The Washington Post recently addressed the high number of Catholic and Jesuit institutions competing successfully in NCAA Men's basketball:
Sixty-eight teams make it into the NCAA Division I men’s championship — affectionately known as March Madness — each year. In this year’s tournament, nine of those schools are Catholic.
That number isn’t unusual. In the 2012 tournament, Catholic universities constituted one-fifth of the field. One in six teams in the 2008 tournament was Catholic.Advertisement
Jesuit schools, in particular, are well-represented. Seven made the tournament in 2007. A full eighth of the field was Jesuit in 2012. Five competed this year — and that’s not including perennial powers Georgetown and Marquette, which both missed the tournament after mediocre seasons.
"Why," the writer asks, "are so many Catholic schools in the top ranks of NCAA Men's basketball?"
It's relatively simple: the article notes that, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as Catholic immigrants began to fill major U.S. cities and searched for recreational opportunities, they had mainly the terrain in urban areas. They lacked open fields and, as new arrivals to the country, they lacked money. When looking for cheap options that fit their circumstances, basketball was the most affordable outlet. The consequences are seen today; the Post observes that "only two Catholic universities compete in the top echelon of college football, and many don't have football teams at all." Those two universities? Notre Dame and Boston College.
The Post article says that at least one Jesuit school -- Wheeling Jesuit University -- is trying to connect basketball to something more transcendent, to something that the soldier from Loyola might find intriguing:
To some, the hypercommercialized world of NCAA Division I athletics — dominated by television networks, multimillion-dollar budgets and minor scandals — might seem like a questionable place for religious institutions to compete.
But the Rev. Michael Steltenkamp, a Jesuit priest, argues that Catholicism and college basketball are fundamentally compatible. Steltenkamp, a professor at Wheeling Jesuit University and a self-described jock, gave a talk to the WJU men’s team this year, “trying to familiarize them with the Jesuit tradition of basketball.”
During his talk, Steltenkamp recited a prayer written by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. “Teach me,” the prayer concludes, “to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not ask for any reward except for that of knowing that I do your will.”
How about that, as the Jesuits say, for "finding God in all things"?