Denver men’s soccer (9-3-5, 4-1-1) has a showdown in the desert against Grand Canyon University (15-3-1) in the first round of the NCAA soccer tournament Thursday night at 7:00 pm MT. The two teams are a story of contrasts, on and off the field.
GCU has used athletics as a brand-builder with the Antelopes developing one of the largest fan bases (the ‘Havocs’) in the country for college soccer and basketball. So what will DU face Thursday night? In a past match, GCU broke the school’s soccer attendance record against Wisconsin, drawing 6,648 fans. It was the largest crowd ever to attend a college soccer match in Arizona. The crowd surpassed capacity at 6,000-seat GCU Stadium. In a recent announcement, GCU is returning to pre-pandemic status for all campus activities and events. So, expect a large crowd in Phoenix for Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament first-round match.
Three years ago, Grand Canyon University lost its legal application to the U.S. Department of Education to be considered a non-profit rather than a for-profit institution to benefit from federal financial aid revenue. GCU filed a legal appeal this past January to overturn that decision. Three other government entities recognize GCU as a non-profit entity. GCU is among several former one-time for-profit institutions that have sought to operate as a nonprofit entity by DOE. GCU goes on to state in a letter to LetsGoDU, “Legally, GCU is a nonprofit entity…DOE has acknowledged that GCU has a legal authority to operate as a non-profit, GCU receives grants as a nonprofit, accepts philanthropic donations as a nonprofit, has NCAA voting rights as a nonprofit and pays taxes as a nonprofit.”
One of the many reasons why Denver exited the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 2013 to join the Summit League was the move by the WAC presidents to accept Grand Canyon University which was seen at the time by some administrators as an online degree mill. The school is still lightly regarded academically, as shown in US News rankings Best Colleges, #299-#391. GCU does not provide university data because they do not think US News rankings are “important to student success.”
Grand Canyon University (GCU) was started in 1949 but over the past 15 years morphed into one of the nation’s largest online educational providers. Over the last decade, GCU has grown to become one of the country’s largest post-secondary institutions, with about 110,000 students (roughly 20,000 attend on-campus courses and 90,000 online).
GCU operates as a partner with a for-profit publicly traded corporation, Grand Canyon Education, Inc. (formerly Significant Education) that bundles services for the university to operate. The university president, Brian Mueller, also serves as the CEO of Grand Canyon Education. All this has created unease, especially among other non-profit universities and their presidents.
West Coast Conference basketball fan forums, especially Gonzaga fans, see GCU as a possible West Coast Conference replacement member for exiting BYU with a proven fanbase, solid basketball RPI, and a major market in Phoenix. WCC university presidents, though likely see GCU as an awkward fit but cannot fully ignore the growing athletic power in the Arizona desert.
Photo courtesy of Inside Higher Ed