A few years ago, an ESPN poll ranked the biggest rivalries in college basketball. Of course, Duke University and the University of North Carolina topped the list. Then came the University of Tennessee and the University of Connecticut women’s teams, then the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

At No. 4: Calvin College and Hope College.

The two Division III Christian schools never make it into the big-time March Madness brackets like the Division I schools listed above. In fact, they rarely get covered on TV and don’t have much name recognition outside of the Midwest or certain church circles. (Calvin happens to be in the national spotlight at the moment, as alumna and donor Betsy DeVos is President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education.)

But even without national prominence, the Knights and the Flying Dutchman are in many ways the quintessential adversaries—demonstrating exactly what makes sports rivalries so exciting. As Christian colleges, they also force us to consider the theological implications of competition in the body of Christ.

In summary:

Hope versus Calvin fills every criterion for what makes any rivalry great—close regional proximity (like Michigan vs. Michigan State), ongoing league and national success (like Duke vs. North Carolina), similar size and academic mission (like Army vs. Navy). But the Hope versus Calvin rivalry adds one more element that other high-profile rivalries don’t, an element that should bind but has over the years divided. It’s ironic really, for it is religion that adds to the zealous nature of the rivalry for all who play and watch.

The two schools stem from a schism among Dutch Reformed settlers in West Michigan. A group split ...

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