But then, shortly thereafter, Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, two black non-Catholics, set the pattern, leading the Dons to back-to-back national titles in the mid-'50s. For basketball, you needed only a few sneakers; the Dons of that era practiced and played in a nearby high school gym. And if Catholic schools today use non-Catholic black players, that's nothing new. As Lo Schiavo points out, the Catholic schools, often as not, took on black students before the taxpayers' schools did. Some Georgetown people make the rather telling point that Georgetown, with an all-black basketball team today, is a more appropriate place than it was in 1969-70 when the team was all white, because the community all about the college has long been predominantly black. They needed each other, the poor blacks and the poor Catholic colleges. Even before Russell and Jones, the first black man to sign to play in the NBA came out of a Catholic college: Chuck Cooper from Duquesne.
It is generally agreed that the GI Bill of Rights helped save many Catholic schools, subsidizing enrollment. After the war Villanova had little but its living endowment to till its 240 acres and the minds of the 800 or so young men who inhabited the lovely real estate. Villanova is not necessarily typical of Catholic colleges—it's Augustinian, not Jesuit; suburban, not urban; more homogeneous, more "Catholic" than the downtown melting pots—but it has endured many of the same experiences. For the students, for many years there were bed checks and curfew, compulsory chapel, and coats and ties for classes and dining. Everyone was obliged to take large chunks of theology and philosophy, and the hale and hearty were encouraged to play football. Villanova fielded its first team in 1894. On New Year's Day, 1937, the Wildcats went to Havana to play a game. The Bacardi Bowl.
After the war, with the influx of veterans, the school grew so fast that surplus Army barracks had to be thrown up. John Murphy, Villanova '51, the president of Philip Morris Inc., remembers that his best friends were M's and N's and lots of Irish O's because students were just bunked down in dormitories alphabetically. Already, too, the number of priests was beginning to decline (they now compose a scant 6% of the faculty), but in those days the boys had many friendly relationships with the priests. Occasionally, the students would bump into some of the Augustinians—the "Augies"—wearing "civvies" in bars down the Main Line, but on campus there was no monkey business. And there was an Augie on every floor.
"I remember there was a Father Kropp in our hall," Murphy says. "He had the 5:30 Mass, and if you made any noise—O.K., 5:30 for you. And the worst part wasn't that you had to get up at five; the worst was that Father Kropp had got it down so he could do a Mass in 11 minutes flat. So now it's quarter of six in the morning, and what are you going to do?"
Paul Arizin, the All-America, was Murphy's contemporary. He was the first great Villanova basketball player. In the same era, as the NBA got on its feet, there was also Bobby Davies from Seton Hall; Bob Feerick from Santa Clara; George Mikan from DePaul; Fat Freddy Scolari and then Don Lofgran from San Francisco; Larry Foust and then Tom Gola from La Salle; Easy Ed Macauley from St. Louis; Max Zaslofsky and the McGuires from St. John's; George Kaftan, Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn from The Cross; Richie Guerin from Iona. And the first blacks: Cooper and then Sihugo Green from Duquesne; Walter Dukes from Seton Hall; Maurice Stokes from St. Francis of Pa.; Russell and Jones. Meanwhile, almost overnight. Catholic college football was closing up shop. It couldn't compete. Marquette hung on in Milwaukee till '60, but by then old Vince Lombardi, from Fordham, had started the renaissance at Green Bay. The University of Detroit quit football in 1964, and in 1982 Holy Cross gave up big-time football as more and more old Catholics shifted their devotions to Notre Dame or to their local pro team...or to basketball.
The sustained postwar power of Catholic college basketball was interrupted only by the cultural upheaval and general turmoil of the '60s. No Catholic school won the NCAAs from 1963, when Loyola of Chicago did, until '77, when Marquette triumphed, and during this period there was a commensurate drop-off in contenders as well. The Catholic schools—citadels of discipline as much as morality—were out of touch and increasingly defensive. "We were almost apologizing for what we were," says Lo Schiavo. A good New York Catholic parochial schoolboy named Lew Alcindor passed up the local church options and hied to hedonistic Los Angeles, to UCLA and, ultimately, to a new faith.
When, at last, the national agonies of Vietnam and Watergate were behind us, people began to find a comforting appeal in Catholic education again. Would the unchallenged autocracy of John Thompson have worked 15 years ago at some state school when the kids were locking up the dean? Dr. Charles Jenkins, the Villanova track coach, was the school's first black scholarship athlete, in 1953, a middle-distance man who won two gold medals in the '56 Olympics. Jenkins is non-Catholic as well as black, and he says that Villanova's denominational status is seldom an impediment in recruiting non-Catholics. On the contrary, it tends to help in recruiting boys from a certain kind of family—those that prize order and discipline. There are coed dorms these days at Villanova, but there are strict rules governing visitation across gender lines, as well as for on-campus drinking. Some 8% of the 11,000-strong student body is on varsity teams, and more than 50% find an outlet in intramural sports. The ROTC contingent is so visible that it comes as no surprise to learn that Villanova is also known as Annapolis North.
And, despite some cuts in the philosophy and theology requirements, the traditional curriculum remains a bedrock. As is not the case at certain large public institutions, there is no place for an athlete to hide a diminished mental capacity. "We don't have Pound Sand One and Pound Sand Two here," says Dan Regan, a philosophy professor who is in charge of tutoring varsity athletes. Players are expected to go to class, and they do, and they are expected to graduate, and they do—even if all baccalaureate candidates must overcome a language, a science and math, as well as philosophy.
"And we don't just study the philosophy of St. Augustine and St. Thomas," Regan says. "We study Plato and Aristotle here. And everybody must take a course in Western civilization. I think we can be especially proud of that. At too many other universities, you can avoid philosophy and history, which are merely the thought and course of mankind. But then, as an alternative, you're allowed to take social studies. As a consequence of that, some colleges are teaching students what Chinese eat for lunch on Tuesdays, but they graduate having no idea what happened in 1066."
It is incumbent on Villanova basketball players that they also be Villanova students. There are no athletic dorms, no special privileges. Says Capone, the alumni director: "Some alumni argue we should do more for the players because they brought in a million dollars last year. My response is, yeah, but the students brought in $70 million."