Pac-12’s Stance Against Grand Canyon Is Laughably IronicPosted by Chris Johnson on July 23rd, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
In a letter signed by league presidents and directed to the NCAA’s Executive Cmmittee on July 10, the Pac-12 voiced its unanimous opposition to the Division I promotion of Grand Canyon University, the first for-profit institution to, in essence, enter the college sports big leagues. The presidents laid out their opinion in clear, unmistakable, vehement tones. They want Grand Canyon out of Division I because Grand Canyon isn’t like other Division I schools. “Our major concern is how athletics fit within academic missions of for-profit universities,” read the letter. The presidents’ concerns are not unfounded – Grand Canyon is on the vanguard of for-profit schools entering Division I (the school began its transition process from Division II on July 1, and will be eligible for the NCAA Tournament as a member of the decaying WAC conference in 2017-18; Grand Canyon does not have a football team.) Anytime something new breaks into the college sports lexicon – or any major field of interest, really – there are going to be questions. There’ll be detractors, too, and the Pac-12 is leading this particular faction with a determined conviction to block Grand Canyon’s move. There’s no going back now.
I just have one question: Did all of the Pac-12’s presidents just sleep through the past three years of conference realignment? Because it almost seems that way. I mean, how else can you rationalize a group of D-I presidents who, in the wake of almost three years of non-stop financially-driven realignment, openly question whether a program is doing something in the service of its own “academic mission?” What did the recent realignment frenzy tell us, if not that schools have absolutely zero regard for their “academic missions” or decades-old rivalries or cultural fit or geographic common sense or anything else not related to a program’s bottom line, when making major decisions about their place in the college sports landscape? Did the constantly shifting allegiances, the explicitly discussed dollars-fueled realignment moves, the near-implosion of a Big Six conference, not say anything about the incentives of major college sports programs? Money, bundled in TV contracts and broadcast rights deals, was the wind blowing conference realignment’s sails, and while the league-hopping drama may have reached a temporary stasis, the whole ordeal left a distinct impression about the way modern college sports are governed. The motivation is clear: Get money now and deal with everything else later.
That’s why the Pac-12’s decision to challenge whether Grand Canyon’s Division I athletics are being used as a means to enhance publicly traded stock value – and not for, as Grand Canyon CEO and president Bill Mueller told Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel, “a more vibrant campus experience.” – is one of the most dumbfoundingly tone-deaf stances of all-time. Remember: Scott himself was in negotiations to make Texas – Texas! – its flagship addition in a proposed 16-team mega-conference at the height of realignment frenzy two years ago. The old halcyon days of conference unity and natural geographic-based rivalry hate and academic like-mindedness were effectively vaporized over the past few years of conference-shifting madness. When schools talk about “academic missions” and athletics’ place in the “fabric of higher education” these days (the same tired axioms used in the letter Pac-12 presidents wrote to subvert Grand Canyon’s admission into Division I) they do so under a veil of greed and cash-motivated ulterior motives. Everybody acknowledges this.
If anything, the resistance feels more like a one-man crusade than conference-wide opposition. Arizona State president Michael Crow has been especially vocal in his discontent with Grand Canyon’s promotion, and it’s hard not to think some of that sentiment is a product of ASU’s desire to remain the only Division I institution in the Phoenix market. Throwing Grand Canyon into the D-I mix, however small or seemingly insignificant though the move may seem, is a direct infringement upon ASU’s proverbial turf.
The real reasons behind the Pac-12’s expressed displeasure with Division I’s first for-profit entity may never be explained publicly. Scott and the presidents may well be concerned with Grand Canyon’s “academic mission” or the uncomfortable dynamic of a public institution responding to the whims of private shareholders, and it’s not unreasonable to think the Pac-12 might take issue with for-profit institutions more generally, if not Grand Canyon specifically, becoming sanctioned members of Division I. But before the league’s schools raise the red flag, they should pay mind to one important thing: Everything we’ve come to know and love about college sports is – whether implicitly or otherwise – completely and undeniably “profit”-oriented. College sports is big business; we might as well be honest with ourselves when schools try to pretend their motives are guided by anything other than their bank account receipts. Adding Grand Canyon is merely the next step forward in a completely “for-profit” college sports world.