What does it mean to be a Christ-centered athletic department?
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Way back in the winter, I flew out to Phoenix to spend a few days with the Grand Canyon University athletic department. Over the course of our conversations about student sections, enrollment growth, conference realignment and university alignment, GCU AD Jamie Boggs and university president Brian Mueller made one of their department goals very clear to me...something I don't hear from administrators very often.
They both told me they want Grand Canyon University to have a Christ-centered athletic department.
Now, Grand Canyon is unapologetically a Christian institution, so that goal certainly makes sense. But what does that actually mean?
I say this not as a troll or as a sarcastic remark, but even after thinking about this for months, I'm not certain what Christ would even think about big-time college athletics. Would he approvingly look on at how intercollegiate sport can unite communities, serve as missionary vehicles and break down cultural barriers? Would he be put off by the violence, corruption and spectacle? Before anybody writes this off as the musings of some out of touch liberal, this was not an uncommon concern among some Christian leaders in the early 20th century.
Even setting aside that for a moment, are there lessons from Christian teachings that should be applied to how an athletic department approaches NIL? College sports reform?
I've asked several ADs at Christian colleges about this over the last year, as well as a few pastor friends, and whatever LDS missionaries happen to be eating at my house. I can't say any of them have reached a consensus, which may very well be fine. They're hard questions!
At GCU, both Boggs and Mueller told me that one way they seek to build and maintain a Christ-centered athletic department is through a focus on service: service to their fellow students, students to their Phoenix neighbors and community members, and to the world at large. Constantly reminding their athletes (and coaches) that they are a part of something larger than themselves certainly feels in line with Biblical teaching as I understood it.
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