gates open at 11 a.m). More than 2,000 student section tickets for each university will be held and made available in the summer of 2017 at a cost of $10 per student.
The Division III matchup, which will be a St. Thomas home game, will be the first-ever football game played at Target Field.
It's also believed to be the first outdoor football game held in a current pro baseball stadium involving two Division III teams. The last football game between Division III teams in a current NFL or MLB stadium was a 1991 contest between Salisbury and Frostburg State, which drew 5,192 fans at the Baltimore Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium.
In November 1965, St. John's beat Fairmont State in the NAIA playoffs in old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington -- six weeks after the World Series was played there.
This T-J game also could break the Division III football attendance record: UW-Whitewater had an announced crowd of 17,535 for its win over UW-Oshkosh last October in a battle of top-five ranked teams.
The football rivalry between St. Thomas and St. John's dates back to 1901. Since then, the schools have met 86 times and continually set NCAA Division III record attendance marks. Six of the top 14 all-time Division III attendance marks have involved the St. Thomas-St. John's rivalry. Since 1901, only six of the 86 games have been played off-campus.
The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry has featured at least one Division III top-10 ranked team in 11 of the past 12 seasons and regularly attracts more than 10,000 spectators. The 2015 game, won by UST 35-14, drew an NCAA Division III-record crowd of 17,327.
St. Thomas and St. John's have played football in every season since 1952 and twice in 1908 and 2015. St. John's leads the all-time series, 51-34-1, although St. Thomas has won six of the last eight meetings, including a rare four consecutive victories in Collegeville.
- St. Thomas' Jan. 1, 1949 Cigar Bowl game in Tampa, Fla., was played at Phillips Field, which also was the home of the Tampa Smokers minor-league baseball team. The Smokers played in the Florida International League, which included a team from Havana, Cuba.
- Tommie Football played in outdoor pro stadiums in Minneapolis in 1947 and 1950 against Augsburg when the Auggies used Minneapolis' high-level minor-league baseball field, Nicollet Park, the home of the Minneapolis Millers, as its home stadium from 1946-50.
- St. Thomas also played at least three other football games at Nicollet Park: a 1907 Thanksgiving Day win over the Minneapolis Deans all-star team; a 1910 0-0 tie vs. Creighton; and a 1925 win over Western Michigan. The latter was with a Tommie team coached by Joe Brandy, a former Notre Dame starting QB.
- St. Thomas Football played 14 games in the Metrodome from 1985 to 2002, including Tommie-Johnnie clashes in 1996 and 1997.
- St. Thomas Men's Basketball also played a downtown Minneapolis game in the Metrodome -- in December 1999, a 74-49 defeat of Concordia-St. Paul. That game was sponsored by the University of Minnesota as a trial run for its host role for the March 2000 NCAA postseason and 2001 Final Four.
- Five months later in May 2000, Tommie Baseball played an exhibition game in the Metrodome against the University of Havana (Cuba).
- St. Thomas Men's Basketball has played in three Division III Final Fours over the last six years in the Salem (Va.) Civic Center. When that arena first opened in 1968, it hosted an NBA preseason game between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks. Bill Russell was the Celtics' coach.
- Tommie Men's Hoops also played eight times at the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City between 1948-1974. That venue, built in 1936, also hosted a few seasons of the NBA Kansas City Kings before their move to Sacramento.
- To end their 1982 and 1983 seasons, Fordham (then a D-III football school) and St. Norbert closed their seasons by playing in the Vince Lombardi Memorial game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field. The games raised money for the Vince Lombardi Colon Clinic. The 1982 game drew a crowd estimated at 5,200.
- St. Thomas Football played at host South Dakota in the first college football game in the Dakota Dome in 1979, a 22-6 loss. The Coyotes' first-year head coach was Dave Triplett, the father of current UST assistant coach Tim Triplett. The Dakota Dome did not have air conditioning in its early years, so games were played at night.
- Two potential Tommie backfield starters for the September 2017 game have played in large stadiums before: QB Jacques Perra traveled in 2015 as the U of M's No. 3 QB with the Minnesota Gophers in its Quick Lane Bowl victory over Central Michigan at Detroit's Ford Field; and RB Jordan Roberts was a South Dakota Coyote in 2014 when his team lost 62-13 at Oregon before a crowd announced at 57,433 in Eugene, Ore.
- If the city of Eugene had a blog, would it be called Eugene's Blog?
Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working in his 23rd season at St. Thomas and 29th overall in the MIAC. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and Division III sports.
If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at [email protected]