Loyola's football team has decided to temporarily leave the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association "A" conference. The Dons have a tremendous tradition in the conference, winning seven league championships, most recently in 2008.
The decision was made public in a letter from the institution's president, Anthony Day, which was addressed to alumni and friends of the Loyola football program. In the letter, it says the decision was made after a careful and thorough assessment.
Loyola plans to compete in 2018 as an independent.
"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," Day wrote. "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."
The school's decision comes after a 2017 campaign in which Loyola finished 2-8 with an 0-6 record in conference play. The Dons were outscored 232-40 in conference games.
When asked for a comment, Loyola's director of marketing/communications referred to the letter.
In the letter, Day states the program still plans to schedule contests against MIAA opponents. That includes the Dons' participation in the famed Turkey Bowl with archrival Calvert Hall, the longest Catholic school rivalry in the country traditionally played on Thanksgiving. The teams met in the Turkey Bowl for the 98th time this past season.
Though Loyola still plans to compete against MIAA opponents, shifting to the independent status will allow the program to play more opponents that are closer to its current skill level.
"This transition provides flexibility to build a schedule that more closely aligns with our redevelopment efforts and includes steps that lead us back to MIAA 'A' play within a few years," Day wrote. "Our independent status will provide Loyola's student-athletes with an opportunity to develop their talents, witness success and build upon a strong foundation that will propel them to greater heights."
Though this decision will be interpreted as a step back for the program by many, there are still plenty of positives about the future of football at Loyola.
The Dons believe they have an excellent head coach to lead their rebuilding process in Anthony Zehyoue, a Loyola alum who played on LSU's NCAA national championship winning team in 2007. This past season was Zehyoue's first as head coach. The Dons' JV team also enjoyed plenty of success in 2017, finishing with an 8-1 overall record including a 5-1 league mark.
While Loyola does plan to make it back to the MIAA "A" conference one day, it's been made clear the school doesn't intend to do so by putting less emphasis on academics.
"We will continue to hold a high academic standard at Loyola, consistent with our mission to strive for intellectual ambition along with success on the field," Day wrote. "We are eager to continue our efforts to develop young men who proudly represent Loyola, and who grow in their development as both a team and a brotherhood of Dons. In doing so, we will define our own success."