Well, this made for an interesting morning: Loyola is joining the Patriot League next summer.
That brings the Patriot League to 10 teams (including Boston University, which will also join in 2013), and provides another nearby conference school for American and Navy.
It will also end Loyola’s association with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and provides another major development in arguably the Baltimore school’s most notable athletics year ever to go along with a men’s basketball NCAA tournament bid and a men’s lacrosse national title.
So what does this do for the Greyhounds? Let’s start with something that shouldn’t be overlooked …
In the Patriot League, Loyola will be located within 160 miles (or, for all intents and purposes, a three-hour drive) of five of the other nine schools. In the MAAC, Rider was the only such school (though the New York-area St. Peter’s/Manhattan/Iona cluster wasn’t much further away).
Loyola won’t be at the geographic center of the Patriot League, but it won’t be the obvious outlier it was previously, either.
This is a tricky one. The MAAC is coming off its first multi-bid year in the NCAA tournament, and over time it has been a somewhat more productive conference than the Patriot.
Here’s a look at the respective conference RPIs (hardly an end-all, be-all) with the number of top-100 teams each season in parentheses:
That data backs up the instinct to think that, at least competitively, this isn’t an upgrade for Loyola on the basketball side. In the last 13 years, the MAAC’s posted a better RPI than the Patriot League all but once. Both leagues have produced teams capable of winning NCAA tournament games (2004 Manhattan and 2008-09 Siena from the MAAC and 2005-06 Bucknell and 2012 Lehigh come to mind).
In recent years, the MAAC established itself as a solid mid-major, entrenched in the teens for five straight seasons. After a steady surge throughout the Aughts, the Patriot has fallen back into the low-major ranks the last four years.
From strictly an academic prestige viewpoint, Loyola will be perceived as making a move up. For one of its highest-profile sports, though, it looks like at best a push.
The defending national champions get a bit of a mixed bag here, leaving the far-flung ECAC for a much more compact conference.
There are no more trips to different time zones, and it certainly makes you wonder just what East Coast leftovers Fairfield and Hobart are going to do with an increasingly westward-leaning membership. It probably doesn’t help Loyola from a strength of schedule perspective to lose annual games with Denver and Ohio State.
However, Patriot League lacrosse has grown considerably over the last decade. Spurred by Navy’s arrival in 2004, Bucknell’s typically steady program has blossomed and Colgate and Lehigh both made considerable investments in the sport and were top-10 teams last spring. Army remains competitive, and Navy (despite some down years) can again be a PL heavyweight.
With Boston University starting a program, the Patriot will have nine lacrosse schools. That’s eight games for Loyola before getting to the likes of Johns Hopkins (a game that likely moves again because the Patriot tournament falls in the season’s penultimate week), Georgetown, Towson and UMBC, all of which were on the Greyhounds’ schedule last year. Add in the decade-plus-long series with Duke, and Loyola is at 13 regular-season games —- the number it had last year during its national title run.
The prognosis here: Lacrosse is better off in a more geographically friendly league, but don’t be stunned if there’s a hard scheduling decision or two the Greyhounds will need to make as they balance new conference commitments, local rivals and some of the benefits that come with being viewed as a national power for the first time in at least 10 years.
—- Patrick Stevens