NCAA

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.

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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:

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Faith at the Final Four? Two ways to tell 'miraculous' story of Michigan's Austin Hatch

Faith at the Final Four? Two ways to tell 'miraculous' story of Michigan's Austin Hatch

The University of Michigan has made it to the NCAA men's Final Four, which means the odds are good that fans will have another chance to about the stunning life story of Austin Hatch.

Again. With good cause.

Trust me, his story of suffering, loss and courage is almost unbelievable.

Watch this ESPN mini-documentary and you'll hear that the events of his life represent a journey of "biblical proportions." The fact that this young man is alive is one thing. That he is living a fairly normal life, including a bit of basketball, makes him a "walking miracle."

The question, of course, is whether the news coverage will mention the role that faith -- Christian, as opposed to generic -- has played in Hatch's life.

To grasp the context, here is the overture of a typical story, care of The Toledo Blade:

Overcome it.
It’s a simple phrase and one that every sports team worldwide could use as a rallying cry. Athletics is the ultimate endurance test. Adversity is always lurking and how one responds often reveals what the end result will be.
For Michigan’s Austin Hatch, overcome it, which is stitched in maize and blue on the back of his shirt, carries an entirely different meaning.
The story’s been told countless times. Hatch, who starred as a freshman and sophomore at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, has survived two plane crashes. The first in 2003 claimed the lives of his mother, Julie; brother, Ian; and sister, Lindsay. Hatch lost his father, Stephen, and stepmother, Kimberly in the second crash -- and nearly his own life.

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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:

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Yo, Gray Lady! Where is Tua Tagovailoa going after leading Alabama to national title? To church ...

Yo, Gray Lady! Where is Tua Tagovailoa going after leading Alabama to national title? To church ...

If you are a sports fan and live in the United States of America (or you live overseas and care about American-style football), then you have probably heard this name during the past few days -- Tua Tagovailoa.

It's an unusual name, but this freshman quarterback at the University of Alabama came off the bench the other night to throw several touchdown passes, including a go-for-broke bomb that won his team a national championship.

What else do we need to know about him? Well, his post-game comments made it very, very clear what Tua wants people to know about his life and, yes, his faith. One of his comments even raises this interesting question: Is it possible for a Pentecostal Christian to shout "Roll Tide!" in an unknown, celestial tongue?

Hold that thought, because it's interesting to note how elite media -- think The New York Times, of course -- handled this young man's story, as opposed to how he described things when offered a chance to do so. Let's start with the Times profile of Tagovailoa, which ran with this headline: "How Tua Tagovailoa Stepped Up, Dropped Back, and Saved Alabama."

ATLANTA -- While some of the Alabama players were gasping for oxygen on the sideline, others were committing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and at least a couple were trying to prevent a teammate from punching an assistant coach, a teenager was saving the Crimson Tide from the brink of a public collapse.
The freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, a 19-year-old backup quarterback from Honolulu, had stepped into a dire situation Monday night. Alabama trailed by 13 points at halftime of the national title game when Tagovailoa took over the offense and calmly engineered one of the more improbable comebacks in college football championship history.

So let's move down in the story, were readers are offered this information about this remarkably calm young player:

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Why did the Wichita Eagle go into full-force 'activist mode' in reporting on California travel ban?

Why did the Wichita Eagle go into full-force 'activist mode' in reporting on California travel ban?

The phrase "travel ban," included in the headline above, will evoke all sorts of thoughts in America's current political state of mind.

Feel free to dismiss them. 

This post is about an actual news story concerning a real, live, travel ban. And Donald J. Trump's red-hot executive-order pen has nothing to do with it.

California, the one-time republic now part of the United States, has implemented a September 2016 law prohibiting the state and its agencies from spending money in places where alleged "discrimination" against gays is practiced, the Wichita Eagle, published in the state's largest city, reports:

California has banned state-funded travel to Kansas after determining that the Sunflower State is one of four in the nation with laws that it views as discriminatory toward gay people.
The policy could prevent public universities in California from scheduling sporting events with Kansas teams and raises the question of whether teams will travel to Wichita in 2018, when the city is scheduled to host two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“California must take action to avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” states the California law, which was passed in September. The law prohibits state agencies and universities from using state dollars to pay for travel to states with laws it views as discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There are a few exceptions, such as for law enforcement purposes.
Kansas is on the travel prohibition list because of a 2016 law that enabled college campus religious groups to require that members adhere to their religious beliefs and standards. That law was crafted partially in response to a controversy in California that occurred when a Christian student group lost recognition on California State University campuses for failure to comply with an “all comers” non-discrimination policy in 2014.

Unlike those controversial bills in North Carolina on transgendered people and bathrooms, or the since-amended Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Kansas law makes no specific mention of sexuality but merely allows campus-based religious groups to require that leaders and members adhere to the group's beliefs.

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Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Ever since the 1980s, I have been telling editors and journalists that conflicts about religious liberty were going cause some of the biggest news stories on the American horizon.

Anyone who has been reading GetReligion since 2004 knows that I've been saying that, over and over. Amen If you listen to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, looking ahead into 2017, you're going to hear more about that. No apologies.

The roots of this concern run back to my graduate-school work in Baylor University's church-state studies program, where -- in 1977-78 -- we could hear the early rumblings of what would become Bob Jones University vs. United States case.

Why is that important? Do you remember this crucial moment in the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell debates about same-sex marriage?

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?
GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I, I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is, it is going to be an issue.

That's why religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling, in his recent pair of memos looking ahead to 2017, stressed that religious-liberty cases -- linked to LGBTQ issues, again -- would remain on the front burner for major American newsrooms. Click here and then here for those two Ostling posts.

You can see the same themes again, over and over, in the recent "Acts of Faith" year-beginner piece at The Washington Post by religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (yes, a former member of the GetReligion team). The headline: "Here’s what we think will be the major religion stories of 2017." Here is the overture:

The new year could be turbulent for religion in America.

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What's happening with NCAA boycotting North Carolina? Don't bother reading Raleigh paper

What's happening with NCAA boycotting North Carolina? Don't bother reading Raleigh paper

The NCAA has decided to boycott North Carolina over its bathroom law.

Rather than pick on the Charlotte Observer again, I decided to see how the Raleigh News & Observer — the newspaper in the state capital — covered the story.

This is the front page of today's News & Observer.

As you can see, the NCAA decision is the lead story. 

My journalistic questions: Will this story offer an evenhanded reporting of facts? Will it treat both supporters and opponents of North Carolina's law fairly? Will readers be able to tell where the newspaper stands on the law? 

Let's start with the lede and see if it gives us any indication:

Since the North Carolina legislature last March passed House Bill 2, a controversial law restricting transgender bathroom access and limiting the civil rights and bathroom usage of the LGBT community, the state has lost the NBA All-Star Game, Bruce Springsteen and other concerts and conventions and millions of dollars in revenue.
Now North Carolina is losing the NCAA tournament. The NCAA announced on Monday that the seven championships scheduled in the state during this academic year, including NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in Greensboro, would be relocated because of House Bill 2, better known as HB2.

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Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

Dang! Don't you hate it when that happens?

I was going to open this week's "Crossroads" podcast post -- click here to tune that in -- by saying that the Regents and administrators at Baylor University (yes, my alma mater) are being forced to draw a bright line between worshiping God and mammon, the latter in the form of big-time sports.

To be blunt, what we are seeing is a clash between two competing religions.

So what -- dang it! -- happened? This week, that legendary Godbeat muse -- the ever-quotable historian Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago Divinity School -- wrote one of his "Sightings" commentaries on precisely that topic. The headline was, literally, "Two Religions Make News."

Marty was, of course, referring to the painful headlines out of Waco, with the housecleaning -- football head coach Art Briles and President Ken Starr, in particular -- linked to a scandal about fumbled attempts to deal with, or cover up, or both, claims of sexual assaults by Baylor athletes.

Whoever will check the sources (below) or others easily available to them will note that virtually all stories stressed that Baylor was a Christian, particularly a Baptist, university. The press doesn’t identify most other schools denominationally, unless the school name banners it -- as in Southern Methodist University. Newswriters don’t say that Princeton is Presbyterian, etc.

But Baylor does not hide its official and traditional faith commitment, and puts it to work in many policies, such as compulsory chapel for students for a year or two. Let it be noted, as we will note, that some features of the commitment are strong: a “Top Ten” (in some measures) religion department, notable graduate programs, and not a few eminent scholars. But they are in the shadows cast by the scandal right now.

So that's one religion. And the other is pretty obvious.

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