Grand Canyon University joins WAC: School’s stock price jumps as its athletics jumps to D-I

Got an iPad? Then you’ve got yourself a basketball team.

In an event that may be a sign of either the times, or the apocalypse, Grand Canyon University announced on Tuesday that its athletic program would be making the jump from the ranks of Division II to the rebuilding Western Athletic Conference.

The move marks the very first time a largely online, for-profit institution for higher education has broken into Division I athletics.

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The publicly traded for-profit, which sports a growing, 6,500-student physical campus in Phoenix, as well as an online enrollment of 42,000, will be the slowly reloading conference’s sixth member when Grand Canyon begins competing in it next fall.

A pep rally was held in the school’s sparkling and new 4,700-seat arena to make the announcement of the move. Like traditional colleges and universities, the place was packed, complete even with a group of shirtless bros — each with one letter painted on their chest to spell the school’s mascot, L-O-P-E-S.

However, instead of a university president or a dean making presiding over the rally, it was the university’s CEO, Brian Mueller.

“A city on the hill cannot be hidden,” Mueller said to cheers. “We need to do something to illuminate” the university’s work, he said, and “athletics will give us a platform to do this.”

The move has been in the works for years, but being a for-profit, Christianity-inclined school with very few actual physical students is, to put things gently, a tough sell. However, the school did everything in its power to make the move happen, including $9.5 million on athletics alone in the past year (still far behind the biggest-time schools; Florida State spent over $80 million last year, for example). When investors purchased the crumbling Grand Canyon College, they poured more than $200 million into the Phoenix campus from the revenue it had accrued through online classwork and students. Further, the investors saw yet another way to turn what had been a remote collegiate experience into a bit more of a traditional one, offering massive discounts to physically present students. Those in Phoenix pay only $7,800 annually compared to $16,500 otherwise.

Call it what you will, the conference realignment that so decimated the nation’s smaller conferences, including the WAC, meant that the stars had aligned for Grand Canyon University.

Following massive defections of bowl-bound football programs Utah State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech (as well as Texas-El Paso and Texas State), the already decimated conference had only three schools to its name heading into next season.

No longer. Although Grand Canyon has no football team, they can still sign up along with Cal State Bakersfield and Utah Valley, and the Ronald McDonald’s Foundation (OK, so we made that last one up, it was just too tempting). The three newbies join New Mexico State, currently 1-10 overall, Idaho, currently without a head football coach, and Seattle University.

It may seem like a weak conference (it definitely is) but it is step in the right direction and sign that the times they are a-chagin’.

On the stock exchange, the school’s ticker name is relative to its mascot, LOPE.

In fact, so big was the announcement of Grand Canyon making the jump to the WAC that its stock rose 4.3 percent.

Is the future of intercollegiate athletics upon us? We’ll have to wait and see, but count the investors running Grand Canyon University as among those who are excited to find out.

What do you think about this, Gamedayr Nation? Is the WAC whack? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sources: Reddit, Inside Higher Ed

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