Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton announced last week a deal to sell the naming rights to its football stadium, a not-uncommon solution for universities and cities everywhere looking to pay off expensive infrastructure (come to think of it, the naming rights for just about anything are up for grabs these days).
The new name for the Owls’ two-year-old, $70 million home football field? GEO Group Stadium, which sounds innocuous enough. That’s got to be a consulting firm or a private equity group. Right? Here is how the university introduced the company in its accompanying press release last week:
The GEO Group is the first fully integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, financing, development, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities around the globe.
GEO Group is a private prison conglomerate, a business that would seem somewhat incompatible with the goals of a public university (it also seems particularly incompatible with the desired image of college football, which works mightily hard to disassociate its athletes from police lineups).
Students on the campus, not surprisingly, are protesting the move. And we can think of at least three reasons why they should be ticked. We’re hard-pressed to imagine any piece of public infrastructure – campus buildings, bridges, bus stops – that would reasonably be named after a private prison company. This private prison company has also been accused of violating human rights. And – the final rub – it’s not even offering the university that much money. The “gift” is worth $6 million… to be paid over 12 years. That sum would barely buy you one season from a top-notch coach in college football today.
Infrastructure naming rights are often a touchy topic. But this would probably be a good rule of thumb: Avoid associating yourself with the prison-industrial complex, even if the donor is an alum.
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