As an undergraduate, DeGioia reveled in playing football and running track, describing himself as a classic small-college athlete — clearly not Olympic or pro-caliber material, but a student who loved going to the gym each morning and took enormous pride in finding a niche on his teams.
Today, sports play a similar role in the lives of many Georgetown students. More than one in 10 of its 7,600 undergraduates competes for one of the Hoyas’ 29 varsity teams. That’s far broader participation than found at athletic powerhouses such as Alabama and Florida, where roughly 2 percent of students compete in considerably fewer varsity sports. It reflects a philosophy central to Georgetown — and one that distinguished the original Big East and will inform the new conference — that sports is meant to enrich students’ lives rather than define them.
Basketball played that role for Tagliabue, captain of Georgetown’s 1961-62 squad, teaching leadership, teamwork and individual responsibility.
“Competitive athletics teaches you that there is a cycle of preparation, a cycle of performance, performance produces success or failure, then there is a cycle of re-evaluation and a cycle of re-preparation,” said Tagliabue, who serves as a frequent sounding board for DeGioia. “That’s what life is about, too.”
A social statement
For DeGioia, Georgetown basketball took on deeper significance in the 1980s, as Thompson transformed the Hoyas from a regional power to a national one.
Daniel Porterfield, then a 19-year-old Georgetown sophomore, recalls long, impassioned talks about basketball with DeGioia, who was then a graduate student and resident director, when the two lived across from one another in New South Hall. They weren’t fixated on statistics or win-loss records but the social statement they felt was being made by Thompson and his Hoyas.
“We would talk about how John Thompson was creating a program that might well influence the lives of the students that played for him and all of society, and we had these long conversations about what it meant,” said Porterfield, an English scholar who co-taught a course, “Human Rights: A Culture in Crisis,” with DeGioia for several years, served as a senior vice president in DeGioia’s administration and is now president of Franklin & Marshall College.