Florida Atlantic has withdrawn from its stadium naming-rights deal with for-profit prison operators Geo Group. This is a historic moment: we've finally found an industry too shady even for college sports.
“You’re sure it’s not an April Fool’s joke?” asked Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership, who signed Monday’s opposition letter.
Graduate student Anole Halper was equally stunned, and her voice audibly bounced with excitement.
“I can’t believe this happened,” Halper said. “We’re so glad to hear that our university has decided to do what’s right.”
The deal was almost universally condemned when it was announced back in February. Florida Atlantic would receive $6 million, spread out over 12 years, to rename its football stadium Geo Group Stadium, after the multinational prison corporation run by an FAU alumnus and former member of the school's board of trustees. In return, the university would receive all the negative attention in the world.
"Owlcatraz," as it quickly became known, came in for criticism everywhere from the New York Times to The Colbert Report. Regular student protests followed, including one last week where the university president struck a student with her car while fleeing the wrong way down a one-way street to escape demonstrators.
It wasn't just the distasteful association with a company that got rich off of imprisoning people, especially juveniles and immigrants. Geo Group has repeatedly been accused of human rights abuses, including a series of lawsuits over dead prisoners, inhumane conditions and substandard medical care. Soon after the naming-rights deal was announced, a Geo Group spokesperson attempted to delete the allegations from the company's Wikipedia page.
The revelations, or at least the realization that the bad press wasn't going away, led Geo Group and FAU to scuttle the deal. Last night, both entities sent out releases announcing the agreement was off.
"What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO's goodwill to financially assist the University's athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations," GEO Group Chairman and CEO George Zoley said in a news release announcing the decision.
It took FAU two years to get a naming-rights deal for the stadium, and now it's back to square one. The university had budgeted $400,000 a year for naming rights, so you'd assume it's getting fairly desperate. So if you've got a company that could use some exposure, and your company's not outwardly evil, you might want to give Florida Atlantic a call.