ASU’s spring football camp is now over, and it was obvious to all observers that things have changed. Discipline, teaching, and hustle defined the practices. A clear break from the Dennis Erickson regime. Nothing has been proven on the gridiron just yet, but the trend is exciting Sun Devil Nation. Time to buy your season tickets.
I was a bit surprised to read today that ASU had an increase of 11,064 attendees per home game, tops in the nation. The Sun Devils, picked to finish second in the PAC-12 South Division and showing off a new athletics logo and uniforms, rode excitement through the first 2/3rds of the season before falling apart in November, a month that ended with the firing of Dennis Erickson.
Arizona, on the hand, posted the steepest decline in the country at 6,455 per game. Not surprisingly given a ten-game losing streak against FBS opponents, attendance was down for the Wildcats, who fired their coach midway through the season.
Given the state of both programs, I’m still surprised to see ASU rank #1 in the country and to see UA fall to worst in the country. With two new coaches, Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez, in place at both programs, it will be interesting to see how these numbers change next season.
I’d expect, with the angst around ASU and lower expectations for next year coupled with Arizona being the only game in town, that we’ll see a flip in the attendance trends—but I doubt we’ll see ASU at the bottom and UA at the top.
6. Rufus Arizona, UA’s first live wildcat mascot, hung himself from a tree limb on April 17, 1916—just months after being purchased as the school’s mascot. I suspect he was suicidal after he learned the story of how the university adopted the wildcats nickname.
5. In 1885, when the 13th Territorial Legislature awarded Tucson the University of Arizona (instead of the higher prized appropriations that accompanied the insane asylum or the state capital), Tucson citizens were so angry at receiving a university no one wanted that they pelted their returning legislators with ripe eggs, rotten tomatoes and—foreshadowing their future mascot—a dead cat. Talk about wildcat pride…
4. Nonetheless, U of A heavily promotes that it was Arizona’s first university. What they fail to mention, besides the less-than-proud tradition mentioned above, is that there was little need for a university in the Arizona Territory, which didn’t even have a high school at the time. While the “university” accepted students from its first day of class, the vast majority were placed in a specially established remedial prep school. It took 17 years for university students to outnumber those in prep classes, which were maintained for 23 years. It’s hard not to chuckle when you see a billboard U of A purchased to promote a less-than-proud beginning.
3. The ubiquitous motto of Arizona Athletics is “Bear Down.” The basic story goes like this: star QB gets seriously injured in a car accident. On his death bed, he relays a message to his teammates through his coach, telling the team to “bear down” and inspiring the team to pull off a critical win. Unfortunately, virtually all of this is myth, pure and simple. Details are sketchy, but few comport with the mythology. At best, the motto wasn’t inspirational at all and the team grossly underperformed, nearly losing to a far weaker opponent. At best, it was all just made up by Coach McKale—which seems like the most likely truth.
2. U of A’s original school colors were sage green and silver, representing sage brush and the state’s mining industry. However, in 1900, student manager Quintas J. Anderson was offered, at an extremely low price, a set of used solid blue uniforms trimmed in red. U of A bought the uniforms and changed their school colors to red and blue to match the sale-priced uniforms. So much for tradition, originality, or Arizona pride.
1. On November 7, 1914, the Arizona “Varsity” football team was shut out 14-0 by the team from Occidental College in California. Bill Henry, a student correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, tossing the visitors a bone after a sound defeat, wrote that the Arizona team “showed the fight of wild cats” while getting pummeled by Occidental. For some reason, the fans in Tucson were elated at the newspaper article and eager to adopt the throwaway line of an out of town student sports reporter as their school’s mascot. And it’s been Wildcats ever since.
Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
For the fourth straight year, ASU has improved its Graduation Success Rate, reaching an all-time high. It now sits one point shy of its 80% goal (established when the GSR was created) and only 4 points from second place in the conference.
“The graduation success rate is the most significant measure of student athlete academic achievement that exists, ” said Jean Boyd, Associate Athletic Director for the Office of Student-Athlete Development. “This is the fourth consecutive year that we have improved in our Graduation Success Rate. The 79-percent ranks us in the Top 5 of the Pac-12, which is an elite academic and athletic conference. We are just one percentage point away from our goal of reaching 80-percent and are working hard to reach that goal.”
In addition, ASU’s football team ranks third in the conference, trailing only Washington and perennial leader Stanford. UA, which has often unfairly denigrated ASU’s academics while performing much worse, again manages to rank dead last.
ASU has been helping to set the national lead in academic support services and innovation in the last few years, owing much of its success to Jean Boyd and a renewed athletic department commitment to academics. Kudos to another year of solid improvement.