Villanova, you’re on the clock.
Now that the Eagles didn’t go White House, will the other local team that won a big title make the trip? Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said the school hasn’t yet heard from the White House, adding that logistical hurdles come into play with the players from the 2018 NCAA championship team now scattered.
Logistics aren’t the biggest hurdle here. The world is different from even in May 2016, when Villanova trekked down to Pennsylvania Avenue, when the biggest controversy that day was President Obama’s pronunciation of Arcidiacono.
Villanova coach Jay Wright, you may have noticed, has political skills. Even so, this is tough terrain, made rougher for Villanova by this week’s events, when President Trump rescinded an invitation to the Eagles at the White House, citing the “smaller delegation” that planned to attend.
Even handling the issue with dignity and thoughtfulness will not come close to satisfying everyone out there. You want to argue the Eagles lost fans by this week’s events? You better realize, they also picked up fans. If you believe LeBron James, the NBA champions aren’t going, whichever team it is.
Late in the regular season, Wright was asked during a Sports Illustrated video interview about the White House visit.
“I think it’s something we would have a long talk about as a team,’’ Wright said then. “I would suggest, that out of respect for our country, and the tradition of going and the office of the president, that we should go. But we haven’t gone that far and obviously we haven’t won it. But it would be a really intense discussion with our team. And I would take into account our players thoughts and concerns.”
And if players on the team said they’d rather not go, he was asked, would he respect that decision?
“Definitely,’’ Wright said then. “I don’t know what I’d do about it yet. But I’d definitely respect it. There’s certain things that we talk about, and not just in that case, there might be things you don’t want to do, but because we all represent Villanova — it’s not my team, it’s not their team, it’s Villanova’s team, we’re all a part of the Villanova community. There are certain things we have to do because we’re part of Villanova.”
There was a follow-up: Would he make a kid go?
“I don’t know yet,’’ Wright said. “I would see how strongly they felt about it.”
Last year, North Carolina men’s team was invited but did not attend, citing logistics. A team spokesman, Steve Kirschner, told the Raleigh News & Observer last September they couldn’t find a mutually agreeable date. Kirschner added that UNC’s players “were fine with going.”
The South Carolina women’s team, coached by Philadelphia native Dawn Staley, had a different issue. The night her Gamecocks won the 2017 title, Staley said, her team would go — “It’s what national champions do.”
When an invitation didn’t arrive for months, the issue became a non-issue. When it did arrive for a November ceremony with other championship teams, South Carolina declined. Staley said by then her team was focusing on the season about to start. More recently, this April, Alabama’s football team visited the White House. The logistics lined up that day.
I reached out to former Villanova center Darryl Reynolds, who played professionally in Poland last season, looking for his perspective, since he always had one. Reynolds fully enjoyed the White House visit in 2016, calling his group “beyond blessed” to make the trip. He said everyone also remembers the photo of President Reagan with the ’85 ‘Nova champs.
Should Villanova go this time?
“I mean, honestly, I do not think they should go,’’ Reynolds said, making it clear he doesn’t speak for anybody but himself. “I have to be honest and upfront about that. … There doesn’t seem to be a gray area. It’s taken on a issue of, do you agree with the White House? With the last three or four presidents, there obviously would be a ton of gray area. With the Trump administration, there’s a with-us-or-against-us type of feel. I don’t blame any of the players for that. To me, it’s all on the president of the United States.”
If a player wants to go, Reynolds said, he gets it. “Anybody who does want to go, you have to respect that tradition. It’s a great American tradition.”
What else comes into play for Villanova? Do big-time alumni donors get to weigh in? Ultimately, the president of the university obviously has a significant say. Remember, a Villanova contingent recently had an audience with Pope Francis and brought the head basketball coach (but no players) along.
So Villanova goes on the clock, unless another scenario comes into play. Maybe the White House will realize this whole issue, separate from the Trump war with the NFL, isn’t a winner. Maybe this time the invitation never shows up. Let’s bet that Villanova would be all right with that, too. Which is sad in itself.