Behind Bars: Privatized prison to have name on FAU football stadium
If you thought Houston’s Enron Field and Sporting Kansas City’s Livestrong Sporting Park turned into naming rights disasters, Florida Atlantic University could have made the grandfather of all of those deals. More people in south Florida will certainly be talking about the name atop the $70 million stadium rather than its distinction as the only college football venue with a view of the ocean.
FAU affirmed a deal with the private prison corporation GEO Group to name the football facility. The school and company are both stationed in Boca Raton, Fla. Naming rights were included after the company gave a $6 million gift payable during the next 12 years. The donation is the largest in the history of the FAU athletic program and will also be put toward athletic operations, scholarships and academic endeavors.
“We are incredibly grateful for this wonderful gift,” said FAU President Mary Jane Saunders in an FAU news release. “It is so exciting to now have a name for our beautiful stadium, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that than by way of philanthropy.”
A GEO spokesman also called agreement “a commitment to philanthropy and good corporate citizenship” in an email to the New York Times.
FAU has multiple alumni connections with GEO, as company chairman George Zoley earned two degrees from the school and was once the chairman of the Board of Trustees. Four other members of the school’s board have worked for GEO including two past student government presidents.
GEO is probably looking to donate their excess revenue, as it holds more than $3 billion in assets and generated $1.6 billion in 2011 from mostly state and federal prisons and detention centers for illegal immigrants.
The controversial decision comes at a pivotal point for FAU as its teams are looking to make a smooth transition from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA before the next academic year. Like most choices in college athletics though, the deal is driven by the need for profit. FAU doesn’t rely on any state funding for its academic or athletic programs and the NCAA has no involvement in stadium naming rights.
Bob Libal, executive director of the social justice group Grassroots Leadership, said the new name was “like calling something Blackwater Stadium.” Libal’s group is opposed to the privatization of the prison system.
“This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility,” Libal said.