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You Say Goodbye, But the Patriot League Says Hello

It is July 1st, and around the world of college athletics, a lot of conferences are saying goodbye, and hello.

The Big East said goodbye to a whole lot of its founding members, and renamed itself the American Athletic Conference.  Those members moved on to their new offices, where they will call themselves... the Big East.

The CAA say goodbye to Georgia State, Old Dominion and VCU.  And they say hello to Albany (in football only), Stony Brook (in football only), the College of Charleston (with no football) and Elon.

The SoCon say goodbye to College of Charleston, Appalachian State, Elon and Georgia Southern, and say hello to one new member, Mercer and hello again to two old members, East Tennessee State and VMI.

The Patriot League, though, is not saying goodbye at all.  They're saying hello to their two newest members: Loyola (MD) and Boston University.


Realignmentageddon has not been kind to many conferences.  But for Boston University, Loyola (MD) and the Patriot League, it's one big party - and a named holiday, thanks to Boston mayor Thomas Menino.

To commemorate the University’s historic move, Mayor Thomas M. Menino has declared today, July 1, 2013, “Boston University and Patriot League Day” in Boston. 
“Boston University Athletics is a source of pride for students and Boston residents alike, and this year’s move to the Patriot League will only expand on the outstanding opportunities BU provides for its student-athletes,” says Menino (Hon.’01). “I’m proud to declare Monday, July 1st, Boston University and Patriot League Day in the City of Boston and I look forward to cheering on all the teams in the coming school year.”
What made the story of Boston University's move to the Patriot League so very interesting was that it happened in what could be considered the exact opposite of the trajectory of so many other conference moves in realignmentaggeddon.  Whereas so many played out in the press, this one blindsighted so many because it was done almost completely in private.

When I talked to Boston University athletic director Mike Lynch about the surprise of the announcement back in 2012, he simply responded, "Good! We like to keep things like that private."

Keeping things private isn't the only thing that Boston University and the other presidents of the Patriot League have in common.

When you look at the roster of 24 sports sponsored by the Patriot League, the Terriers currently field teams in 19 of them.

The ones that the Terriers sponsor but the Patriot League does not — men's and women's hockey — are firmly placed Hockey East.  While it's not certain if it's connected to the conference move, BU decided last season to discontinue wrestling as a sponsored sport.

And when Boston University starts their men's lacrosse program, the number of sports playing in Patriot League competitions would jump up to 20.

“We know football is a big piece of [Patriot League] history, but we know that lacrosse is a big piece of their future,” Lynch told the Boston Globe. “That’s more of what we were attracted to,” adding to me as well that the Terriers were attracted to the Patriot League's strength in lacrosse.

It seems clear that one of BU's big reasons for moving was to seek new challenges.  The Terriers had won the last six America East commissioner's cups for all-sports, and by heading to the Patriot League they would give instant credibility to a program they hope will be a consistent contender, men's lacrosse.

"American does not play lacrosse, so getting Boston University gets us to an even eight in that sport," Femovich added to me as well.

More importantly than the addition to the large number of sports, however, Boston University's consistent attention to academics. Academically, there is no question they are a perfect fit for the Patriot League in that area.

“We believe that the philosophy of the league is a good match for Boston University and that the schools in the league will give our athletes a rich competitive environment,” President Brown said in the official release.

While also mentioning the academic connection between all the Patriot League institution, Femovich also emphasized what Boston University brings to the table in women's athletics as well.

"Their women's lacrosse and field hockey programs are particularly strong, and if you look at their success over the years, that will help complement and strengthen us on the women's side of the house too," she said.

Like everything in terms of collegiate realignment, though, things came together quickly between the Patriot League and Boston University.

It's "something that evolved over the past few months" among the presidents , according to Lynch, in regards to the "evolving collegiate landscape".

"There had been some interest at the presidential level a couple of years back," Femovich told me.  "For a variety of reasons, it wasn't the right time or place to consider a partnership. But we left it on the table, awaiting the results of the discussions on football scholarships.

Keeping the lines of communication open certainly paid off handsomely for the league.  And - oddly enough - it's a sport that BU does not currently sponsor.

"As much as it may not seem connected," she continued, "we definitely wanted to address the football question, and then see what opportunities that presented for membership. We felt it was important for the league to decide our future direction."

Boston University has not sponsored football since it noisily discontinued its program in 1997, and when I gently brought up the idea of starting it up again to Lynch, he said that bringing back football "unequivocally is not in our plans."

"Sometimes opportunities present themselves, but not in the sequence and the timing you expect them," Femovich added. "We certainly would not make a decision because we felt like we needed to get on this bandwagon of conference realignment. But the timing seemed right."

Not only was the timing right, but it seemed to be made for the right reasons as well on both sides.

“This is a really unique opportunity for us to challenge ourselves,” Lynch told the BU student paper. “We’ll be entering a league that reflects the best ideals in the country—valuing academics as its highest priority together with very competitive athletics. That is our commitment too.”

*****

Like the city of Boston, the city of Baltimore is also celebrating "Patriot League Day" today as well:

And much like the Terriers' move, Loyola's announcement they were joining the Patriot League was made August 29th, 2012, mere days before the Patriot League fall season was set to begin.

“It is an honor to join the Patriot League’s distinguished member institutions, all of which consistently demonstrate a profound commitment to excellence both in the classroom and on the field," Loyola president Rev. Brian F. Linnane announced that day.  "That commitment is one we share at Loyola, and we see this move as a vital opportunity to continue to elevate our already outstanding athletics programs in keeping with our goal of becoming the nation’s leading Catholic, comprehensive university.”

All over the release it was clear that Loyola and the other members of the Patriot League were gazing outwardly in the same direction when it came to academics.

“Loyola athletics’ primary mission is to support the development of student-athletes who thrive academically, athletically, spiritually, and socially,” said James Paquette, assistant vice president and director of athletics at Loyola, in the release.  “The Patriot League embraces and supports those values, and we are thrilled to become partners with the league. Its members’ histories of academic and athletic excellence are impressive, and consistent not only with Loyola’s past achievements, but our future ambitions as well.”

Today, Loyola becomes the second Patriot League all-sports member which is a religiously affiliated institution.  Fordham, a former all-sports member, now only competes in football only.

“We are delighted to expand the Patriot League membership to 10 full members with the addition of Loyola,” Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich said in the release. “Loyola further strengthens the league in the southern portion of our footprint. With the addition of both Boston University and Loyola University (MD) for the 2013-14 academic year, we believe that the Patriot League has enriched its future both on the field of play and in the classroom.”

For the Patriot League, adding Loyola as a 10th member was a slam-dunk after BU was added as the 9th school.  Ten full members makes scheduling many sports like basketball a breeze.

For the Greyhounds, why the Patriot League over the MAAC, their former conference?  The MAAC rated slightly higher in basketball than the Patriot League over time, and had earned at-large bids to the NCAA men's basketball tournament in the past.

But Loyola also mentioned two of the same reasons as BU for joining the Patriot League - lacrosse, and stability.

"The power of association in joining a conference that's incredibly strong athletically as well as academically was something we wanted to pursue,” Paquette told Inside Lacrosse. “And I think stability was a part of that, too. In this era of conference realignment, the Patriot League has shown itself to be strong in that area. And this will be the first time we'll have all our Division I varsity teams in one conference.”

This was mentioned again by Paquette today in a tweet.

Two years ago, Loyola won the national championship in men's lacrosse, competing in the ECAC instead of the MAAC.  The Patriot League offered a strong lacrosse conference - and one that hopes to be competitive every year for national championships.  For lacrosse, an all-sports conference offered a better, more stable, home than the lacrosse-only ECAC, and with nine lacrosse-playing members in both men's and women's lacrosse, scheduling was perfect.

"From a lacrosse standpoint, it's going to be a heck of a men's lacrosse league," Paquette said.  "Patriot League lacrosse will have three teams in the top 10, the national champion and the reigning Tewaaraton winner. Their TV deal is pretty good for lacrosse, I think it's going to get better."

*****

Certainly there will be growing pains to endure.  Boston University, with more than 15,000 undergrads, is by far the largest institution in the Patriot League, and it will be a challenge to keep them from sweeping the same number of Presidents' cups in the Patriot League as they won in America East.  Loyola's number of undergraduates, 3,800, is slightly higher than Holy Cross' enrollment (2,800), but Loyola also isn't as selective as Holy Cross, either.  Ramping their academic profile up to to other schools in the Patriot League might not be easy.

But those are small matters in regards to today.  The Patriot League, seen as the island of stability in a collegiate world gone mad, adds two members, and waves goodbye to none.

And for the Patriot League, the additions, while great, don't address a sport that many people value dearly - football.

Might either school eventually offer football?  BU still has Nickerson field, which hosted not only Terrier football up until 1997, but also the Boston Patriots at one time.  Loyola's Ridley Complex, which host's the soccer and lacrosse teams and seats 6,000, could certainly support football, too.

But there's been no talk of football on either campus - leaving football fans to hope that a secret announcement, like the ones last season, is in the works in backrooms in Maryland and Massachusetts.

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