Scarp: Sparky, ASU should dress for success

LOS ANGELES -- I’m here in a nice getaway from too-early 90-degree temperatures back in the East Valley this weekend. Low 80s here.

My temperature rose a bit, and I’m sure other Arizona State fans’ did as well, as on the drive here Thursday I learned UCLA eliminated ASU from the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament, overcoming a 15-point Sun Devil lead to win, 80-75.

After pounding the steering wheel a couple of times, though, I started wondering about all the latest brouhaha over the newest version of the big plastic head worn by the ASU mascot, Sparky the Sun Devil.

It is mystifying why there are all these petitions and Facebook organizations. Let’s be honest, mascot design rarely comes up on sports talk radio or in bars with big screens surrounded by multi-colored college banners.

As I have often observed while holding a mug of cold, frosty refreshment in such places, whenever the mascot comes on the screen to, I don’t know, do a back flip, what I hear is not, “Wow! Do that again!” but rather, “Hey! Put the camera back on the game, you doofus!” (Other terms in addition to “doofus” are also employed.)

There are priorities here too many folks just aren’t getting. What ASU fan in his or her right mind wouldn’t accept Sparky dressed as — I don’t care, Zorro? — in exchange for winning that Pac-12 tournament, beating the Arizona Wildcats more than losing to them, and — why not? — showing up in the Rose Bowl more than twice in the last 25 years?

I thought so. And yet ASU fans are embroiled in a mascot controversy rather than a winning controversy. Psychologists might call it “fan transference.” Or, maybe not.

Even so, the amateur psychologist in me says it’s not Sparky’s new doe eyes and Inspector Clouseau-like moustache, courtesy of a new Disney design, that some find creepy that people are really upset about. After so many years, people really are ticked about too many blown 15-point leads, too many Wildcat wins, too many March Madnesses (yes, I just used the plural of “Madness”) without anyone in familiar maroon and gold running up and down a court on TV.

But few of us have coach Herb Sendek’s phone number, so fans, students and alumni have taken to the Internet to pillory the university over the new look of the costume the sideline version of the Sun Devil wears. They want their Sparky — in his current incarnation himself only a product of the early 21st century — back.

Before I go on, the disclaimers: I graduated from Arizona State University and am a Sun Devil fan. I have had football season tickets since 1996. And I teach a class there, but to my knowledge my paycheck is not funded by revenue from sales of ASU athletics gear, whether it features Sparky or not.

So, yes, I’d rather see a an ASU leprechaun strutting on the sidelines (Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!) for the next 25 years if I could also see football coach Todd Graham holding a bunch of roses aloft in the middle of a certain gridiron in Pasadena next New Year’s Day.

One argument against the newest Sparky is that input was neither solicited nor received from students, fans and alumni. In this, these critics with far too little else to do have a point.

It’s true that long ago the university went to a vote of the student body with a new design for the Sun Devil. In 1971, I believe, the young people favored the original, still-used iconic 1946 Disney design of a smiling Sun Devil running with a downward pointed pitchfork. Maybe that’s kept the administration from going to the people about this since.

While Sparky the logo has remained unchanged since then, Sparky the human-inside-the-suit has changed several times over the decades, which I’m sure has confused university officials as to why there has been such a backlash.

It wouldn’t have hurt to have formed a Mascot Commission consisting of students and faculty (maybe from the fashion merchandising discipline?), alumni and boosters to consider Disney’s recent concepts and make recommendations. The athletic department would retain final say, of course, but so long as commissioners were demonstrably treated with respect and their views considered seriously, the university could hardly be accused of the end run it is being criticized for today.

Some on Facebook have likened this dustup to New Coke, Coca-Cola’s famed 1980s change of the formula of its flagship soft drink that millions despised. The company listened and went back to the original. But the difference here is with Coke, it was the product itself, the soft drink that people paid for, that was the issue.

If only the formula for winning ASU games was the issue. Instead it’s sort of like what shade of red the can should be.


Photo: In these undated handout photos provided by Arizona State University, the sports mascot Sparky the Sun Devil, left, in it's older version, and the new Sparky the Sun Devil, right, Monday, March 11, 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. Students and alumni are showing a dislike of the newer version of the mascot, and the student government may conduct a referendum next month putting it to a vote. (AP Photo/Arizona State University, Handout)