In September 2018, the Finlandia University Lions will take on Trine in their first game as an MIAA football affiliate.
The Upper Peninsula college from Hancock will become the eighth football-playing MIAA member and will unite all of Michigan’s Division III football programs under one conference.
As a part of an athletic program that has been independent of a conference, Finlandia’s football team is entering its third season, posting a 3-7 record in 2015 and a 1-7 record in 2016. But Curtis Wittenberg, athletic director, and his team have been working hard to place all of their 13 sports into conferences that will match their size and talents.
“The movement to the MIAA means regular scheduling, post-season opportunity, improved collegiate experiences for our student-athletes and an opportunity to be a part of a prestigious conference,” said Wittenberg over email.
The Lions will receive all conference benefits, from its schedule to its tournament to its awards. As an affiliate, however, only one program can receive those benefits – in this case, football. To become a full member, a college must sponsor 16 of the MIAA’s 20 sports. If Finlandia were to ever consider, it would need to add five more.
Matt Arend, Albion athletic director, is excited for a future with Finlandia. Not only will it give the conference another team to play, it will allow the Britons to leave a “footprint” in the Upper Peninsula.
“Any opportunity to spread the Albion name and location on a more specific basis is really going to help,” he said.
Adding an eighth team also helps with conference logistics. For a conference champion to automatically qualify for national playoffs, seven conference football teams must have competed. Finlandia adds an extra buffer.
An eighth team also eases scheduling. With seven teams playing six conference games, four non-conference games had to be found to round out a full schedule. Most conferences have more than seven teams playing in their conference and less options for non-conference games. In order to find a non-conference team with an open schedule, MIAA programs were traveling as far Oregon.
Finlandia is not the first football affiliate member. From 2002 to 2008, Wisconsin Lutheran College played with America’s oldest conference.
Photo courtesy of Finlandia Football