One by One by Gina Dalfonzo, Free Promo Pack for CAPC Members
Available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until September 20, 2017, from Baker Publishing Group.
Universities possess an array of tools for influencing American Culture, but one of the more potent tools comes out during the month of March each year: the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (March Madness). March Madness is a 68 team, single-elimination tournament that takes place over three weekends in March/April. Teams are placed into a four region bracket and seeded based on a metric known as RPI rankings. Once the bracket is set, hundreds of thousands of fans will download a printable bracket, fill it out, place it on their office doors and cubicles, and enjoy the madness.
Recently, researchers have observed an interesting connection between March Madness and higher education. Success on the hardwood leads to national television exposure, which results in a greater number of student applications for admission. This results in a greater proportion of people being influenced by a respective mission statement of a particular university.
So, what happens when the most successful basketball teams in March Madness represent universities with religious foundations? For example, in this year’s tournament, 20 teams have overtly or historically religious mission statements. The success of each school’s team determines the level of television exposure for their respective academic institutions, as well as for their respective religious mission statements and ideologies. And as Richard Weaver has reminded us, ideas have consequences.
Consider the metrics. With each Brigham Young University win, Google will receive hundreds of thousands of search queries related to the question, “What is Mormonism?” As St. Mary’s wins, curious fans will research their wikipedia page to discover that “the college has garnered national attention for its men’s basketball program” and that their “mission is guided by three traditions: Catholic, Lasallian and Liberal Arts.” College sport success leads to cultural capital.
The Origin of The Theology Hoops Tournament
In 2010 my alma matter, Baylor University, received a favorable seeding in The Tourney and was providentially paired in a region with Notre Dame (Catholic), St. Mary’s (Catholic), Duke (Methodist), and Butler (Disciples). Being a theologian and pastor I reveled at the opportunity for creative smack talk for what I affectionately called the theology bracket of March Madness. During the Baylor/Duke game I taunted opposing fans with, “Hey Methodists, these Baptists will show you how to dunk.” In my mind, this was no longer a tournament of sports–it became a tournament for the soul of religious education.
After the 2010 tournament, I pondered what it would look like if I created a fantasy tournament bracket each year based solely on religiously oriented universities and colleges? The parameters would be simple:
The 2012 CaPC Theology Hoops Tournament Challenge
The field this year provided the perfect opportunity to bring out the Theology Hoops Tournament Challenge. Eleven of the teams have historically Catholic backgrounds: Marquette, Georgetown, Creighton, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Saint Louis, Xavier, Notre Dame, Iona, Loyola (MD), and St. Bonaventure. Nine of the other teams have historically Protestant or Sectarian backgrounds: Duke (Methodist) Baylor (Baptist), Temple (Baptist), Vanderbilt (Methodist-Episcopal), Harvard (Unitarian), Brigham Young (Mormon), Belmont (Baptist), Davidson (Presbyterian), and Lehigh (Episcopalian). I added two state schools (Murray State and San Diego State) both to round out the fields and as a subtle reminder that even secularism is a theological worldview, lest the state schools think that this tournament is about religion verses science. For good measure, I averaged the RPI rankings of the Catholic side (36) and ensured that my two state school selections helped keep the other side near 36.
Historically speaking, Catholic schools have done well to promote a life of the mind as a vital component of the overall Christian spiritual growth process. Thus, I organized them into the aptly labeled the Christian Education Division. As historian Mark Noll has reminded us, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind to speak of. Furthermore, the twentieth century has witnessed Protestant division on the issue of modern theology and the value of scientific inquiry. Thus, I have labeled the the other side the Christian/ Education Division, which affords numerous humorous plays on words. Some of the schools (Belmont and Baylor) have historically emphasized the Christian, rather than the education aspect (although both are catching up). The other schools (see Harvard) have emphasized education rather than the Christian part. Other schools (BYU) are educators but not yet Christian.
How Can I Participate in The Challenge?
Won’t you join me in participating in the 2012 CaPC Theology Hoops Tournament?
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