Opinion: Smaller athletic programs help form a relevant athletic department

Football, basketball and baseball are not the best indicators of ASU athletics

Smaller athletic programs help keep ASU nationally relevant in the sports world. 

As one of the largest public universities in the U.S., ASU is home to thousands of sports fans, from its current student body and faculty to its expansive alumni network. 

While many fans probably identify and proclaim allegiance with the larger programs like football, men’s basketball and baseball, ASU has many smaller programs that round out the overall athletic program. These teams garner national recognition when the better-known teams are not dominating their respective sports.

Some of the notable programs that come to mind are triathlon, women’s golf, wrestling, gymnastics and men’s tennis

And ASU recognizes the importance of these teams, highlighted by the development of the Olympic Village, designed to make ASU a driving force for international sports. 

Casual ASU sports fans might not know how good the school's secondary programs have been lately. Last November, ASU triathlon won its second consecutive national championship, and women’s golf captured its eighth overall championship last May. 

Currently, ASU wrestling is ranked ninth in the nation. Meanwhile, gymnastics is ranked No. 17, and men’s tennis made the leap to No. 20 in its first season following a decade-long hiatus. 

These successful teams help make up for lackluster performances from the bigger programs and keep the athletic department thriving.

“It’s very important when we look at the overall health and success of the athletic program,” said Scott Nelson, senior associate athletics director of Sun Devil Athletics. “We measure ourselves on our broad-based success. We strive for continuous success over an entire academic year.”

Aside from the men’s basketball team’s meteoric rise to the No. 3 ranking within the first 12 games of this season, the baseball team’s consistently solid play over the course of its history, or the occasional great season for ASU football, there hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer about regarding the money-making programs. 

The minimal success of the more notable teams doesn’t faze ASU’s athletic program, though. 

“Our ability to win and compete with every program is a goal and expectation for Ray Anderson,” Nelson said. “We want everyone to compete and be successful.”

The smaller programs pick up the slack and show that while ASU does not dominate the “Big Four” sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey), it still has a tremendous athletic program made up of highly skilled teams and various athletes from all over the globe. 

Additionally, ASU’s athletic prowess isn’t lost on international athletes. Many foreign players have come, and continue to come, to ASU to further their athletic careers. 

ASU's triathlon roster boasts three international students. Women's golf had four international players on its championship roster. Eight of the nine tennis players on the current men's team are international, and gymnastics has a gymnast from France.

“Diversity is a drawing factor,” Nelson said. “ ... ASU offers students the ability to come in and develop holistically, while achieving and pursuing academic and athletic excellence.” 

The University’s initiatives also keep the school relevant nationally. ASU has held the title as “most innovative” for the past three years, and ASU athletics strives to find the best ways it can possibly improve each facet of the program, notably in the coaching department.

“It’s the Sun Devil way,” Nelson said. “Just like the University is recognized nationally, our athletic program is recognized in being forward-thinking and aggressive. The (Zeke) Joneses, (Bobby) Hurleys of the industry represent the University positively and keep us relevant.” 

Despite recent underwhelming performances from its main teams and programs, ASU athletics remains with top-notch departments for players and coaches.

The money-making teams might not win all the time, but the smaller programs keep ASU in national discussions and will most likely continue to do so into the foreseeable future. 


Reach the columnist at Steven.Slobodzian@asu.edu or follow @PSlobodzianASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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