US Catholic Faith in Real Life

NCAA basketball Catholic style!

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The Catholic style of NCAA basketball, not surprisingly, is winning on and off the court. And the Xavier University men's basketball team owes it success to a nun--its academic success that is.

In time for the big tournament to begin (as I write), The New York Times profiled Sister Rose Ann Fleming, S.N.D. de N. this week. As the academic advisor since 1985, she has helped all 77 men's basketball players who have played as a senior at Xavier to graduate college.

Some interesting stats and tidbits from the story:
Age: 77
Height: 5' 4"
Record: 77-0 (graduation rate for basketball players playing as seniors)
Sports: In high school/college: basketball, hockey; Today: elliptical, weight lifting, swimming. "If I wanted to shoot today, I'd have to spend a lot more time in the weight room strengthening my arms and chest." 
Awards: Basketball team's 1991 MVP; Xavier's athletic hall of fame, 2000
Interesting fact: She lived across the hall from NBA forward David West

On a more serious note, I love what the NYT article says about her belief in finding the best way for students to learn: "Her belief is that if students are focused enough to harness their talent into becoming Division I athletes, they certainly have the capacity to learn."

Unfortunately, the article says, men's basketball has the worst graduation rate of the 36 sports monitored by the NCAA. It puts "March Madness"--something most of us see as entertainment--into a different light. It's just a game, but it's also these players' lives we're talking about. And as the NCAA commercial says, most athletes "go pro" in something other than their sports.

As a woman and sports fan/player, it's easy to get discouraged about the lack of opportunity for women at the professional level, but I also see this has its advantages. My theory is that schools like my alma mater, Northwestern University, succeed in women's sports (lacrosse, softball, tennis) in part because female collegiate athletes know that they want to get a good education while playing their sport. Meanwhile, studies have now proven that girls' participation in sports increases their level of achievement in their education and career later on.

The NCAA tournament bracket might lead to the Indianapolis final, but it also should lead to success down the road for the student-athletes. Something to think about as you root for your picks.

Photo from Xavier Athletics Academic page