April 02, 2022

Haley Smilow

Here’s how success of GCU sports helps boost academics

With new Head Coach Bryce Drew at the helm, Grand Canyon University (GCU) men’s basketball made its first March Madness in 2021. That brought attention from across the country to the school and to the GCU sports programs. “Everyone knew our team in the bracket,” Cole Baker, the vice president of the student section named Havocs, says . “We would walk out in Indianapolis, and they were like ‘Hey GCU, we are rooting for you guys. Win the game.’”

Historically the University began as a division II school. In 2013, the lopes devised a plan to move the school to a Division I institution. “I’ve been through transitions before and there was always pushback,” Athletic Director Jamie Boggs says. “Here, the response has always been ‘how can I help?’”


READ ALSO: Most Influential Women: Jamie Boggs, GCU


The Lopes had to prove the school would be able to support the transition as a university. The budget, resources and academics all had to be up to the standard, which required the help of the whole GCU family. After a four-year transition, in 2017, GCU was granted active membership into division I and started competing in the Western Athletic Conference.

In a final push to help GCU become a division I school, the “10 in 2” program was implemented in which $1 billion was invested into the University to build ten new athletic facilities in two years. The facilities included GCU Stadium, a baseball stadium, a softball stadium, a beach volleyball stadium and a tennis facility, all located on campus. The investment also helped build new classrooms, laboratories and residence halls. “It helped shed light on the great things happening at our campus,” Boggs says.

Now with roughly 23,500 on-campus students, 27 residence halls and 15 athletic facilities, GCU continues to carry out its mission – preparing students to become global citizens through challenging and value-based curriculum all through the eyes of Christianity.

GCU women’s basketball coach Molly Miller led the school to its first NIT appearance this season.

“Our students spend less than the cost it takes to attend a state university and way less than a private university,” GCU President Brian Mueller says . “We wanted to put in place a new economic model and financial model that would make private and, in our case, Christian higher education affordable to all socioeconomic classes.”

At GCU, they focus on the four C’s – community, collaboration, continuous improvement and Christian leadership. In athletics, a fifth C is added Championships, but the other four C’s come first. Boggs, Drew and Mueller all explained that the recent athletic success is just a small window into what is happening at GCU.

“The school has to have a reputation of integrity and respect itself,” Drew explains . “Then I think sports can enhance that if they’re successful.” Mueller adds, “We do athletics for three reasons: it’s an educational experience for our athletes,  a way to demonstrate excellence for the University and thirdly, it helps build community.”    

Community is part of what helps make GCU — GCU. Everyone is treated on the same level, from the honors students to the athletes. They all share residence halls, classrooms and Lopes spirit. “Everyone loves the sports and the athletics here and they support it,” basketball player Gabe McGlothan says . “It’s great to be at a place where you feel loved and cared for all the time.”

The Havoc leaders Cole Baker and Joshua Gillespie described multiple times in class where they were asked to give game recaps or previews during men’s basketball season. However, the love goes beyond just basketball – it’s a cultural thing with  a unique spirit. “If I lined up ten GCU students and asked them what they like best about GCU, they would say we love the community,” Mueller says .

The rise of GCU athletics programs in top 20 spots has highlighted a university founded on Christian values, community and improvement and gives a small window into private Christian education.