After going winless in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference the past two years, the Loyola Blakefield football program will leave the MIAA next fall to play an independent schedule in what Loyola officials expect to be a temporary move.
The Dons’ schedule will include some MIAA teams and they will continue to play the Turkey Bowl game on Thanksgiving Day against A Conference archrival Calvert Hall.
As the talent level has risen in the A Conference, the Dons have not kept up, although they have had some players move on to play in college at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, including senior All-Metro defensive lineman Evan Boozer, who is headed to Temple.
In a letter sent before the Christmas break to parents of Dons football players, Anthony Day, president and head of school at Loyola Blakefield, said the level of play in the A Conference has become a concern.
“The landscape of the MIAA ‘A’ Conference has changed over the last decade, and our results have not been consistent with our goal to strive for excellence in all of our co-curricular programs. As the talent pool continues to rapidly expand within the MIAA ‘A’ Conference, we have carefully considered how this affects our student-athletes in a variety of ways — most importantly, their safety,” Day said in the letter.
This fall, the Dons lost their six A Conference games by an average of 32 points. Only a 21-14 loss to Gilman was decided by fewer than three touchdowns. Overall, the Dons were 2-9 in 2017 with wins over Archbishop Curley and Avalon.
Since they finished 11-0 and won the A Conference championship in 2008, the Dons have won no more than two conference games in a season and have gone 9-41 over nine years. Over the past five years, they’ve been 3-27.
Day said in the letter that being independent provides the flexibility to schedule football teams the Dons can better compete with in their “redevelopment effort” and that they aim to return to the A Conference “within a few years.”
MIAA executive director Lee Dove said the Dons could not move to the B Conference for 2018, because movement between conferences is only allowed every two years. They couldn’t move until after next season. He said a move to the B Conference was discussed after the 2016 season, but Loyola officials opted to remain in the A Conference.
After the Turkey Bowl, Dove said, Loyola officials began talking to him about the possibility of a move to independent status.
“The administration determined that in order to keep the program hopefully solvent for the future, they could not compete at the current status of their program in the A Conference,” Dove said. “They wanted to know if they could go next year as an independent, play some of the A teams — obviously the Turkey Bowl being one of them — but play some other schools, maybe some B schools or other schools that would be more competitive. I think it was all about keeping the spirit of football alive for Loyola.”
Day said in the letter that hiring coach Anthony Zehyoue, who just completed his first season, was “the first step in moving the program forward.” The second is the move to temporary independent status.
Loyola athletic director Mike Keeney said he could not comment on the move, referring inquiries to the Loyola director of marketing, who referred to Day’s letter.
“I understand the rationale behind their thinking,” Dove said. “They’re just trying to do what they think is best to put them back in a position where they can be competitive again. “It’s a tough decision. I understand being an A school, it’s always difficult when you think about moving down. Having been [athletic director] at Spalding all those years and seeing the effect that A Conference [status] has to do with recruiting and looking at different schools, and it’s a big consideration. I respect what Loyola must have gone through to ask for this permission.”