Last semester, I wrote an editorial about the nebulous role that Xavier basketball plays in relation to academics and other aspects of campus life. Since then, I have done some digging in an attempt to clarify this relationship. Both university president Fr. Michael Graham, S.J. and Athletic Director Greg Christopher were willing to sit down with me to hammer out the details.
So where does basketball stand within the hierarchy of Xavier? Well, perhaps the best place to start is from a purely numerical perspective.
Each year the men’s basketball team receives around $527,000 in scholarship money. This number was provided by Fr. Graham himself after I asked for specifics.
At first glance, this number seems astronomical to the average college student. However, considering that yearly tuition and boarding costs upward of $40,000 for each student, one can understand how the program arrived at this number. So, is there nothing to it? Is men’s basketball just another brick in Xavier’s wall?
I think any Xavier student would realize that this is not the case. Xavier basketball is a flagship part of this university. It facilitates alumni relations, and it establishes the Xavier brand. Not only that — it is a strategic, money-making enterprise. Xavier’s athletic expenses for the 2013-2014 year were $5,179,718. Compare this to Marquette’s $10,522,823 and it becomes clear that Xavier is running a top- notch program at a relatively minimal expense.
To review, here’s what these numbers tell us. One, scholarship money makes sure that basketball players do not go wanting regarding tuition and fees. Two, the cost of operating is minimal compared to relatively similar competitors.
Of course, this issue is not as simple as dollars and cents. In fact, it is my belief that it has a great deal more to do with student attitudes and campus culture.
To be blunt, I think basketball often casts a shadow over other, perhaps more worthy parts of this fine Jesuit institution. I spoke to Athletic Director Greg Christopher about this issue last semester. Christopher was very willing to discuss the role men’s basketball plays here at Xavier. At the beginning of our conversation, he told me that he and his department are an open book. He followed this statement by saying that he agreed with me that there is a disparity between academics and athletics at Xavier.
To be exact, he said, “When you say public perception, my reaction to that would be, I agree — I think there’s a natural tension between academics and athletics because some people want it that way.” Immediately, this statement stood out to me. It was rather jarring that he was so ready to admit that this tension does exist. asked him to clarify what he meant by this. He made it clear that this was only his personal opinion, not necessarily the opinion of the department or the university. However, I still felt that this point needed further clarification. I wanted to know who Christopher feels is perpetuating this standard at Xavier.
When I asked him where he thought this divide comes from, he responded, “I think there are generally three groups of people who I have experienced on a college campus: those who are really supportive of athletics and understand the value it brings to the platform or the value it brings to the university, there are those who are ambivalent, and there are a handful that think athletics receives disproportionate attention.”
While I certainly think there is some validity to this statement, I do not think it is that black and white. First off, I know that I do not fall into any of these categories. I am a student who enjoys studying here at Xavier. I am a fan of the basketball team and the notoriety it brings to Xavier, but I am still concerned that the basketball team is taking too prominent a role here.
Secondly, Christopher’s comments about the value of athletics imply that people that do not like athletics simply do not understand the role they play.
Finally, Christopher and Graham both made it clear to me that they feel Xavier would be fine without a D-I men’s basketball program. Graham said, “Would we be okay without men’s basketball? Oh, probably, but not as much fun or as interesting. We wouldn’t be Xavier, that’s for sure.”
I suppose it ultimately comes down to this: for better or for worse, basketball, specifically men’s basketball, is an integral part of what makes Xavier what it is.
Unfortunately, I do not think that I came away from this experience feeling enriched. Frankly, this whole research process and the conversation with Christopher was rather disheartening for me.
While I think this university’s basketball program is top notch, I have my doubts about the university as a whole. While perhaps I am being naïve, basketball does not seem to be the foundation on which a university should be grounded. I think there are more questions to be asked, and I hope I will not be alone in asking them.