ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL

Arizona State reaches rock bottom at end of Pac-12 stay

Mar 15, 2024, 5:31 AM | Updated: 12:51 pm

ASU football field...

The Arizona State Sun Devils marching band performs before the NCAAF game at Mountain America Stadium on November 18, 2023 in Tempe, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Sun Devils 49-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Rock bottom is mostly a metaphor, a fictional location, a cliché for sports teams that have fallen and can’t get up.

But you can find it on the map at Arizona State University.

Alas, the pin drops on the Sun Devils Athletics department, where the football program has been shamed and humiliated and is now scrambling for traction; where the men’s basketball program lost by 33 points in their first and last Pac-12 Tournament game, the same as it ever was; and where a once towering women’s basketball program lost 15 of 18 conference games.

Eleventh place is the new norm in Tempe, the new mattress for the sleeping giant.

This seems to be a moment of reckoning for ASU president Michael Crow, a decorated visionary who has reshaped the local landscape. Crow brings to Tempe what Jerry Colangelo brought to Phoenix. He would be a beloved Valley icon if not for the spectacular struggles of his football and basketball teams, the two major players and passion points of college athletics.

In this narrow arena, Crow’s attempts at innovation have failed spectacularly. He is largely responsible for the disastrous reign of Larry Scott and the ensuing demise of the Pac-12. He has been resistant and slow to embrace the new transactional world of major college sports.

Even worse, the dreaded rivals in Tucson have become beastly between the lines. Arizona’s basketball program might win the upcoming national championship staged in Glendale. Even without Jedd Fisch, the football program remains on a spiritual high entering a new frontier. While ASU wanders into a new conference like a dazed and wounded animal, Arizona just took out a digital billboard outside the Big 12 basketball tournament in Kansas City.

In effect, the Wildcats said the quiet part out loud: the difference between the two schools in the sports that matter most has never been more profound or depressing.

Here’s hoping that ASU finally rises to the moment, that the school doesn’t waste a perfectly good crisis. The vacancy at athletic director might be another red flag, but it’s also a great opportunity for somebody to make a major impact. Because there’s nowhere to go but up.

Football coach Kenny Dillingham is clearly on board, armed with defiance and energy. Bobby Hurley deserves another year with a better budget. And Crow needs to hire an athletic director who can find the money, tapping into filthy rich alumni who could use a boost in profile, like LIV defectors Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm.

He should also open the vault for Greg Byrne, the former Sun Devil and current Alabama athletic director who no longer has Nick Saban as his head coach. Even at the risk of a phone call that might go unanswered.

Either way, the time has come for ASU. Are you in the game or not?

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

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