Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”

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These articles show-up every now and then.  I’ve written about them here and here and here.

Here is a taste of J. Brady McCollough’s long-form piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Signs offering football ticket discounts cover the campus, and posters of the team’s new coach, Hugh Freeze, encourage the effort to “Rise With Us.” Clearly, there is room at Liberty for the country’s Saturday religion.

Falwell Sr. had a vision of Liberty being for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons, and the newest team in major college football is not subtle with its imagery. The Flames wear red, white and blue. Their mascot is a bald eagle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some thoughts:

  1. This article is mostly about football.  Liberty’s quest to become an evangelical Notre Dame is never framed in terms of academics, intellectual life, or research.  At one point in the article, McCollough says, “To be a worthwhile university, Jerry Falwell Jr. thought, you needed to have two elements at the front: music and athletics.”  Really?
  2. Liberty University, with its vast resources, could be evangelicalism’s best chance at developing a serious research university.  But it won’t happen until the university offers tenure for faculty, invests money in faculty research, and broadens the doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty.  Falwell Jr.’s is not committed to these things.  In fact, the president’s rabid support for Donald Trump has seriously damaged any such advance and has probably set it back a few decades.
  3. Will Liberty University ever become the “evangelical Notre Dame” in football?  I doubt it.  I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.  I could be wrong about this, but Liberty will never be anything more than a mid-major football program. Sure, they will occasionally pull-off an upset victory (remember Appalachian State and, more recently, Georgia State), but this will not make them a perennial power.  (Update: Syracuse shut-out Liberty on Saturday).

5 thoughts on “Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”

  1. You may be right, Rustbelt. But I wonder how many of these Tim Tebow-types could handle the rules and regulations at Liberty. I once had a devout evangelical student who ran Division I Cross Country at a Big East school in his freshman year. He did not like the party atmosphere at the school so he transferred to Liberty where he could be in a Christian environment and still run at a D I level. When he arrived at Liberty’s campus for the start of his sophomore year, he realized just how many rules he would need to follow (curfew, dress code, etc….) and he left after three days. He transferred to Messiah College and had a very successful D 3 Cross County career. I would like to know if Liberty football players have to conform to the same rules as others at the university. My hunch is that they do have to conform, but I could be wrong. This might prevent some evangelicals from attending. Perhaps a Liberty student or faculty member could chime in here.

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  2. Yes, Ron. I have seen this before at Christian colleges and universities. The athletes are recruited to play sports and are often segregated from the rest of the institution.

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  3. In my reading of the article, there is no intention to recruit Evangelical Christians for the football team. They had three spiritual levels for players. None of them included a committed Christian. They were about their potential to become Christian. And one of those was no potential. I believe the author is just showing another way that Falwell is willing to sell his soul for earthly renown.

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  4. John: could you briefly expand on what you mean by Liberty needing to “broaden doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty”? Are you talking about a more (small c) catholic approach that would permit a wider range of Christian scholars with more diverse theological views?

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  5. “I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.” I disagree with that one. With a couple of notable exceptions (Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield), the top players in the country are typically presented as God-fearing, church-attending straight arrows. The best player this year might be Jalen Hurts, which also proves my point.

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