We hear a lot about what's wrong with college sports. We don't hear enough about what's right with them.
When the balance is right between athletics and academics, sports can lift an institution like nothing else.
You can feel that at Loyola College now. You can feel it at the Naval Academy, too.
As the nation awaits the beginning this week of the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments, Loyola and Navy are different places than they were a couple weeks ago.
Basketball has done that.
Never in history had the Greyhounds qualified for either the men's or women's Division I events. Now they're in both. The college, understandably, is a little giddy over it.
You should have been there Sunday evening to see the Loyola students at McGuire Hall -- which is actually the college's old Evergreen gym -- when the NCAA men's pairings were announced on TV.
Earlier in the day, it had been announced that the Loyola women will begin tourney play tomorrow night (7:30) against Virginia in Charlottesville.
As CBS ran through the men's seedings and pairings, seemingly mentioning every college in America but Loyola, a highly charged crowd of about 1,000 students waited impatiently.
I don't know where all those kids were during the season. I went to Loyola games and heard them announce crowds of 1,100 that looked more like 500 and I wondered why the students weren't more interested.
Sunday evening they were there. They were wearing green and white pins that said "We're Going 2 The Dance" and they cheered every time the giant screen showed a glimpse of any Loyola player, man or woman.
"It's great seeing all this excitement," said Joe Boylan, Loyola's athletic director.
Sure, it was great. This was a Loyola that no one had ever seen, a Loyola that had never even existed.
Since the Jesuit college has grown to 3,040 students, a little over half of them women, nothing of this scope had ever happened.
The men's lacrosse team went to the NCAA Division I final in
1990 (and lost to Syracuse) but this was different.
This was big. This was truly national (lacrosse is more regional). Loyola's MAAC championship victory over Manhattan was shown live across the country on ESPN. The draw was watched by millions on CBS-TV. And yesterday USA Today's sports section ran a cover story on Loyola.
This is more publicity than Loyola College has received since it opened in 1852. The students have every reason to revel in it.
When that name -- Loyola, Md. -- was flashed on the screen there was a deafening roar from students standing on chairs and tables.
It didn't matter that the Greyhounds will play their first-round game Friday in Sacramento, Calif., where probably no Loyola student will venture (at some $1,300 per air ticket) unless he or she is part of the basketball entourage. It didn't matter that the opponent will be heavily favored Arizona.
"They're just so darn happy to be going anywhere," said first-year men's coach Skip Prosser, who is not a demonstrative person.
"This is unbelievable," said Pat Coyle, the second-year women's coach.
Smiling broadly but too modest to take any of the credit was Boylan, the A.D. who hired both coaches.
In the late '40s Loyola had an outstanding basketball team. There were wins over Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown and Maryland. The star of those teams, Jim Lacy, is still Loyola's all-time leading scorer with 2,199 points.
But Lacy himself concedes that what this year's Greyhounds have done is better.
"Our teams had some big wins," Lacy said, "but for this year's team to win the three tournament games and get in the NCAAs is the biggest thing that's ever happened to Loyola."
Navy, likewise, has been transformed by its basketball team's winning the Patriot League championship and now going off to play Missouri Thursday in the NCAAs in Ogden, Utah.
"We needed a pickup," said Capt. John B. Padgett III, the academy's commandant, "and this basketball team has given it to us."
Maryland, of course, is also in the tournament, but the Terps have been in it before and figure to be in many more as coach Gary Williams' program matures.
Loyola and Navy, on the other hand, have come out of nowhere to get in the NCAAs.
The reality is that Navy doesn't figure to have much chance against Missouri. Nobody seems to be picking either Loyola team to go far.
"Whenever I hear people talk that way," said Capt. Padgett, "I think of a great quote the Celtics' Bill Russell once gave.
"A writer told him that the Lakers had such incredible talent -- Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West -- that the Celtics didn't compare with them on paper. Russell told the guy, 'I guess that's why they play the game on the court instead of on paper.' "
No matter what happens to the Loyolans and the Navy from here on, their institutions are better off because of their basketball success, and their students are walking a little taller.
PRACTICE IN LANDOVER
Practice sessions for the East Regional at USAir Arena in Landover are Thursday and will be open to the public, with free admission and free parking. Tickets for Friday's and Sunday's games are sold out.
The one-hour practices for each school will run from noon to 9 p.m., although teams are not obligated to attend. The schedule:
Time .... .... .... .... Team
Noon .... .... .... .... Liberty
1 p.m. .... .... ..... North Carolina
2 p.m. .... .... ..... Boston College
3 p.m. .... .... ..... Washington State
5 p.m. .... .... ..... Temple
6 p.m. .... .... ..... Drexel
7 p.m. .... .... ..... Indiana
8 p.m. .... .... ..... Ohio University