The MAAC is losing a member with the somewhat surprising announcement earlier today that Loyola will join the Patriot League beginning in the 2013-14 academic year.
The move means the conference loses its southern-most member, and one of its more-prominent athletic programs of recent years, at least in a basketball sense.
The men's program returned to prominence in recent years including a trip to the NCAA tournament this past season, while the women's program has been consistently solid for the past several seasons.
MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said he was somewhat surprised by the school's decision, but was aware that Loyola administrators had been having discussions with the Patriot League for the past six-to-eight weeks.
"I am disappointed with Loyoa University's decision to withdraw from membership in the MAAC, which I learned about in a telephone call from Loyola President Brian Linnane this morning (Tuesday)," said MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor. "Loyola was a good member and they made a business decision not reflective on the MAAC, but consistent with decisions made by many schools that have changed conferences in recent months."
There is one national report that the move prohibits Loyola competing for the MAAC's automatic berths in the NCAA basketball tournament this coming season, but that is not the case. MAAC by-laws, according to Ensor, do indeed permit Loyola to compete in the MAAC tournament, to defend its tournament title and to compete as the MAAC's representative in the NCAA event, if it qualifies.
Ensor said he perceived Loyola's move to be based primarily on business as well as a desire to be affiliated with the academic level of other programs in the Patriot League where member institutions (for basketball) include Bucknell, Lehigh, American, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Colgate and Army and Navy.
Changes of this type are almost universally made for business reasons, and Loyola administrators have to believe that the new affiliation will have financial benefits in an era when finances are tight and school officials wage a constant battle to maintain enrollment numbers.
Loyola athletic director Jim Paquette told the Baltimore Business Journal that moving to the new conference will have its biggest impact in the pocketbook rather than the playing field by helping the school reach new markets for students and donations.
Paquette said the new conference is a good fit because of its ties to Boston and Washington, D.C., both cities from which the college already draws large amounts of students.
Conference member American University is located in Washington, D.C., while Holy Cross is in Worcester, Mass. Boston University also joins the Patriot League for the upcoming academic year.
The Patriot League, theoretically, will give Loyola more exposure in those markets, which is expected to increase admission rates and alumni donations.
"We also think it will help us with fundraising and the general marketing of the school," Paquette told the publication.
It's not the first time the MAAC loses a conference member to the Patriot League. Both Holy Cross and Army were charter members of the MAAC before breaking away to join the Patriot League in 1990.
"We'll be OK (as a league)," added Ensor. "We've lost or gained members in the past. Over the past two years the league has discussed in detail how league realignment has impacted Division I conferences and, unfortunately, it now has extended to the MAAC. The MAAC Council of Presidents has a scheduled conference call for net Tuesday and the presidents will review this matter at that time.
Loyola joined the MAAC prior to the 1989-90 academic year and currently competes in 16 of the league's 24 sports offered.
The MAAC had been stable since 1997-98 when Rider and Marist joined its ranks.
"It's 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," said Loyola's President Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., in a statement released through Loyola.
"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."
Since 1998 the Patriot League has ranked first among all Division I conferences in student-athlete graduation rates in the NCAA Graduation Rates report.