Thompson went on to transform Georgetown basketball into one of the most powerful brands in college sports, producing teams that reached three national championship games between 1982 and 1985, and won the 1984 NCAA title. DeGioia, a philosopher by training, went on to become Georgetown’s 48th president.
Nearly four decades after their first meeting, DeGioia has taken the lead in a high-stakes effort to preserve the basketball tradition Thompson built on the Hilltop, shepherding the creation of a new conference constructed around the founding members of the imploding Big East. He does so at a time when college sports is being riven, with schools that play top-level football on one side and those that don’t on the other.
Saturday’s game perfectly illustrates the divide. Syracuse, the Hoyas’ fiercest Big East rival, is defecting to the ACC next season in pursuit of a bigger payday from a league with a more lucrative television deal. Georgetown, lacking big-time football, is left seeking a path toward preserving a basketball program that has become the public face of the university and, for many, has connected the cloistered institution with the multicultural city in which it resides. The increasingly unstable Big East no longer provided that path.
“We sort of stepped back and said, ‘Does this make sense for us,’ ” DeGioia said in a recent interview in his Healy Hall office. “We no longer had our history and our traditions and our historic rivalries. We no longer had geography in a way that was making sense. . . .
“From a basketball perspective, we just felt we needed to go back to our roots. We needed to get back to our fundamental foundation that brought us together in 1979: an urban tradition of basketball.”
DeGioia, 56, sees Georgetown basketball as a touchstone of memory, a tie that binds alumni to the Hilltop.
“It means a lot to our community — to our alumni, to our students,” DeGioia said. “This is something to rally around, something to identify with.
. . .
Our community can measure key moments and milestones in their lives by certain kinds of events around our athletics programs here.”
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, chairman of Georgetown’s executive board and a former Hoyas basketball player, credits Thompson and his teams with creating diversity on campus and connecting the school to the life of the city, rather than being “some elite institution sitting off there on top of a hill.