Grand Canyon University, a private, for-profit college in Arizona, is moving to the NCAA’s top division after a decade in Division II, and a number of universities out west are raising concerns about it. No one has been louder than Arizona State University president Michael Crow, who has apparently instructed all of his coaches not to schedule games against GCU and has asked the rest of the schools in ASU’s conference, the PAC-12, to do the same.
Crow’s justification for opposing GCU’s admission into Division I, though, is rather ridiculous: he doesn’t think colleges should be “using athletics as a mechanism to make profits,” he told the Arizona Republic:
“It’s about what we want the NCAA to be,” Crow said. “We support any reform possible to enhance the value of the scholar-athletes and meeting higher academic standards. It’s challenging enough to balance academics and athletics. We are against using athletics as a mechanism to make profits. It’s contrary to what we’re trying to do.” […]
“They’re a different sector,” Crow said. “We welcome competition … (but) it’s about what we want the NCAA to be.”
Arizona State is, as a state university, a non-profit. The NCAA is also a non-profit. But the idea that the NCAA and its biggest members are participating in major college athletics as some sort of altruistic mission is quickly evaporating with every lawsuit filed against the organization — if it hadn’t evaporated already. The NCAA is a business and it makes a lot of people a lot of money, from coaches and administrators to bowl and TV executives to video game companies and corporate sponsors. The NCAA had $871.6 million in revenues last year; some of its largest schools brought in more than $120 million of their own. The NCAA may not be a “for-profit” per se, but it is overseeing a big-money business, and anyone like Crow who pretends that profits are “contrary to what we’re trying to do” either isn’t paying attention or is choosing to turn a blind eye to it.
There are plenty of reasons that the NCAA, which still professes to care primarily about the academic achievements of its athletes, should be wary of admitting and promoting for-profit colleges. As an industry, for-profit schools often leave students saddled with debt and without an education — a recent report found that 44 percent of for-profit colleges have more students defaulting on loans than they do graduating. Many for-profits pay exorbitant executive salaries based not on educational outcomes but on corporate profitability.
That may not be the case for Grand Canyon University, but there are legitimate reasons for Crow and NCAA executives to question the inclusion of for-profits. Pretending that the rest of big-time college sports isn’t also in the money-making business, though, isn’t one of them.