PHOENIX — With a $40 million, 5,000-seat arena and Phoenix Suns’ icon Dan Majerle as head coach, Grand Canyon University is set to become the first for-profit school to play NCAA Division I basketball.
As of July 1, the Antelopes left Division II, accepting an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference. That began a four-year waiting period to qualify for NCAA championships in any sport.
“It’s just a logical step for us,” said Keith Baker, Grand Canyon’s athletic director. “It’s something that we had envisioned several years back. Once that (invitation) came, we were at least prepared to start making the steps necessary in order to make it a reality.”
But the Pac-12 Conference and member Arizona State University have voiced concerns about the move, which applies to each of Grand Canyon’s 22 teams, including baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer, with 450 student athletes.
Grand Canyon, a private, Christian school, became for-profit and publicly traded in 2003. In addition to 8,500 students on its west Phoenix campus, the school has 47,000 online students.
In July, Pac-12 presidents and CEOs sent the NCAA a letter that, while not mentioning Grand Canyon, asked for further review of accepting for-profit schools. The letter cited “troubling reports” about how much attention and money for-profit schools commit to athletics and academics.
ASU President Michael M. Crow later told The Arizona Republic that he doesn’t believe in competing in athletics against a for-profit university. Phone messages and an email seeking comment through ASU’s media relations office weren’t returned by Tuesday afternoon.
Brian Mueller, Grand Canyon’s president and CEO, issued a news release at the time saying he had no quarrel with ASU and adding that the school has invested $300 million on classrooms, labs, dorms and athletic facilities over the past four years.
A Pac-12 spokesman said conference officials had no further comment.
Baker said almost all of the interactions he’s had with Pac-12 athletic directors and coaches are supportive of the move to Division I. The only Pac-12 team on the basketball team’s schedule this season is Utah.
“We’re moving forward as if there’s not a controversy,” Baker said. “There’s lots of schools to play.”
He called Majerle’s hiring a “phenomenal” complement to the Division I move.
“It just really adds that little bit of significance to what we’re trying to do here overall,” Baker said.
The basketball team’s first game is a Nov. 1 home exhibition against UC San Diego.
Majerle, who left a job as Suns assistant coach in January, said heading a Division I program was a huge selling point.
“I want to be able to compete at the highest level,” he said. “I’ve done that in the NBA, and now in college there’s nothing better than being a Division I program.”
While Grand Canyon was successful at the Division II level, Majerle said the jump is going to be a challenge.
“I know we’ll compete, but I don’t know how much we’ll win right away,” he said. “It’s a process.”
Junior guard Jerome Garrison, who graduated from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, said the team has been practicing longer and harder in preparation for the move.
“Everything’s just more intense,” Garrison said. “You have to be that way when you’re going to Division I because that’s going to be a fast-paced, strong, explosive game.”
Baker said the athletic department has hired more personnel to handle expanded duties and to improve academic support for athletes.
In addition to the basketball arena, which opened two years ago, the school built a $9 million student recreation center three years ago that doubles as a practice facility for the basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams. Grand Canyon also has made improvements to its baseball, softball and golf facilities, Baker said.
With his face plastered on billboards and aired on commercials, Majerle has been the focal point of the school’s marketing campaign.
This season marks the first time the school has marketed season tickets to the general public rather than just students, alumni and staff, Baker said.
So far, the division jump has had a mixed impact on recruiting, he said.
Recruits value that the school now plays in Division I, he said, but the four years during which teams can’t compete for championships turns some off.
The move didn’t require GCU to add any new sports teams to comply with Title IX, which requires equal participation opportunities for both genders, Baker said.
“I believe one of the largest parts of our invitation was our broad-based offering of sports to begin with,” he said.
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.