March Madness

It's time for Hoops Heaven 2019: Why are there so many Catholic schools in NCAA brackets?

It's time for Hoops Heaven 2019: Why are there so many Catholic schools in NCAA brackets?

With just seconds left on the clock, Seton Hall star Myles Powell missed a 3-pointer that could have won them the game and the Big East Tournament. Instead, the sold-out crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden in New York watched with elation and shock on Saturday night as defending national champion Villanova celebrated its third straight conference title.

Led by seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, Villanova’s narrow 74-72 victory could very well mark the start of another impressive run that the Wildcats hope will culminate with championship. Villanova, which will make its seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance, has won it twice over the past three seasons. The team’s dominance is a testament to its top-notch coaching, recruiting power and strong work ethic.

“These two seniors, they're going to go down as two of the greatest Villanova basketball players of all time,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Paschall and Booth during the postgame news conference. “You’ve got to thank God you had the opportunity to be a part of our lives. They've meant so much to all of us.”

Whether Villanova can once again lift the title remains to be seen. Which school will be crowned the nation’s top men’s basketball team is a question as ubiquitous every spring as office workers dragging down productivity as a result of watching March Madness. If the past is any gauge, the odds are very good that several Catholic institutions of higher learning, like Villanova, will emerge as contenders over the next few weeks.

For Wright and his team, God does play a big role in everything they do.

Villanova is the oldest Catholic university in Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1842 by the Order of Saint Augustine. The Wildcats can trace their roots to old Saint Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia, which was founded in 1796 by Augustinian friars, and named after St. Thomas of Villanova. Seton Hall, by the way, is also a Catholic university. Based in South Orange, N.J., the school is named after St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron of Catholic schools.

The phenomenon of Catholic schools achieving success in Division I men’s basketball dates back decades. Throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, teams like Holy Cross, University of San Francisco and La Salle captured titles.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: YouTube shooter, Pearl Joy, Trump's Latino adviser, a mom's Easter Taser and more

Friday Five: YouTube shooter, Pearl Joy, Trump's Latino adviser, a mom's Easter Taser and more

After a woman named Nasim Najafi Aghdam shot and wounded three people at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., before killing herself this week, the San Francisco Chronicle had an excellent angle for a meaty religion story.

The Chronicle reported on what its headline characterized as "a troubling rush" by social media users to view the shooter as "driven by faith."

To some extent, this was a typical "Muslim backlash" story — the kind that often make headlines after someone of the Islamic faith is involved in an attack such as this.

But there was a major problem with the online rush to judgment, as the Chronicle noted: 

In the end, investigators said the shooter, Nasim Aghdam, was angry about YouTube’s “policies and practices” — a message echoed by her family. And her videos reportedly included messages describing herself as of the Baha’i faith — a religious minority in Iran.
The same pattern has often emerged following mass violence — a wave of presumptions that the incident is linked to a perpetrator’s religious practices, assumed to be Islam. Muslim Americans, and others, see a profoundly unsettling routine.
“It’s sad to see how some people are literally giddy rather than somber after a shooting when they can exploit the tragedy to further their racist agenda,” said Dalia Mogahed, research director for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank in Washington, D.C., that seeks to empower American Muslims.

It's an interesting piece, although I wish the paper had identified the social media offenders rather than referring to them in vague, anonymous terms.

Meanwhile, let's dive into the Friday Five:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why are Catholic schools so good at hoops? New York Times cites several good reasons

Why are Catholic schools so good at hoops? New York Times cites several good reasons

If you've been online during the final stages of March Madness you have probably seen people chatting about this question: Why are Catholic schools so good at basketball?

The question will linger after Villanova's smashing 79-62 win over Michigan in last night's title game. This is the second national title for Villanova (with its ties to the Augustinian Order) in three years. And, of course, Notre Dame won the women's final four, on a shot that was called -- with some reason -- a near miracle.

Yes, it's easy to joke about the prayers of hoops-loving nuns and saints.

However, there is an interesting story here, one linked to culture, theology and economics. Kudos to The New York Times for producing a serious feature-length piece that dug into the substance of this topic. The #DUH headline: "Why Catholic Colleges Excel at Basketball." Here is a crucial transition passage:

Excelling in big-time college basketball sits easily at mission-oriented institutions. Sports are not only these universities’ front porch, but also the faith’s emissary.
Villanova’s president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, hosts an opening Mass for athletes every year, where he reminds them they are ambassadors for the university’s mission. “To have our charism move on,” he said, using a dogma-tinged Greek word for spirit, “the banner needs to be carried.”

Whoa. "Dogma-tinged"? I think it's enough to say that this is a theological term. Also, that definition is a bit off. The word "charism" has a much more specific meaning, one that would have done a better job of supporting this story's thesis. Dictionary.com says:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: Sister Jean's rising celebrity, Bill Hybels' #ChurchToo accusers, Pence's bunny and more

Friday Five: Sister Jean's rising celebrity, Bill Hybels' #ChurchToo accusers, Pence's bunny and more

In this space last week, I highlighted Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt — 98-year-old nun and team chaplain for Loyola-Chicago — after her 11th-seeded Ramblers won in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday night, Sister Jean's team improved to 3-0 in #MarchMadness and advanced -- in yet another last-minute win -- to the Elite Eight.

"I don't care that you broke my bracket," she quipped after Loyola's latest victory.

With each game, Sister Jean's national celebrity just keeps growing.

Among the countless stories about her, the New York Times' Jeff Arnold had a really interesting feature this week on "A Day in the Life of Sister Jean, Media Darling." A note from the piece:

William Behrns, Loyola’s eeassistant athletic director for communications, is one of two staff members who have been assigned to sort the requests for time with Sister Jean since the Ramblers’ success thrust them — and her — onto the national stage last week. Behrns estimated that as of Monday evening, his office had received 75 requests for interviews with Sister Jean, from outlets including “The Tonight Show,” newspapers, radio stations and cable television networks.

Here on the religion beat, we do love this kind of detail:

Sister Jean wakes before dawn, an hour earlier than usual, and immediately spends time in her daily prayer and meditation. She routinely, and almost ironically this week, asks God for a peaceful day. She then meditates on a gospel story; lately, her choices have centered on reminders of God’s love for his children. “Whether we win or lose,” she said in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday morning, “God is still with us.”

Loyola will face Kansas State, a No. 9 seed, in the South Region final Saturday night. USA Today calls it "an epic underdog battle." 

But enough about Sister Jean and Loyola -- for now anyway. Let's dive into the Friday Five:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: March Madness miracle, faith at the movies, newspaper layoffs and more

Friday Five: March Madness miracle, faith at the movies, newspaper layoffs and more

Go ahead and enjoy the video.

It's MercyMe's official music video for the "I Can Only Imagine" movie, which opens in theaters nationwide today.

Speaking of which, USA Today has an interesting story on how that song became the biggest Christian single ever (selling 2.5 million copies) and inspired the movie.

Promoters showed the trailer at the Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., last fall, and it looks interesting. The film stars Dennis Quaid, who talked to Parade about finding inspiration in the real-life story.

As we dive into this week's Friday Five, we'll highlight another faith angle on a Hollywood hit.

But first, a bit of March Madness:

1. Religion story of the week: A divine 3-pointer won the game at the buzzer. That's how the Chicago Tribune characterized 11th-seeded Loyola's 64-62 upset win Thursday over No. 6 seed Miami in the NCAA Tournament.

Enter Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, whose fans include former President Barack Obama:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post attempts near-impossible: Profiling Virginia's Tony Bennett without mentioning faith

Washington Post attempts near-impossible: Profiling Virginia's Tony Bennett without mentioning faith

Tony Bennett — the coach, not the singer — is quirky. Mysterious. Someone who believes "it's okay to be different."

That's the basic storyline for an in-depth Washington Post profile of Bennett, whose Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team enters March Madness as the No. 1 overall seed.

Strangely enough (ghosts, anyone?), the Post manages to write 1,850 words about Bennett without any reference to terms such as "faith," "Christian" and "prayer."

Those familiar with Bennett will understand why that's so remarkable. More on that in a moment.

But first, the Post's haunted opening paragraphs:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Most everyone had taken shelter by now, but Tony Bennett was walking in the rain. In his mind, some things are worse than a downpour.
Bennett was making his way to work 87 minutes before tip-off against Virginia Tech, a late arrival for most college basketball coaches but early for the Virginia coach, a man who detests idle time. And though a cozy security tent sat a few dozen yards away, a crowd was beneath it on this February afternoon, so Bennett made his way between a wall and a television truck.
Even Bennett’s staff used to find some of his quirks odd, but when you’re the coach of the nation’s No. 1 team and the architect of an ACC powerhouse, it’s all part of the plan.
“Certain things are sacred to me,” Bennett would say a bit later, and among those are efficiency, maximizing potential and — perhaps most precious in a profession filled with self-promoters — his privacy.

Hmmmm. Are those really the only things sacred to Bennett?

Let's keep reading:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

If you listen carefully to this week Crossroads podcast (click right here to do so), you can hear question after question passing by, questions that simply cannot be answered at this time -- yet questions that could be hooks for major news stories later on.

Here's the big question, one that I asked on a radio show several months ago and discussed again in a post this week: Will the principalities and powers at the NCAA choose (as is their right as leaders of a private, voluntary association) to eject religious private colleges and universities that (as currently is their right as private, voluntary associations) ask students, faculty and staff to live under lifestyle covenants that, among other doctrines, affirm that sex outside of traditional marriage is sin?

OK, let's back up and ask an important question that precedes that monster: Will major American businesses -- the economic giants that sponsor events like bowl games and the hoops Final Four -- hear the cries of LGBT activists and begin pressuring the NCAA to make this change?

Maybe there is a question in front of THAT one, such as: At what point will ESPN or some other force in the entertainment industrial complex begin what amounts to a "go to the mattresses" campaign to force this question on the NCAA?

So, the questions keep coming.

What will the leaders of the big religiously conservative private schools that are in the cross hairs on this issue -- think Baylor and Brigham Young -- do when forced to make a choice between the faiths that define them (and religious supporters with children and money) and the prestige and money connected with big-time athletics?

Yes, host Todd Wilken pressed me -- as a Baylor alum -- to offer an educated guess on what I thought Baylor leaders would do when push comes to shove.

Please respect our Commenting Policy