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The Next Patriot League Member... Loyola (MD)?

"Oi... My Good Heavens man. What are you THINKING? Loyola in the Patriot League in All Sports... including a football team?" That's what St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Society of Jesus) seems to be saying in the picture to my left - and I think there are a fair amount of people out there who might agree with him.

But is it really as outlandish as all that? The rumors are flying on messageboards that Loyola might be looking for a new conference. The Greyhounds currently reside in the MAAC in all sports - and despite the fact that they don't currently sponsor it, football may be part of the equation.

So what's the truth? Could there be any truth to the rumors? Let's look at a tale of the tape and see what we can figure out.

The Tale Of The Tape
Loyola College is a private Jesuit school located in Baltimore, Maryland of approximately 3,500 undergraduates. As a Jesuit school, they fit perfectly in the Patriot League on several levels: they are a small private school. Fellow Jesuit school Holy Cross is considered a peer institution in all sports, and when you add football affiliates Georgetown and Fordham would also be peer institutions.

US News and World Report lists Loyola as 'more selective' - the same selectivity as Holy Cross and Fordham. They are known for their post-graduate schools of business and education.

Loyola's future plans involve its expansion from being a college to becoming a University, ambition that could serve it well in becoming members of the Patriot League. However, it's endowment at $156 million is a little small in terms of peer institutions (Lafayette's, by comparison, is $689 million, and American's is $340 million).

Why Would They Leave?
The Greyhounds are an odd dog in the MAAC. Long the southern outpost of the league, all the other MAAC institutions are in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, and the MAAC does not support by far the most successful sport for Loyola which is Lacrosse.

Until this year, Loyola competed in the powerful ECAC in Lacrosse. However, the future of the ECAC is uncertain as Big East lacrosse finally has become a reality. What that has meant is that the ECAC has gone from being an eight team powerhouse in Lacrosse to a five team league that has no autobid.

Loyola is now left scrambling... and could very well find a nice home in the Patriot League in Lacrosse with perennial power Navy as a nice regional rival. Both Navy and Colgate made the NCAA Lacrosse tournament, and the addition of Loyola could make us a powerhouse.

Worthy of mention too is the fact that Loyola could jump to the Patriot League and not suffer a downgrade in basketball stature (the Patriot League's RPI was ranked ahead of the MAAC last year) and would find themselves playing peer institutions (Holy Cross) and local schools (Navy, American) in league games. Last year, Loyola's RPI was 142 - a nice place for a Patriot League school.

(In the same boat as Loyola for lacrosse is Fairfield University - but they are squarely in the footprint of the MAAC, making them a less likely option. Also worthy of mention is the fact that like Loyola, they don't sponsor football, and their RPI last year was 206 - not as good as Loyola's.)

As if there wasn't enough of a link to Holy Cross, in 2005 Fr. Brian F. Linnane became the 24th president of Loyola College. His academic background consists of - you guessed it - a stint as assistant dean at Holy Cross.

Loyola's overall athletics program is historically strong, especially recently where they won the MAAC's commissioner's cup for overall athletics excellence. In basketball, Loyola could deliver part of a lucrative Baltimore TV market to the Patriot League - and you can imagine that a city rivalry between Baltimore (Loyola) and D.C. (American) would get some serious interest.

What About Football?
So why would a school adopt football that hasn't played the sport since the 1930s? The position of Fr. Linnane on fielding a football team at Loyola is unknown, but his last year as Dean coincides with the first year of Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore's first year - the first year of the reversal of football fortune in Worcester - so at a minimum he has seen how football can coexist at a Jesuit College like Holy Cross.

But what's really been fanning the flames is Loyola's commitment to a new 6,000 seat stadium, complete with artificial turf - for the lacrosse team:

For Loyola, the Woodberry site represents a chance to develop an athletic site away from its cramped North Charles Street campus and showcase its often nationally ranked men's and women's lacrosse and soccer programs. Along with the 6,000-seat stadium, the school's proposal includes practice fields and up to 675 parking spaces. Loyola officials continue to negotiate to buy property from the city and Sinai Hospital, upon which the college wants to build a road that would connect the athletic complex to Greenspring Avenue (following the route of an existing unpaved path); Loyola had already proposed a road linking the facility to Cold Spring Lane.

By doubling its stadium capacity from the 3,000-seat Curley Field on campus, Kelly says, Loyola could compete for National Collegiate Athletic Association playoff games in soccer and lacrosse and reap the attendant revenues. The college also is in dire need of practice space, he says, adding that Loyola teams now must frequently work out at the nearby College of Notre Dame and St. Mary's Seminary on Roland Avenue.

A 6,000 seat stadium to feature lacrosse and soccer a couple times of year? Riiight. And they really need those practice fields, too. Did I mention that the ECAC was dying in Lacrosse?

Football-wise, 6,000 could be a nice number for FCS football in the Patriot League for five or six home games against Georgetown, Fordham, and Holy Cross. Nothing official has been said, but this dream artificial turf complex for lacrosse and soccer would be making more money by also hosting football games.

As late as 2006, it was speculated that at least on Loyola student was pushing to reinstate football.

Hollis, also the Student Government Association's director of Academic Affairs, is in the process of researching football programs at other universities and colleges with the goal of gathering a report that he hopes will eventually be presented to Loyola's Board of Trustees upon its completion.

As the project is still in the very beginning stages, Hollis does not have a timeline planned as of yet.

"We're just trying to look at team designs, financial considerations and see what problems other schools encountered in starting their programs," said Hollis.

So if it's a slam dunk, what are the reasons not to take Loyola? There are three.

The first is that Loyola would be the 9th core member of the Patriot League - which would cause nightmares for scheduling in all sports. (One Bucknell poster, interestingly, pointed out on the Loyola thread that Holy Cross might be hurt if Loyola is taken as a 9th school since Holy Cross wouldn't have a travel partner.) This would mean that a 10th team would probably need to be added at the same time to mitigate scheduling - probably a Northern school close to Holy Cross - and if Loyola isn't planning on adding football, the other member would probably need to sponsor it. (Marist, anyone?)

The second is that the Patriot League isn't interested in members that won't shore up football. Although speculation here centers on Loyola starting up football, if they don't start up pigskin it is possible that Loyola won't have cleared all the hurdles to be a serious consideration for League membership. (Though, as mentioned before, Loyola would probably have to be packaged with a football team, or possibly admitting Fordham in all sports, in order to make the balance work out just right.)

The final reason would be that old bugaboo: Title IX. Loyola's student population is currently 60% female, which means that football could pose a problem for other sports at Loyola. (Though, it must be said, football might change their ratio a bit to improve male enrollment.)

Even if Loyola isn't going to be sponsoring football - and I believe the talk of the large lacrosse complex sounds suspiciously like a school that wants to add football down the line - they are a fantastic fit for the league for basketball and lacrosse. Furthermore, grabbing both Loyola and Marist would serve the dual purpose of getting two all-sports members AND shoring up football if Loyola isn't adding football. (It also seriously marginalizes the MAAC in basketball, men's and women's.)

Loyola's links to Holy Cross would seem to serve them extremely well - those links alone would appear to make Loyola's inclusion less problematic than other schools. If there was ever a school that had an 'in' with the Patriot League presidents, it's Loyola. That gives one reason to believe that talk of Loyola being 'not good enough academically' won't be as much of an issue as it's been for other schools.

I think adding Loyola and Marist would be fantastic for the Patriot League.


Anonymous said…
Last I checked the MAAC sponsored lacrosse.

Also, Marist has won 8 Commissioners Cups in the last 10 years and seem to be the best fit with the Patriot League in athletics and academics. Shame on the league for not extending an invitation to them thus sending them to the Pioneer League in football. Hopefully it isn't too late. Both Loyola and Marist would be worthy additions.

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