Commentary: FAU celebrates naming rights to football stadium while ignoring the jailed elephant in the room

Rolando Rosa

Since opening in fall 2011, FAU football stadium has remained nameless.

Not anymore.

Last Tuesday, FAU held a press conference to announce it reached a $6 million, 12-year naming rights deal with local business GEO Group (founded by CEO and FAU alumnus George Zoley) — a private corrections facility based in Boca.

Yes, you read that correctly.

A prison company will have their name plastered across the stadium.

FAU Athletic Director Pat Chun seems to carry no guilt towards the controversial partnership. It’s almost as if the burden is off his back, regardless of the ensuing jail jokes that haven’t stopped and won’t anytime soon.

“You need someone like the GEO Group, who has a profound understanding of the impacts of giving and giving to a university like FAU,” Chun said.

Money is money, but this can’t be the best offer FAU could have gotten. I know two years is a long time, but patience could have resulted in a deal that didn’t involve, you know, prison. And it could have produced more money.

Just head north a couple hours from campus and you’ll find a suitable example.

UCF received $15 million over 15 years in 2006 for its deal with Bright House Networks, according to Central Florida News.

Meanwhile, do a little research on the GEO group and a litany of shady practices arise. The company has come under fire in recent years for improper treatment of inmates. According to the Palm Beach Post, last June, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed fines totaling $104,100 for violations at a GEO Group prison in Meridian, Miss. And in 2007, USA Today reported inmates staged a two-hour riot at a GEO Indiana prison.

So while the university applauds, here’s where things get interesting. And shady. FAU’s deal with GEO tests the boundaries of ethics.

It’s not comparable to, say, a strip club offering millions for naming rights — Spearmint Rhino Stadium, anyone? — but it’s still a moral headache nonetheless.

Seriously, though, good for Chun for gaining $6 million over 12 years, but is this really the best partnership he could form? Or just the first who offered?

I don’t even care about the run-around I was being told after the press conference. Not one esteemed FAU employee admitted any concern over naming their stadium after a prison company.

“Absolutely not,” FAU president Mary Jane Saunders said. “They’re a wonderful company and we’re very, very proud to be partnered with them.”

Right.

“At the end of the day, they’re going to be responsible citizens, responsible in the local community,” Chun said. “There’s no trepidation about taking this gift at all.”

Okay.

“I don’t think so. They’re huge supporters of FAU,” FAU Student Body President Robert Huffman said. “It’s really cool to see a local company support FAU as much as they do, and see past student government presidents as a part of the company. They’re huge advocates of FAU. It’s really cool.”

Cool, indeed. The right move, though? The best move?

Nope.