ASU men's basketball should play GCU

GCU's rising team would be good competition for the Sun Devils

Situated just 16 miles west of ASU’s Tempe campus, Grand Canyon University is one of ASU’s closest neighbors. While the two schools often compete against each other in academic contests, they have yet to become rivals in sports.

Next year, GCU men’s basketball will finally be eligible to participate in the NCAA tournament after transitioning into Division I. This makes GCU the first for-profit school to ever earn this eligibility.

GCU’s athletic program has risen significantly in recent years, namely in basketball. Led by head coach Dan Majerle, who formerly played for the Phoenix Suns, GCU boasted a top-35 recruiting class last season and received a vote in The Associated Press top-25 basketball poll. In the past two seasons, the Antelopes went an impressive 24-6 and 22-9, placing them in the top three of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) both times.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that we’ll see an ASU v. GCU showdown any time soon.

ASU has been consistent in its refusal to play GCU or any for-profit school for a long time. Michael Crow, president of ASUsaid to The Arizona Republic in 2013 when GCU began its probationary period in Division I, "It's challenging enough to balance academics and athletics. We are against using athletics as a mechanism to make profits. It's contrary to what we're trying to do."

However, this is not an entirely valid excuse in a country where sports are constantly used to market colleges and universities, whether or not the school is for-profit.

“Michael Crow’s stance is that GCU shouldn’t be using their athletic department to market themselves,” said Connor Pelton, managing editor at House of Sparky

“But really, when you tour ASU they give you a pamphlet and the first thing you see is Sun Devil Stadium. Schools all use their athletic programs to show what they’re about, and GCU is doing the same thing. Just because they’re a for-profit school, I don’t think there’s much of a difference there.”

It is not uncommon that a school’s academic reputation is outweighed by its athletic reputation, which is ultimately just a way for the school to profit in that good sports programs entice both prospective athletes and non-athletes

“You think of Alabama, you think of football,” Pelton said. “You think of Ohio State, you think of football. You think of Duke, you think of basketball. You’re not going to think about academics right off the bat.”

The Pac-12 includes a lot of big names, such as University of California, Los Angeles, and Oregon State University, whose sports teams reach the news more often than their academic programs do. 

All schools, for-profit and not, use their impressive athletic programs to draw in prospective students, players, coaches, donors and sponsors. While ASU and other schools in Division I may not be for-profit institutions, they certainly profit from marketing their athletic departments.

It seems unfair for ASU to refuse to play GCU over the distinction between nonprofit and for-profit when every school, ASU included, markets its athletic department to get financial support in the form of revenues, donations, sponsorships and student tuition.

Other schools are not as against playing GCU. This season, GCU men’s basketball competed against a number of big names like Pennsylvania State University, Duke University and ASU’s Pac-12 arch rival UA.

Regardless, if ASU and more teams in the Pac-12 were to be open to scheduling games against GCU, the Antelopes wouldn’t have a hard time keeping up. With its talented coaching staff and rising program, GCU could become a tough competitor.

“GCU could definitely beat ASU or any Pac-12 team in a single game,” Pelton said. “They’re not going to be a better program top-to-bottom yet just because they’re in the WAC and not the Pac-12, but they’re a strong team and they’re getting stronger.”

Beyond being a potential threat to other Pac-12 teams, GCU could become a new rival for the Sun Devils.

ASU already has its deep-rooted rivalry with UA and plays for The Territorial Cup every year, but GCU is even closer than the Wildcats in Tucson. Especially with GCU’s unexpectedly large and outspoken fan base, there’s certainly enough spirit on both sides to create an exciting new rivalry.

Although it’s unlikely that we’ll see these two teams face off in the near future, should it happen there’s no doubt that it would be a thrilling sight to see.


Reach the columnist at alexwolfe3098@gmail.com or follow @alexandrawolfe_ on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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