As GCU completes Division I transition, relationship with Pac-12 remains complicated

GCU’s move to NCAA Division I sports has brought the university a lot of national attention. However, not all of that attention has been good. The relationship between GCU and the PAC-12 remains in a complicated place.
(Photo by Tyler Drake/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Although Grand Canyon’s transition to Division I is complete, its relationship with the Pac-12 remains complicated.

It won’t compete on the playing field this season with Arizona State, which is troubled by GCU’s for-profit status. It will, however, face other conference schools in non-revenue sports. The Antelopes men’s tennis team, for example, opens its season in Tucson on Sept. 23 for the Wildcat Invitational, and the women’s basketball team will host Washington in December.

No conference school plays Grand Canyon in men’s basketball this season although Arizona did play the Antelopes last year.

The University of Oregon is among the schools that is not scheduled to play GCU.

“We have had no discussions (with) Grand Canyon regarding scheduling,” said Jimmy Stanton, Oregon’s senior associate athletic director of communication, in an email.

In August, ASU president Michael Crow reiterated his concerns about Pac-12 teams competing against a for-profit university.

“There was an occasion a few years ago where executives from Grand Canyon were talking about how playing on the PAC-12 Network would improve their stock price,” Crow said. “That didn’t go over very well. We’re not interested in increasing the stock price of a company. We are interested in playing other college teams.”

GCU responded with a statement from university president Brian Mueller refuting Crow’s accusations that the move was based on money.

“Nowhere in my statement did I make a reference to stock value,” Mueller said. “Division I athletics raise the profile of every institution and for ASU’s president to make assumptions about our motives because of our for-profit status is discriminatory and completely inappropriate.”

GCU was just granted Division I active membership by the NCAA after a four-year probationary period. The status now makes the Lopes eligible for the Western Athletic Conference tournament, in addition to any NCAA tournaments.

Grand Canyon was not always a for-profit university. In 2004, nearing bankruptcy and running out of options, the university made the switch in order to gain the necessary capital to keep the doors open. In 2008, the university became publicly traded, becoming the first for-profit university that allowed investors to purchase and exchange stock.

In recent years, GCU attempted to convert back to a non-profit university but its efforts proved to be unsuccessful. The campaign to become a non-profit ended in 2016 after the Higher Learning Commission Board deferred the application.