SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- You know the old saying: If you can't beat them, kick them out of your league?
That's how officials at Division III powerhouse the University of St. Thomas said they feel after the school was "involuntarily" removed from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) on Wednesday because of its "competitive" advantages.
Under coach Glenn Caruso, St. Thomas has won six MIAC football titles since 2010. The Tommies also reached the national title game in 2012 and 2015.
The entire athletic program has enjoyed success in recent years, too. St. Thomas finished 10th nationally in the Learfield Directors' Cup standings for Division III schools, a measurement of an athletic program's overall success.
Per school officials, St. Thomas was told the league would be disbanded if the school remained a member.
"After extensive membership discussions, the University of St. Thomas will be involuntarily removed from membership in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference," the league said in a statement. "The MIAC Presidents' Council cites athletic competitive parity in the conference as a primary concern. St. Thomas will begin a multi-year transition immediately and meanwhile is eligible to compete as a full member of the MIAC through the end of spring 2021."
Supporters of St. Thomas, however, publicly and privately have said they believe they're being punished for winning at a high level. The school spends $1.1 million on football each year, per U.S. Department of Education data, and its 6,000-plus enrollment trumps the enrollment of the other programs in the private-school league.
"St. Thomas expended tremendous effort to remain in the MIAC and stabilize the conference," St. Thomas president Julie H. Sullivan said in a statement. "However, the presidents came to a consensus that the conference itself would cease to exist in its current form if St. Thomas remained."
Prior to Caruso's arrival in 2008, St. Thomas hadn't won a MIAC title since 1990, and Saint John's was the league's biggest force. Under the late John Gagliardi, Saint John's won 489 games, 27 MIAC titles and two Division III national titles (1976, 2003).
But the momentum shifted toward St. Thomas after the school hired Caruso and fueled its rivalry with Saint John's. ESPN's "SportsCenter on the Road" visited the Saint John's-St. Thomas football rivalry game in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 2015.
Sullivan called the league's decision "extremely disappointing" in a statement but vowed to find a new conference for the school, which has created a committee to help it do so.
"Although our athletic conference will change, one thing will not: our commitment to continued academic and athletic excellence," Sullivan said in a statement.