One of my favorite sports commentators is Frank DeFord, who zigs when other commentators zag — even when it comes to the the No. 1-ranked Zags.
Every Wednesday morning, the Sports Illustrated senior contributing writer and novelist, shares his thoughts on NPR just before the 8 a.m. hour. Today, he was talking about what everyone seems to be talking about, Gonzaga University men’s basketball team, the Bulldogs, being naming as No. 1 in both major college polls college. And of course, the clever DeFord got in a reference to the imminent Vatican papal conclave in Rome:
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.
DeFord also offered some history of Catholic universities and their sports involvement — the Spokane-based Gonzaga is a Jesuit college. In a commentary titled, “Catholic Universities See True Path To Salvation: Basketball,” he noted that basketball programs are a more common sport for these institutions because they cost less to run.
Interestingly enough, Seattle University, a Jesuit institution that was once a basketball powerhouse in its own right before ending the program, revived its Division I basketball program after 29 years. In a 2008 oped, Father Stephen Sundborg, Seattle University’s president, discusses the reasons why:
It also makes sense that we raise our profile. We are the largest independent university in the Northwest, the most comprehensive, the most metropolitan and the most diverse large university. We have an outstanding commitment to academic quality in line with our strong Catholic-Jesuit mission.
A high-profile sports program will help spread the word about our other programs, providing a window into our university. It will be a tide that raises all boats, bringing our mission, academic programs and commitment to service to the attention of more students and supporters.