Were you using the 1.13 version(latest) of Galciv? I've only played a half dozen or so games and haven't encountered the I-League yet, but the minors do expand some now and seem to build Trade goods and Wonders like crazy in the 1.13 version. The thing I've found is that they will never declare war on you and don't count against you in a cultural victory. My strategy has been to trade with them as much as possible and let the other major civs get into wars with the minors. Then when one of the majors gets weakened I'll take advantage and take some worlds especially if they have been hostile or threatening in the early game.
As for how they got such a big tech lead, I dunno how but the minors in my early games are building Trade goods and Wonders sometimes when I'm several techs away from starting them.