DAN BICKLEY

2023 Sun Devils unfairly paying the price for their predecessors

Aug 29, 2023, 1:58 PM | Updated: 2:29 pm

Elijhah Badger #2 of the Arizona State University Sun Devils catches a touch down pass against the ...

Elijhah Badger #2 of the Arizona State University Sun Devils catches a touch down pass against the University of Washington Huskies during the third quarter at Sun Devil Stadium on October 08, 2022 in Tempe, Arizona. Sun Devils won 45-38. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Arizona State’s football team has been many things over the years, from underachievers to sleeping giants.

Today, they are martyrs.

The 2023 Sun Devils team have been stripped of bowl eligibility by their own institution for crimes they did not commit. They are sacrificial lambs for recruiting violations that occurred under the tired eyes of Herm Edwards. Five days before the start of a new season, they were robbed of hope and reward and a fresh beginning.

The beauty of sports is meritocracy. You earn your place through competition that occurs on a level playing field. ASU’s season begins on Thursday under the pall of great injustice.

And everyone knows it.

A reasonable sort might understand that ASU is not a flush program. Self-imposing a postseason ban to mitigate the level of financial penalty might even be essential in their current state.

But the timing is despicable. The vitriol and wrath from national media are a public relations nightmare, painting the gatekeepers of ASU football as callous and conniving and acting in bad faith.

Alas, if the university really wanted to mitigate their sanctions, it could’ve and should’ve fired Edwards for cause before the start of last season, placing that team on a postseason ban. Instead, it was absurdly important to someone that Edwards leave the school with a cushy buyout and no prejudice.

ASU vice president for university athletics Ray Anderson wouldn’t even call his departure a termination. Coincidence or not, at a pivotal moment in the program’s history, the former agent turned boss served Edwards better than he did his own employers.

Further, if ASU was concerned about incurring a fine similar to the $9 million penalty assessed to the University of Tennessee, that seems like a small price to pay for a hard reset and a fresh beginning for new head coach Kenny Dillingham. Especially when they paid half that amount to Edwards as a financial settlement.

In the end, they are implicitly telling the 2023 Sun Devils what they think of them and their potential. They are telling them they are not worth the fine money it might cost to pursue a bowl game and there could be no greater rallying cry for this year’s team to win 6-to-7 games and show their administration how badly they erred on the side of Edwards.

Through sheer force of personality, Dillingham is trying to lift the ceiling at ASU. He seems to be managing this situation with a high degree of success, as his players have been remarkably mature regarding the self-imposed ban and the few who have spoken out on social media seem to be shaking off the hurt and embracing the challenge.

As Dillingham is well aware, there is great motivational fuel here. It’s not only an Us versus Them scenario. It’s Us versus Them, and some of them share our campus.

The 2023 Sun Devils are real martyrs. And if they somehow succeed, their reward will be something far greater than a trip to El Paso.

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

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2023 Sun Devils unfairly paying the price for their predecessors