Coming off its most successful athletic year in school history, Loyola announced Wednesday that it will be leaving the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after more than 20 years to join the Patriot League beginning in 2013-14.
The decision to leave the MAAC had as much to do with academics as athletics, according to those involved in the process.
“The Patriot League has been a very strong academic league, and at the same time it was very strong in athletics, so it was very appealing to us,” third-year athletic director Jim Paquette said. “We believe we’re going to a conference that values both very highly, and we know we can be successful. We don’t think it should be either or. It should be both.”
Loyola follows Boston University, which announced this spring that it will join the Patriot League, also in 2013-14. The addition of the two schools will give the Patriot League, which also includes Navy for all sports aside from football, 10 full-time members.
Greyhounds men’s basketball coach Jimmy Patsos called it “a great move” and said that the addition of BU made it a more natural fit for Loyola.
“When we saw that BU is adding lacrosse, BU is a great academic school, BU has done well in basketball, it makes sense,” said Patsos, who grew up outside Boston. “The Patriot League has great coaches, they have two players right now who are considered NBA draft picks, Lehigh beating Duke [in last year’s NCAA tournament]. The MAAC was a great mid-major and now with us and BU, I think the Patriot League will be a great mid-major.”
The MAAC has been consistently rated much higher nationally than the Patriot League in men’s basketball, typically in the mid-teens compared to the low-to-mid 20s according to the widely-used Sagarin rankings. But the Patriot League is stronger in many non-revenue sports.
Former longtime athletic director Joe Boylan said that discussion about joining the Patriot League first started in the late 1990s.
“I think it’s a very significant move. I think it says a lot about where the institution is from the academic side and the national profile side,” Boylan said. “I think it aligns them with the second Ivy League and it reinforces the school’s profile as a fairly top-level academic institution.”
Boylan said that although the academic standards have been relaxed by the Patriot League in recent years, they still could impact the men’s basketball program.
“It’s going to be a lot harder to get some of the players that we have now, there’s no doubt about it,” Boylan said. “My point to the people at Loyola was, that if you are going to do this, every coach has to have a contract extension to be able to do this because it’s going to take them awhile to figure this all out. … We’re not going to be as attractive [for basketball recruits], let’s face it.”
Patsos, who signed a five-year contract extension this spring after leading Loyola to its first NCAA men’s basketball tournament since 1994, said that one of every three players he brings in each year is considered a risk academically, he said.
But Patsos was quick to add that “I think it will help recruiting because most parents want their kids to go to a great academic school, and we are a great academic school, but now the whole country knows that if you are in the Patriot League.”
The recruiting formula that helped turn the Greyhounds into a MAAC power last season will not change. Patsos said that he will continue to bring in local players as well as transfers.
“We’re going to keep recruiting hard in Baltimore,” Patsos said.
Paquette said that he has “complete confidence that Coach Patsos and his staff could be successful in the Patriot League. Something to keep mind is that in the Patriot League, with its academic index, it’s a level playing field. That’s not always the case in other conferences.”
It should have less of an impact on other sports in which Loyola excels, in particular men’s lacrosse. The men’s team, which won the national championship for the first time earlier this year, will continue to play many ACC teams such as Maryland and Duke.
The women’s team, which reached the NCAA quarterfinals, could be affected since it will leave the Big East for a league that according to Boylan “is very, very poor” for its quality of teams.
While the move will be “budget neutral” from a financial standpoint, according to Paquette, it should help boost attendance among students and spur rivalries in men’s lacrosse with Navy or in basketball with Bucknell and American.
“I do believe with some of these local rivalries, we will see better ticket sales when we host those games,” Paquette said. “We’ve got very passionate students and we’ve had very good attendance at some of our games. We think this will give us better attendance at more of our games.”