Upon arriving in the press box an hour before the start of the ASU-Louisville game, I was approached by Mark Brand, the self-important, uptight media relations director for the Sun Devils.
Seeing that I was looking at the media seating chart, Brand inquired as to whether I had been able to find my seat. There had been some mild unpleasantness on Friday when a call from the office of the ASU president was required to convince Brand I was serious about wanting press credentials.
All of this amazed me. When I got to the game, it turned out there were so many empty seats in the press box that it wasn't necessary for anyone to consult a chart. The press box was only half-filled. Things were so bad that even the idiot radio boys like Brad Cesmat from KTAR-AM and Arnie Spanier from KGME-AM didn't show up. They must have signed on someplace else for their free meal of the night.
Media relations director Brand's problem these days is not trying to find adequate space for media people who want to write about ASU football.
It's much more serious. Brand and Arizona State are in the pathetic position of promoting a product that has fallen out of fashion. Simply put, no one gives a damn about Arizona State football anymore--not even ASU's own students.
The other night, Brand was obliged to issue a release claiming that more than 40,000 tickets had been "distributed" for the Louisville game. Anyone in the stadium could tell there were no more than 30,000 in the cavernous ballpark, which Frank Kush teams regularly filled with 70,000 screaming fans. What Brand's own figures tell us is that people who have bought season tickets are not even showing up. Thanks to the television time-outs, the game lasted three interminable hours. Since the outcome was in doubt until the final minutes, you might assume that it was an exciting evening. Don't be ridiculous. It was excruciatingly boring. There were so many mistakes made by both teams that it reminded me of the University of Chicago's club team playing some small college from Wisconsin.
No wonder attendance keeps sinking year after year. At this rate, ASU will be lucky to average 25,000 fans. Even now, it is plain that the only game that holds any interest is the annual battle with the UofA.
The Sun Devils formerly were criticized heavily because the NCAA accused them of recruiting players who could neither read nor write but could run quite fast. Perhaps ASU's recruiters have elevated their standards a bit. I would not vouch for that, however. Today's ASU football players are probably just as dense as their predecessors, with the difference being that the professors have now learned how to fake the players' grades.
Whatever has taken place, ASU football is on a downward spiral. So is its attendance. It has reached a point where the football expenses are a major financial drain on the university as a whole. You can see how serious this is, because until recently, football was the engine that ran the athletic department. If this is the kind of football program ASU intends to have, it might as well drop out of the Pac-10 and start playing teams like Northern Arizona and the University of Nevada at Reno.
Bruce Snyder has been the coach for two seasons. His team is no better now than it was the day Snyder walked through the door. I admit that this surprises me. Snyder developed a good reputation while coaching at the University of California. What went wrong? Why are his ASU teams so pathetic? So uninteresting?
Who is to blame?
Perhaps media relations director Brand will choose to enlighten us.