ASU Football: More than X’s and O’s

ASU Football: More than X’s and O’s

By: Denise Meridith, Founder, Linking Sports & Communities

Last week, a collective sigh went up around the country, at least among those Americans whose teams are not in the MLB pennant race, that college football was getting underway. Like its big brother—the NFL—college football is wildly popular in the US. Over 100,000 fervent fans will weekly fill Michigan Stadium. After a disappointing 2016 season, on August 31st in Tempe, Arizona, a much smaller, but loyal and loud crowd, was rewarded with a ASU Sun Devils 19th straight victorious opening night and a 37-31 win over New Mexico State.

In recent years, college football has seemed to be more about trouble than touchdowns. The biggest media story during this season’s opening week was the sad fact that Florida football coach Jim McElwain suspended 10 players from the Florida Gators’ highly anticipated opener vs Michigan for drugs, fraud, and other offenses.  Accusations involving sexual assault, thefts, and drugs overshadow talk about rushing attempts or passing yards.  In the current era of political, racial and cultural strife, it would be nice for the media and fans to remember the real values of college football. ASU is one university, which is trying to change the conversation.

ASU Head Coach Todd Graham may be among the many college coaches falling victim to the sport’s “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” mentality, when his name appears on media lists of 2017 endangered coaches after two losing seasons. But previously this 2013 PAC-12 Coach of the Year had led ASU to four bowl games. Regardless of the outcome this year, Graham was one of the key implementers in shifting the image of ASU Athletics as being more about partying than playing. In addition to winning 34 games in his first four seasons, 34 of Graham’s players have received PAC 12 All-Academic citations.  Graham talks about things like family, community, character and giving back, when asked about his aspirations for developing players.

While conversation often focuses on the revenue that college football provides to universities, which is important (though sometimes too much so), the sport provides universities, its students, and communities other benefits.

Coaches, like Graham or Frank Kush, the legendary ASU coach, who won 176 games, had two undefeated seasons and six victories in seven bowl games, and who passed away this summer, can be important mentors to young men, who may not have had other good role models. Football can teach discipline, teamwork, and leadership. Today’s student athletes, with the right guidance, could and should be tomorrow’s community leaders.

Football and academic scholarships help underprivileged students get a chance at a quality of education they would have not been able to afford. ASU, which has been designated the “Most Innovative University” two years in a row, provides outstanding degrees in business, communications and marketing, which will be valuable to a student athlete, whether he makes it to the NFL or not.

For other students, college football provides fun and safe recreation, a needed break from the stress of classes, a place to commune with old friends and make new ones. This continues after graduation.  Games can keep alumni involved and interested in, and contributing to their schools.

Finally, college football can be important to the image and morale of a community. Can anyone quantify the impact the Crimson Tide has had on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Notre Dame on South Bend, Indiana?

Sun Devil Stadium, even when it is renovated, may never be College Station’s Kyle Field. But Ray Anderson described what Arizonans can be proud of when he described ASU Athletics’ 87% graduation success rate. “We excelled in the classroom with our highest four-year Academic Progress Rate ever, ranking second in the Pac-12 only to Stanford, and our highest cumulative GPA in Departmental history.”

Of course, ASU fans are rooting for a winning season and want a bowl game in 2017. But they should root for ASU to, not just beat Stanford in Palo Alto on September 30, but to beat Stanford’s graduation success rate in 2017, too!

Photo (Hassan Kareem): ASU Sun Devil Junior Jalen Harvey caught a 53-yard pass from quarterback Manny Wilkins to score a touchdown in ASU’s 37-31 victory over New Mexico State in Tempe on August 31, 2017.

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