I’ve always felt it’s no coincidence that some basketball powerhouses — let us say, off the top of my head, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Indiana — get a few better players because those hoop museums don’t do very well with football.
I mean, if I were a big-deal high school recruit, I might very well say to myself, you know I’d rather be a Hoosier or a Wildcat or a Jayhawk than I would go someplace where I’m just gonna be a lounge act for the glamorous Mr. Touchdowns.
No, I’m not suggesting that cagey old Coach K whispers to prospects, “Hey, be a Dookie, son, and get all the glory, ‘cause our football team is dogmeat.” But, year in and year out, there must be just enough public relations-savvy blue-chippers who realize that they’ve got a better chance of being a hero at a place where the football players are regularly unpopular losers.
And as this spirit moves us, so too is a powerful Roman Catholic leadership group stepping forward, heading in a bold new direction. Of course, as Dick Vitale might say, “I’m not talking about the Vatican, babee.” No, this is the so-called “Catholic Seven” — and if that gives off a hint of martyrdom, well, just so.
The seven are colleges: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova — who, you see, have been discriminated against. That’s because they’re the outcast members of the Big East Conference who do not play big-time football.
When the Big East was created, it was absolutely basketball first, but the league was seduced by football money, and basketball atrophied. Now the Catholic Seven want to get out of the Big (football) East, and once again make basketball the one blessed athletic faith.
This new league will probably expand, too, even adding Butler, which would be the token heathen member — proving that while there is only one true path to salvation, anybody can find a way into the NCAA tournament.
This development is a lovely loop back to a time when Roman Catholic schools were preeminent in the sport. So many, like the Catholic Seven, had started in urban areas to serve the immigrant faithful, but could not afford to maintain football teams as that sport became too expensive. So, they concentrated on basketball. Seventeen different Catholic colleges have made the Final Four, but only three since the 1980s.
But now, never mind the Catholic Seven. There is white smoke rising over the polls, for little Jesuit Gonzaga University, with less than 5,000 undergraduates, is the new No. 1 in all of college basketball.
Maybe more of those blue-chip high school players will even skip over colleges with merely bad big-time football teams and go star for colleges with no big-time football teams. May the saints be praised.