The 13-member Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is the only NCAA conference completely contained within a state’s borders. Six of its members are in the Twin Cities, all located within an estimated 11 miles from one another.
Throughout this fall, we took off on our first-ever MIAC football road trip. The trek, which took place on non-consecutive Saturdays in September and October, involved only five MIAC schools — all-female St.
Catherine’s in St. Paul doesn’t play football. It also quickly became another “Only One” experience as the only Black reporter searched not for the Holy Grail but for Black fans as well.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my brother,” admitted the sister of a St. Thomas freshman football player. Her family and another teammate’s family virtually made up the ‘Black section’ that day. At Bethel University, we actually found more Blacks pictured in the school’s brochures (a dozen) than seen both on the field and in the stands.
According to League Executive Director Dan McKane, it is usually family and alumni, along with current students, making up MIAC football crowds. “We are not very diverse in our crowds, and we definitely lack diversity within our programs as
well,” he admitted during an MSR interview last week. “I would hope that our Twin Cities [schools] would take in a more diverse crowd.”
MIAC football isn’t big-time football and probably never will be, but despite the obvious lack of diversity, I nonetheless watched several entertaining contests. The St. Thomas-St. John’s game was decided on the final play. The Augsburg contest was the first game I ever saw played during a brief hailstorm and included a 30-minute play stoppage due to lightening. This season’s Bethel squad, ranked sixth nationally, remains unbeaten both in league and overall play.
“We have some very talented football teams,” continued McKane on the MIAC. “If you’re interested in football, it’s a good level of football.”
“I just felt at home when I made my [recruiting] visit last February ,” said St. Thomas freshman Ayo Okesanya, who plans to study political science. “It’s a great football program.”
“I plan on studying business,” noted freshman teammate Joel Hylton, who also was Okesanya’s teammate at the same Chicago area high school.
“I like the small community,” said Jesse Green, a Hamline freshman football player.
MIAC football also is affordable — you can get a decent meal (hot dog or hamburger, chips and a soft drink) for under $10. That price is half the cost to park at a Gopher football game.
“MIAC games are the best bang for your dollar in town for high-level football,” McKane emphasized. “Ticket prices are cheap [and] concessions are available at low costs. We feel friends and families can attend our games for a bargain price compared to Division I and NFL games.”
However, despite all this, including the league “routinely” leading in Division III overall attendance in three of the last four years, McKane virtually scratched his head wondering why more Blacks don’t attend MIAC games. “I’m not sure what the reasoning is, whether it is a private school or the finances. But I know our schools are trying to diversify, and it is something we need to do a better job with.
“From a conference office standpoint,” McKane continued, “we write a grant to the NCAA every year to try to get grant funding for diversity education [and] diversity staffing. It is something we are committed to, but we certainly have a ways to go. We need to do a better job of promoting our product to a diverse group of individuals so that we welcome everybody.”
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