ASU sports aren’t in it to win it

ASU baseball’s season came to a heart-wrenching end on Saturday in San Luis Obispo, California, as the team’s junior right fielder, Trever Allen, struck out looking with the tying and winning runs on base.

Baseball’s early regionals losses to lower-seeded Pepperdine and Sacramento State came just two weeks after the Sun Devil softball team dropped two games in a row to Michigan, ending its postseason run at the regionals stage as well.

And those are typically the University’s best sports.

It’s been a disappointing year overall for ASU athletics. The football team had its first 10-win season since 2007 and secured its first Pac-12 South title, but then dropped the conference championship to Stanford in a 38-14 blowout and the Holiday Bowl to Texas Tech in a 37-23 upset.

Men’s basketball fared even worse, leaving the NCAA tournament after one game, which it lost to Texas. Women’s volleyball, which looked like the University’s dream team for much of the fall, exceeded expectations but also lost in the first round of its tournament.

ASU’s achieved moderate success in many of its sports, and it’s certainly not the worst at anything. It’s commendable that many of the University’s sports made it to the postseason this year after past mediocre performances, but that doesn’t fit in with the University’s apparent goal of being No. 1 in all things.

When The State Press editorial board met with University President Michael Crow in fall 2013, he discussed ASU’s goals for academic and athletic dominance.

“The institution strives for its academic identity, but it also strives to play Stanford University in the Pac-12 championship game on national television,” he said. “… We’d like to compete against Stanford in every possible way.”

However, he noted that the University wouldn’t take the same approach to athletics as other schools, like the University of Texas. Texas, the new home of former ASU athletics director Steve Patterson, pays its football coach about $5 million a year, according to the Austin Business Journal. Patterson, meanwhile, is making $1.4 million at UT Austin, opposed to the $450,000 a year he brought in here.

The Arizona Board of Regents will vote Thursday and Friday on whether to extend head football coach Todd Graham’s current five-year contract another year, in the process raising his salary to $2.7 million. Graham is projected to be the fifth-highest paid coach in the Pac-12, behind the coaches at UCLA, Washington, Stanford and USC.

“We’re not trying to become what’s called the quote-unquote arms race in college athletics,” Crow said. “We’re not in it; we don’t want to be in it. We want to win without being in it, if you get my drift there.”

ASU doesn’t need to win multiple tournaments or become an athletic powerhouse like schools in the SEC. What it does need to do is figure out its identity as an institution, both academically and athletically.

If ASU is going to sell itself as a school that wins championships and finishes at the top of the pack competitively, demonstrating the need for a renovated football stadium and a mandatory $150-per-year student fee funding the athletic department, it needs to be able to perform better in its athletic outings.

If the University wants instead to be recognized for its academic abilities, it would do well to focus less on the Sun Devil Game Day Experience and more on pushing research opportunities.

Big goals — from making the Women’s College World Series with the seniors who won it as freshmen, to playing in the Rose Bowl, to hosting one final regional at Packard Stadium — are great for the beginning of the season, but they’re not so great when ASU has nothing to show for them. Teams might be better off learning from basketball coach Herb Sendek, whose only goal for the season was to make the NCAA tournament. At least he accomplished his plan.

 

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