There's a new trend at Washington-area colleges this fall. It's more fashionable than wearing down vests or alligators on shirts. It's called Georgetown-hating. It's partly just a form of sports silliness, but some of it is for real.
Basically, there seem to be two reasons for it. Most important is that Georgetown is now a recognized national power, and no longer the sentimental favorite, the underdog of years past. As Howard University Coach A.B. Williamson said, "Everything has changed. Their position on the scale has flip-flopped. Now Georgetown is the top dog. And, naturally, everybody wants a shot at the top dog."
Georgetown Coach John Thompson said yesterday that, "Some of this stuff is only natural and healthy. I interpret much of it as a compliment. It's a sign of respect for what we have accomplished here."
The second reason, according to Wil Jones, basketball coach at the University of the District of Columbia, is decidedly unhealthy, a possible racial backlash.
"Of course, a lot of this is racially motivated," said Jones, a former assistant at Maryland. "Not all of it, but some. And some of it is subtle.
"John Thompson is big (6 feet 10) and black and outspoken," Jones continued. "It was acceptable to cheer on his program when it was young and his team was still the underdog. But when they (whites) find out we also teach integrity and discipline and hard work -- and soon can become successful in doing it, as John has -- it's hard for them to accept."
Every college team in the Washington area has black players, but Thompson is the only black head coach at a predominately white school.
A third reason for some to cheer against Georgetown is what they perceive as a lowering of academic standards at a prestigious university to accommodate athletes.
Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said, "I have no animosity of any kind toward Georgetown. I don't feel they're the top team in the area. I feel we are (his team is undefeated). But I still hope they continue to win because it's good for basketball in the area."
Said George Washington's Gerry Gimelstob: "I haven't noticed anything unhealthy. It (anti-Georgetown feeling) is a normal thing. What they've done has been healthy for this area. John has become successful by working real hard, nothing else."
Thompson said he cannot be objective about racial issues, especially when they concern him, and did not want to comment on whether he felt any of the rooting against his team was racially motivated. "I tend to stay away from discussing racial issues, unless I'm angry," Thompson said.
"There are certain things in our society that are given," Thompson continued, "and one has to deal with that ignorance. There's no need in dwelling on it. A ticket to a Georgetown game does not give a person the right to defame a player or supporter from Maryland or AU or GW. And the same thing goes for the other schools.
"Intracity rivalries can be good. But at a certain point, they can also be detrimental in reaching other goals. At that point, administrators and coaches have to take a stand. I don't know whether this has reached that point yet."
As Jones said, Thompson may as well get used to it. "When Maryland was No. 1 in the area, everybody shot at Lefty (Driesell) and his program. Anybody who goes to the top will get shot at. People scrutinize everything you do. As Wilt Chamberlain once said, people are only concerned about you when they think you're getting too much."
American University gets its shot at Georgetown today at 1 p.m. when the Eagles take on the Hoyas at Capital Centre. American's basketball program, struggling to gain national prominence, would get a significant lift with a victory over Georgetown.
"Nobody cared when they beat us in 1972," Thompson said yesterday. "Now, when people beat us, they run down the halls, jump up and down and get all excited."
Sometimes, they get excited even when it's someone else who beats Georgetown. One night two weeks ago, during a Maryland home game, the biggest cheer at Cole Field House came when it was announced that Georgetown had lost its first game.
American Coach Gary Williams says he is savoring the challenge of playing the Hoyas. "Georgetown recruited the most famous player in the country (Patrick Ewing) and got the top two players from Washington (Anthony Jones and William Martin) last year," Williams said. "I think they deserve all the publicity and attention they're getting. But still, this is quite a challenge for us."
That was putting it mildly. The strong rivalries among area basketball programs have heated up with the Hoyas' rise to prominence and AU would love to be the first here to beat GU.
Howard's Williamson said Georgetown is entering a "three- to four-year stage" that will determine whether it establishes a place among the nation's truly elite college basketball programs, or drops out after a while.
"This country is built on heroes," Williamson said. "But you have to pass the initial test. And everybody, especially the area fans and fans of other schools, will be testing them now.