First, let's get the monkey off Loyola Marymount's back. The Rev. James N. Loughran, the school president, says he never promoted the little Westchester university as the potential "Georgetown of the West" when he took office in 1984.
When that oft-repeated comment was brought up recently, Loughran, an East Coast native, said: "I never said that. I said reporters seem to want to hear me say we'll become the Georgetown of the West. We don't want to be Georgetown athletically or in any other fashion."
However, that begs the question: As Loyola enters a period of improved athletic optimism and stability, is it capable of becoming the Georgetown of the West? And does it want to? Certainly there are alumni who would be pleased--make that ecstatic .
The schools are remarkably similar. Both are Jesuit institutions with solid academic reputations in major metropolitan locales. They offer about the same number of athletic scholarships. Both were once football powers but dropped the sport in the early 1950s. Both offer a fairly well-rounded program of intercollegiate sports.
The big difference may be in the person of Georgetown's massive basketball coach, John Thompson. The 6-foot-10, 275-pound Thompson took what was an unremarkable program not unlike Loyola's ("They were just kind of there, like Loyola," Lions Coach Paul Westhead remembers) into his large hands in 1972 and by the force of his personality--and with school backing--forged the Hoyas into a perennial NCAA Tournament contender within three years.
Brian Quinn, in his third year as athletic director at Loyola, considered the Washington school that has become synonymous with basketball excellence and said: "We're probably across-the-board better than them in sports. We just don't have the national recognition."
In separate interviews, Quinn and Loughran both said a program of national significance is not a goal and may not even be realistic, given the recruiting competition in Los Angeles.
"We don't have aspirations of being the best basketball team in the West," Quinn said. "The idea is, if we do something and invest money, we should do it well. We do expect to have an excellent basketball program. What I mean by excellent is we are very competitive within our conference, we graduate our athletes and we do everything by the (NCAA) law. If we go to the playoffs, that's a bonus."
Two years ago, in Quinn's first season as athletic administrator, Westhead's team was invited to the postseason National Invitation Tournament and Coach Dave Snow's baseball team reached the College World Series.
Last year, the basketball and baseball teams faltered in conference play but the women's volleyball team qualified for NCAA playoffs.
"We'd love to" return to the World Series, Quinn said, "but . . . that's a bonus. When we set up the year we don't say, 'Let's do everything to get to the College World Series.' Some schools cheat to do that, to get to the Final Four. We don't want to do that. Let's do the best we can and play by the rules."
Said Loughran: "You play to win, but winning isn't the only criterion, maybe not the most important criterion. What happened with the baseball (World Series appearance) . . . was good. (But) if people started evaluating us--the school or the coaches--like that, I would pull back. That's not what we're about."
That attitude rankles some Loyola athletic observers, who say that despite the presence of such top-notch coaches as Westhead, who led the Lakers to a National Basketball Assn. championship and two straight appearances in the finals, and Snow, who was pitching coach on two NCAA champions at Cal State Fullerton before going to the College World Series in his second season at Loyola, the school does not do what it could to be a strong Division I program.
"It's a small-time mentality trying to compete in big-time athletics," said one former athletic department employee. "You just can't do it."
Another person familiar with the behind-the-scenes situation said that despite the stated aim of being competitive in the school's showcase sports, the administration offers neither the necessary guidance nor funding. "The attitude has always been, 'God will look out for us,' and it still is," he said.
Indeed, when asked about the direction athletics are taking, Loughran said, "I'd rather not talk about direction. . . . What happens happens."
Loyola offers 16 intercollegiate sports and three club sports. Six sports--men's and women's basketball, men's and women's volleyball, baseball and tennis--have athletes on full or partial scholarships. Only men's basketball and baseball carry full scholarhips for players and coaches with full-time assistants. The school has about 300 athletes and grants about 50 athletic scholarships. The yearly cost of attending Loyola is nearly $12,000, putting the scholarship budget at more than $500,000. The entire athletic budget is about $1.5 million.