Pac-12 CEOs have sent a letter to the NCAA questioning the admittance of for-profit schools to Division I, league commissioner Larry Scott told CBSSports.com.
The move seems to target Phoenix-based Division II Grand Canyon University, which would be the first such school admitted to Division I, the NCAA's highest level of membership. The school began transition to D-I on June 1. Grand Canyon will join the WAC in basketball next season and be eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2017-18.
Grand Canyon is a private, Christian-based institution of about 8,500 full-time undergrad students. Division I encompasses more than 340 members. That includes the 125 schools that play FBS (Division I-A) football. The NCAA itself and D-I are not-for-profit, tax-exempt entities.
“It's gotten on the radar of our schools and are trying to raise it as a policy issue as to whether for-profit schools ought to be playing Division I athletics, or not, before there are any,” Scott said. “It's always hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”
The school was been assured by an NCAA official that “he didn't feel like [non-profit status] would have any tangible affect on our membership,” according to Grand Canyon AD Keith Baker.
Grand Canyon is a public-traded company, according to Baker. Yes, it is possible to buy stock in the Antelopes. Obviously, getting access to NCAA basketball tournament financial distribution would help the school's bottom line. Grand Canyon is in the first of four years required for full Division I status.
“We are an investment-based model institution,” Baker said. “Operating as a for-profit model, we don't get tax breaks.”
Scott said the concern among the league's presidents and chancellors arises from such a school being “responsible to financial partners and shareholders. That's the bottom line of accountability.”
The Pac-12 action originated with Arizona State, according to several sources.
"It's not about Grand Canyon,” Scott said. “It's about institutions whether they should be granted membership to Division I. This issue has been flagged by our presidents as something as they think the NCAA board and the membership more broadly ought to really think about just before letting it happen.”
Grand Canyon is seen as key to the WAC moving forward as a basketball-only conference and retaining an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Conference realignment forced the league to no longer sponsor football following last season after 50 years. Multiple sources told CBSSports.com that Pac-12 officials have discussed not playing Grand Canyon in any sport. Scott said there is no formal agreement to do so, but “there have been discussions about it.”
The school has 40,000-45,000 online students, which is not unusual according to Baker. Several schools have large online student populations.
Grand Canyon was founded in 1949, became an NCAA member in 1990 and changed its financial model to become for-profit in 2003. It actually played baseball in the WAC in the 1990s, when schools could play “up” a division.
The basketball program was once an NAIA power coached by Paul Westphal in the 1980s.
An NCAA spokesman didn't immediately return a request for comment.