No one has entered the Division I ranks with more controversy than Grand Canyon University. By now I'm sure you've heard about the for-profit, Phoenix based school transitioning to the highest level of college basketball and joining the WAC.
I'm sure you've also heard the stir between the for-profit school, the Pac-12, and the NCAA. Simply put, the presidents of the Pac-12 feel like there is no place in intercollegiate athletics for a for-profit school, as Arizona State president Michael Crow recently commented:
A university using intercollegiate athletics to drive up its stock value -- that's not what we're about. If someone asked me, should we play the Pepsi-Cola Company in basketball? The answer is no. We shouldn't be playing for-profit corporations.
I get the overarching debate with Grand Canyon and I have to agree with the Pac-12 that for-profit colleges should not have a future in the NCAA. I even have a problem with some universities, like Liberty, becoming a financial machine via online degrees. It seems like the very pillars that college athletics is supposed to stand for could quickly get lost (and yes I realize the irony in this with the behavior of big schools and the NCAA).
There should be another debate in the "Valley of the Sun" beyond a moral debate on the Antelopes place in the NCAA. Why was Russ Pennell fired?
Pennell coached Grand Canyon for four years. He lead the Antelopes to a 72-44 record and a 42-16 record the past two years, but of which featured an NCAA tournament appearance. He has a traditional background as a coach, as he was an assistant and interim head coach at Arizona and was also an assistant at Arizona State, Ole Miss, and Oklahoma State. Let's just say Grand Canyon should've been happy to have Pennell.
With his team on the verge of a NCAA transition, Pennell started to hear rumors about his future and was told the night before his NCAA Tournament game against Seattle Pacific that he would no longer be the Antelopes coach when the season ended. Word seemed to trickle down throughout the team and 'Lopes lost by 26 points.
"Some things leaked out. The message I told them (the team) is that life is not always fair," he said. "Life sometimes hits you with some hard stuff. It's how you handle that that's important." via AZ Central.
Just two days later Grand Canyon hired Phoenix Suns legend Dan Majerle. Majerle has an impressive resume as a player, but his coaching resume didn't even come close to that of Pennell's. Majerle has been part of the Suns organization as an assistant since 2008, but that's it.
If you're transitioning to Division I who would you rather have? A coach who is a proven winner with tremendous ties to the state you play in or a former NBA player whose prime was nearly 20 years go and whose name will likely not resonate with anyone under thirty years old.
What happened to Pennell was wrong and one man is to blame, Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo is the former owner of the Phoenix Suns and a friend of Dan Majerle. He has a vested interest in Grand Canyon and is pulling the strings when it comes to athletics for the Antelopes.
Colangelo put a good coach on the street and he made a decision of a CEO rather than that of an athletic director. Clearly the move was premeditated and probably has been for quite some time. It's a move that was made to get PR, not to win basketball games. Which brings me back to Michael Crow's point...this was a move to sell stock not to win basketball games.
If this is the way a for-profit college is going to introduce themselves into the Division I ranks then they have no place in Division I athletics.