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SCSU football: Killing program matters for St. Cloud University

St. Cloud State’s announcement that it is dropping its football program was no surprise to those who understand its financial straits and its inability (or unwillingness) to comply with Title IX’s gender-equity requirements.

But considering SCSU’s decades-long status as the chief rival to what is now named Minnesota State Mankato, Tuesday’s move poses some questions, and challenges, for MSU. If SCSU can’t support a football program, what does that imply for the local counterpart? Will other schools in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference join St. Cloud State — and Minnesota Crookston — in dropping football? If so, what does that mean for MSU?

It wasn’t that long ago that St. Cloud State was the larger institution. The Mankato school has shot past it in enrollment (mainly because SCSU has shrunk) and MSU President Richard Davenport said in a recent meeting with this editorial board that MSU, unlike many of its sisters in the Minnesota State system, is poised for growth. MSU faces neither the budget woes that have prompted SCSU to give layoff notices to eight faculty, nor St. Cloud State’s adverse court ruling in a Title IX case.

Standing by itself, MSU’s football program — currently making yet another run through the NCAA’s Division II playoffs — would seem secure. But it doesn’t stand alone. The Northern Sun conference, which MSU (and St. Cloud State) joined upon the demise of the old North Central Conference, is a large and awkward collection of Division II schools, many of them chronically noncompetitive. Crookston leaves football having compiled a 2-64 record since 2015; MSU thumped them 81-0 this season. That’s not healthy.

The NSIC recently changed its bylaws to allow member schools to drop football and remain in the conference. It had resisted that change in the past, and reversing its position suggests that other members in the only DII conference in the Upper Midwest at least want that option open to them. Meanwhile, Augustana — another NCC refugee — has announced plans to move up to Division I.

The Mankato and St. Cloud schools have been football rivals since 1923; they won’t make it to 100 years. Nothing is guaranteed, including the future of the NSIC. St. Cloud State’s decision has ramifications, mysterious as they may be for the moment, for MSU.

The Free Press of Mankato

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