ASU leaders Crow, Anderson need humility amid investigation

Feb 24, 2022, 2:42 PM
(Photos by Matt Layman / Arizona Sports)...
(Photos by Matt Layman / Arizona Sports)
(Photos by Matt Layman / Arizona Sports)

Pillar by pillar, Arizona State’s football program has come tumbling down. Somehow, Herm Edwards is still standing.

The administrative support for a beleaguered head coach is staggering. Once again, eyes are rolling all across the Pac-12, even if heads are not.

If eye-rolling were a Division I sport, the Sun Devils would be conference champions by now.

There has been a definitive shift in tone this week, as ASU president Michael Crow seems to have exonerated Edwards because those below him broke the rules. The athletic director says Edwards has advanced the program, even though it is currently under NCAA investigation, and warns against a rush to judgment.

To the contrary, many trustworthy media members have sources that claim Edwards met personally and illegally with many of these high school recruits during a recruiting dead period caused by the pandemic. A new report claims someone actually rented a Paradise Valley home as something of a program safe house, a place for members of the football staff to meet with potential Sun Devils.

The brazen stupidity of trusting sensitive, backbreaking secrets to high school athletes who have no real loyalty to ASU is sheer lunacy.

Edwards’ only potential defense is that he didn’t know it was a down period, which would be a stunning admission for a man four years into the job. It also tests the boundaries of incredulity and accountability. How many times in traffic court has a judge warned us that ignorance is not a defense?

In a best-case scenario, Edwards was far too detached or far too disinterested from the inner workings of his program. And that alone is damning commentary on the potholes and loopholes of the NFL model the school implemented after its controversial hiring of Edwards in December 2017.

Keep in mind, innovation is a very important buzzword at ASU. But innovation only goes so far in football, a billion-dollar playground where massive financial investments are necessary to recruit kids talented enough to hang banners. There are no shortcuts to the College Football Playoff, and this is where ASU’s institutional arrogance has once again failed spectacularly. To wit:

By acting like ASU had somehow created a better system, they were effectively putting a giant target on their own backs. They were effectively telling the rest of the conference that “we’re doing things differently because we’re innovative. Because we think outside the box at ASU. And because we’re smarter than you.”

Surely, that’s not the message ASU intends to convey. But that is what the rest of the conference is hearing. And for a school that hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl in a quarter century and counting, the apparent hubris must be tough for outsiders to stomach.

The athletic director, Ray Anderson, conceded the NFL model must change. But not because of an NCAA investigation that is rife with the lack of institutional control.

“We’re going to have to adjust our model that we instituted when we brought Herm here … because we’re not going to be able to get in an arms race with the new free agency and the new pay-for-play (NIL) structure that is now very prevalent,” Anderson said. “We’re going to have to differentiate ourselves by training and developing at a superior level for those who aspire to go to the professional ranks.

“We’re going to have to adjust our model because the college model has changed.”

That’s a convenient excuse for a university with an enormous footprint and an enormous student body. It’s also a terrible message. Namely, we won’t pay the freight necessary to build the Pac-12 champion we strive to be, to finally awaken the sleeping giant. But we’ll stand by our head coach if his underlings try and cheat their way to the top.

ASU has every right to disdain and avoid the money pit/rabbit hole that consumes football-mad universities, where nothing else seems to matter but pigskin and Saturday afternoons and the rest of academia can pick up the scraps. Just don’t act like you have concocted a better plan because that plan does not exist.

At the very least, the ongoing NCAA investigation is a heavy portion of humble pie for ASU football. And judging from appearances, the program could use a giant slice right about now.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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