A teacher in my high school made a point of showing the movie Rudy every semester. And, every semester, when Rudy was told that he was not good enough for Notre Dame students would hear, every semester, muffled sobs from the back of the classroom. Every single time that teacher saw Rudy he cried. When his concerned students asked why, he would (sans embarrassment) give some version of this speech: “This movie’s an allegory for what it was like for me to grow up Catholic in the fifties. Rudy wants into ND and onto the football team like we Catholics wanted into the public life of the U.S. It was through football and Kennedy that we became accepted as true Americans. Everytime I watch this movie I’m reminded of how marginalized we were and how far we’ve come.”
And, yes, I am now contractually obligated to embed that scene. Grab a kleenex.
It’s a great scene. But my teacher had a point. Pre-Kennedy American Catholics existed in a ghetto. Intercollegiate athletics proved a powerful force in dismantling the walls that separated Catholics from patriotic Protestants. Football (as boxing before it) made us all Americans.
In pulling out of the Big East, St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova are stepping back into that ghetto. And by breaking our ties with our secular conference-mates, we’re not only marginalizing ourselves, but selfishly hoarding the gifts that our Catholic tradition of moral education can bring. Engaged with others, our athletic programs can witness to the broader goal of Higher Ed, where winning takes a backseat to the development of young women and men who will be going pro in something other than sports (maybe even at Enterprise Rent-A-Car!)
By my lights quitting the Big East is tantamount to putting our lamp under a bushel basket.
- Perry Petrich, SJ
When it comes down to it, the decision to leave the Big East is about one thing: know who you are. The Catholic Seven know who they are, and they are basketball schools.
C’mon which Catholic school is known for football? Notre Dame. (And Boston College if you count Doug Flutie… and yes, I’m contractually obligated to embed this video, too. Enjoy).
But which Catholic school is known for basketball? Notre Dame. And Georgetown. And Marquette. And Gonzaga. And DePaul. And Villanova (aside: Let’s Go Saint Joe’s!!). What’s the only college in Illinois to win an NCAA championship? No, not U of Illinois, not even DePaul, but Loyola University Chicago! The evidence is indisputable: basketball is central to the American Catholic experience. And it makes sense. After all, Catholicism is an urban religion, and basketball is an urban sport.
Still, the Big East has been a powerhouse basketball conference for decades, isn’t it un-Catholic to lose touch with all that tradition? I think it might be, but with secular rivals (and bball powerhouses) Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference to play alongside UNC and the Blue Devils, the Big East brought in… Boise Sate? East Carolina? Tulane? No offense to the Boise, but let’s just say that ‘Melo Anthony and the Orange weren’t going to play ‘ball on blue turf.
All this tumult has left the “Catholic Seven” with two tough choices. Either they can stay and play teams with whom they have no history, while also being second-fiddle to the money-making football schools (another reason to despise the BCS). Or they can pull out of the Big East, form their own basketball-only conference, and have meaningful games while preserving their traditional rivalries.
So yes, I will miss the drama of the Big East tournament. And not seeing the heated Louisville-Marquette rivalry continue pretty much sucks. Odd as it is to say, it’s only by leaving the Big East that the Catholic Seven will maintain their identity as Catholic schools rooted in urban environments, serving the urban poor, and playing some sick hoops.
- Vinny Marchionni, SJ