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Blurring the Lines: Grand Canyon University Edition

Allegedly, PAC 12 officials are attempting to block for-profit, publicly traded Grand Canyon University attempts to fully participate in Division I athletics.

The WAC tries a new trick. The PAC 12 insists they attempt it without a net.
The WAC tries a new trick. The PAC 12 insists they attempt it without a net.

From TaxProf Blog quoting AZCentral

Grand Canyon University President and CEO Brian Mueller said he believes Arizona State President Michael Crow is leading an effort by Pac-12 CEOs to try to block the school’s move into NCAA Division I athletics. Mueller said he felt inclined to open up after reported that Pac-12 CEOs had sent a letter to the NCAA questioning whether a for-profit university should be allowed to compete in Division I athletics.

First, let's get the requisite logical fallacy out of the way. These are Pac 12 officials, who in the most egregious cases (according to the TaxProf link), are compensated between 390k and 1.9 million for approximately 1 hour of work per week. They are bleating about about the profit motive of others. Allow that to ring hollow for a moment. Yes, these are exceedingly well compensated individuals whose direct impact on the academic mission of their respective universities falls somewhere below the average graduate teaching assistant. Their logic, at least as presented by those like ASU's Michael Crow, is that the financial windfalls coming from college athletics should only benefit universities (and through them, the students) and their staff - rather than outside financiers. There's something about these types of individuals leading the charge that causes even those commentators otherwise sympathetic to the concerns of major universities to shout "Tu QuoQue!"

But let's put the tar and feathers aside for a moment. Publicly traded, for profit companies inherently have different concerns than the state-supported or the majestically privately-endowed institutions that comprise the PAC 12. But that doesn't make those concerns illegitimate. The illegitimacy of those concerns, if they are illegitimate, seems to arise from the line was drawn. Ultimately, Grand Canyon will have to abide by NCAA rules and regulations, and will live and die based on its ability to bill for education. Given that, the playing field seems relatively level.

Grand Canyon doesn't have a football program, so the single biggest earner in college athletics is off the table. No sheiks will arrive to transform the Grand Canyon football team into a desert version of Man City. The sports in which Grand Canyon participates are revenue negative at most universities, and they would be fiscally irrational for a for profit company if the indirect benefits didn't outweigh the direct costs. Contrary to the implications made by PAC officials, the shareholder buzz and dividends attributable to women's soccer will not cause a dramatic shift in share prices.

Ultimately, don't most universities justify their significant outlays on athletics as moves to facilitate "member participation" and "brand awareness"? I have deep rooted concerns about the intersection of guaranteed federally guaranteed loan money, state and federal tax laws, publicly traded for-profit universities, and the ability of potential students to understand the opaque value cases made by all higher educational institutions. I do not consider myself a friend to for-profit education, and certainly don't believe that "publicly traded" status will be a cure-all in an industry rife with moral hazard. But I don't find myself agreeing with the PAC 12 officials.

If, indeed, there is a case to be made that for-profits represent a threat to the educational and financial futures of their students and the American taxpayer, aren't the more appropriate attack venues in the marketplace and the legislative halls? If a primary educational goal of athletics is fostering a better understanding of competition, why are these officials resorting to ineffectual and crassly anti-competitive tactics? Or am I missing something?