The University of Phoenix—one of the largest for-profit colleges in the country—has taken advantage of thousands of students and veterans, directly contributing to the student debt crisis that has left 40 million Americans in debt. It’s been subject to multiple investigations for its predatory business practices, put on probation by the Department of Defense for its aggressive recruitment of service members and veterans, sued by shareholders, and investigated by the SEC. Oh, and the NCAA decided to hold the 2017 Men’s Basketball Final Four and Championship at the University of Phoenix stadium (where the Arizona Cardinals play their home games)—guaranteeing exorbitant amounts of free advertising and mentions for the predatory institution.
The NCAA—which oversees hundreds of thousands of student-athletes, some of whom are on scholarship, but many of whom are accumulating debt as they pursue their athletic and academic goals—has the opportunity to make this right. It can move the location of the Final Four to a stadium without connections to a for-profit college that prioritizes earnings over education.
This move wouldn’t be an unprecedented show of social consciousness from an athletic regulatory body. Far from it, in fact.
Last week, the NBA announced it was moving the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina, as a means to put pressure on the state over a discriminatory piece of legislation known as HB2. HB2 came to prominence earlier this year for denying transgender people access to the bathroom that fits their gender identity, but includes a host of other discriminatory measures against LGBTQ people and other marginalized populations. The NCAA, too, took action, announcing they’d begin asking prospective host cities of its championships “to specifically outline how they will protect participants and spectators from discrimination.”
This month, WNBA teams protested police brutality by wearing black warm-up shirts and turning their jerseys inside-out, accepting the fines levied unto them by the league, only to have those fines overturned later. At this year’s ESPYs, the sporting world equivalent to the Oscars, superstars like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony opened the ceremony with a call to action to end gun violence and police brutality, standing in de facto solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Activism among professional athletics is not a new phenomenon. Names like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tommie Smith and John Carlos immediately come to mind as figures whose stature in the athletic universe stands just as tall as in the activist space. For a while, though, it seemed as if prominent athletes willfully opted to stay quiet, adhering to the status quo so as to not disrupt their own good fortune. But it is that line of thinking – especially in the frame of the now-infamous Michael Jordan quip, “Republicans buy sneakers, too” – that makes this resurgence in athletes taking political stands all the more compelling. To be sure, MJ broke his silence this week, saying he was “deeply troubled” by the recent episodes of violence in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas.
All of these recent examples have drawn ire from folks declaiming that politics and sport should be separated. But that reasoning is ahistorical: politics and sports are traditionally intertwined, burnished by a strong, storied history of athletes who recognize their enormous platform and influence and take on their own brand of activism. And with this re-recognition of the realm of sport as catalysts for political awareness and change, at least some of our collective attention should be on the NCAA as well.
The University of Phoenix has taken advantage of thousands of students, investing more in advertising than in the education of their students, encouraging veterans to take bad loans so that they can take GI Bill benefits, and being so good at being bad that they even landed on a Department of Defense watch-list for their predatory practices. In the interest of students, the NCAA shouldn’t encourage predatory colleges like the University of Phoenix with business from the Final Four and Championship games in 2017. The NCAA should take a stand on the student debt crisis by denying predatory institutions like the University of Phoenix business.
While many are of the opinion that-profit colleges are a cost-effective alternative to more traditional means of attaining more education, we see that for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix are debt mining unsuspecting and vulnerable students who are trying to create a better life for themselves.
The student debt crisis is an intensifying issue that has profound effects on an increasing amount of young people. The NCAA can send a message to predatory institutions like the University of Phoenix by changing the location of the Final Four games for 2017 from the University of Phoenix stadium to a place that doesn’t fuel the irresponsible practices of for-profit educational institutions.
What brought the WNBA together to protest police shootings of black people, what compelled the NBA to drop North Carolina as its site for the All-Star Game, and what brought politics center stage at the biggest night in sports, was a collective understanding that things are bad, really bad, and that substantive change will only be had when we recognize who’s in the wrong and work together toward a common goal. Issues stemming from systemic racial oppression are different than the systemic classist exploitation evident in the predatory practices of for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix but it’s clear that there is an appetite—dare I say, a need—for socially conscious consumption.
The NBA said no to hate when it pulled the All-Star game from North Carolina; the WNBA realized its folly in fining players for speaking out on a clear and salient social issue. The NCAA should follow suit and stand up for the hundreds of thousands of students it represents, and pull their Final Four from the University of Phoenix stadium.