Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: What does Grand Canyon add to the WCC after accepting invite?

WCC Adds Grand Canyon University for 2025 Basketball season
Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University / Sam Wasson/GettyImages

The remarkable renaissance of Grand Canyon University and its athletic programs took another step forward today after the university officially accepted an invitation to join the West Coast Conference beginning in the 2025-26 academic year. 

GCU, which was near bankruptcy less than two decades ago, is now the largest private Christian university in the country and is the only NCAA Division I university with its main campus in Phoenix, the fifth largest city in the U.S.

Membership of the WCC is in a tight Western footprint that consists of private, faith-based and service-oriented institutions in California, Oregon and Washington. GCU will join nine existing members: Gonzaga, LMU, Pacific, Pepperdine, Portland, Saint Mary’s, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara. Joining GCU in transitioning from the WAC to the WCC on the same timeline is Seattle U.

The WCC provides increased television exposure, lower travel costs with less travel time for student-athletes and a strong presence within GCU’s geographic footprint. 

The WCC has also become a multiple-bid conference for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament due to the quality of programs within the conference. In the 2024 NCAA tournament, 12th-seeded GCU defeated WCC champion and fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s in the first round for its first-ever victory in the D-I tournament before falling in the second round to eventual Final Four team Alabama. GCU has represented the WAC in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in three of the past four years. 

The conference’s strength does not stop with men’s basketball, as the WCC is frequently a multi-bid conference in a variety of sports. In the last four years, the conference has sent multiple representatives to the NCAA tournament in 36 of 54 opportunities for the 14 sports GCU will compete in. 

With over 25,000 students on its 300-acre Phoenix campus and another 92,000 studying online, GCU’s ascension as an academic institution is exemplified by the nearly 30,000 graduates it has produced each of the past three years. Since 2008, the university has tripled the number of academic programs, emphases and certificates to over 300 and expanded the number of colleges from 4 to 10 by focusing its curriculum on high-growth job fields such as engineering, computer science, cybersecurity and business while also making significant investments to address nationwide workforce shortages in areas such as teaching, nursing and counseling.

GCU’s enrollment growth has occurred while also raising admissions standards, with incoming GPAs of approximately 3.6 each of the past six years. In addition, GCU’s Honors College has grown to 3,000 students with average incoming GPAs of 4.1. 

After successful completion of a four-year transition to Division I, GCU has been postseason-eligible since 2017-18. In those seven short years, 12 of GCU’s programs have sent teams to the NCAA postseason, while five more programs have qualified individual competitors for NCAA Championships. In 2023-24, GCU finished the season ranked or is actively ranked in the top 100 nationally in all eight sports that utilize the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index or NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings. 

Of GCU’s 21 sports, 14 will make their new home in the WCC. The conference does not sponsor men’s volleyball, swimming and diving or track and field. Men’s volleyball will continue to compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, where the Lopes recently captured a conference tournament title and reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. GCU’s process of evaluating conference options for swimming and diving and track and field is well underway.

The WCC has a multi-year media rights agreement with ESPN and CBS Sports Network. Lopes fans can continue watching conference games on ESPN+. In men’s basketball, ESPN televises 17 regular-season games on linear networks and CBS Sports Network televises up to 12. Six games from the WCC Basketball Tournaments — also played at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas — air on ESPN linear channels. Four games in other sports will be televised on an ESPN channel. 

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For the 2024-25 academic year, GCU will continue to compete in the WAC before transitioning to the WCC on July 1, 2025.