ASU’s move to the Big 12 and college sports conference realignment is a money grab that ignores the needs of athletes and the views of fans. Of course, ASU was put in a difficult spot; as the Pac-12 dissolved around it, it wasn’t exactly feasible for the ASU administration to stand pat.
With other conferences offering better per-member payouts than the Pac-12 could offer with its Apple TV streaming deal, the Big 12 was likely the best fit. Conferences’ media rights deals ending and being rebuilt are what was at the center of this summer's nationwide realignment, as is usually the case.
Yet, the unfortunate necessity of ASU’s move doesn’t dim the reality that athletes are going to bear the brunt of the consequences that are implied.
Information provided by ASU Media Relations shows that average air travel time to all Big 12 schools would only increase by 35 minutes as compared to Pac-12 travel without accounting for USC and UCLA. But, that doesn’t account for more travel across time zones and facing opponents on the East Coast.
“It’s certainly not like Ohio State driving over to Penn State,” said Zeke Jones, the head ASU wrestling coach. “You got to really take a hard look at it. But will it affect the bank accounts and kids’ sleep? Absolutely.”
ASU will have to face opponents in Cincinnati, Orlando and Morgantown, West Virginia, in the upcoming years, whereas former Pac-12 opponents were all located in the American West, and only in two time zones.
Those consequences do vary from sport to sport. ASU football will likely have to travel east of the Mississippi River less than other sports because of having fewer conference games in their schedule, but players are still cautious of potential impacts.
“It’s gonna be hard, first year, because we’re used to staying on the west coast,” said Will Shaffer, a redshirt junior linebacker at ASU. “But going over that cross country trip, we’re just definitely going to have to adapt and acclimate to that weather change, the time change and we’ve still gotta play a ball game.”
Assistant Coach and Running Backs Coach Shaun Aguano said the team will utilize better pre-planning to help deal with the change.
“There are gonna be little setbacks and times where we have to go earlier, but I don’t think it’s a huge adversity for the team,” Aguano said.
Across the board, athletes are going to travel more and deal with greater struggles including sleep schedules, academics and handling personal life. College athletes and former college athletes have spoken out about the stress they deal with and many studies have been conducted showing the dual stressors of academics and athletic performance.
“When you’re traveling across four time zones… that puts your body in disarray, and you’re expected to maintain a high level of performance, both athletically and academically,” Victoria Jackson, clinical assistant professor of history and a former ASU track and field athlete said.
These changes, according to Jackson, are not distributed evenly across sports. She said women’s basketball will “have to deal with the repercussions of these football money decisions,” and that it “seems to always be the neglected sport.”
Another possible consequence, one denied by Vice President for University Athletics and Athletic Director Ray Anderson, is the potential need to cut sports.
“I don’t see how you’re still not at the end of the day, we’re going to have to start cutting sports because the cost of travel and support, it’s going to increase so much,” Jackson said. “None of this is sustainable. It’s really financially irresponsible, even though they claim it’s the way to stay solvent.”
Keri Matthews, a junior forward for ASU women’s soccer, said the team will be ready for the change, but that it will be sad to leave the conference.
“Obviously, (the Pac-12) is one of the best conferences to play in and so it’s sad that it’s going,” Matthews said.
As if the physical and mental impacts on athletes and the potential financial fallout from conference realignment aren't enough, the lost traditions and fan disappointment are palpable. Some ASU students voiced disappointment with the move, and others hoped for greater compensation for ASU athletes.
“I think it’s fair if the athletes are compensated fairly. So, for example, if they’re given rest days between travel time, if their professors are willing to work with them around the travel schedule for football… I think it’s only fair if they are compensated according to the extent of their travel,” said Duncan Kincaid, a junior at ASU studying finance.
Pranjal Krishna, a sophomore studying computer science, said he understood that ASU had to leave the Pac-12, but that he’ll "really miss matches with Stanford, USC, and teams like that.”
The era of the Pac-12 was far from perfect. Athletes still dealt with stressors, low compensation and academic complications with travel. However, the logic of the conference from the standpoint of the athletes and institutions was undeniable geographically.
Traditions that those involved enjoyed were abound, some of which will certainly stay, like the cross-state rivalry with UA. But, others will likely be lost. Regular exciting matchups with regional teams, like UCLA, USC and Stanford in many sports will be missed.
This doesn’t mean universities cannot ensure academic and athletic success for their athletes. ASU will certainly put measures in place to help its athletes, but compensation is still a valid concern for some, and other athletes have spoken out in the past about perceived unequal treatment.
Athletes and their fans should advocate for adequate support throughout conference realignment and also push for a better, more logical process that makes conferences put student-athletes first, not media rights deals.
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.
Edited by Shane Brennan and Angelina Steel
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Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.