The headline on Arizona State’s basketball release for today’s game against Xavier says this:
“Sun Devils (6-2) play highest ranked nonconference foe in Tempe since 1980.”
That’s not a selling point.
It’s an embarrassment.
Twenty-seven years have passed since a nonconference opponent has been ranked as high as No. 17, the Musketeers’ ranking?
That’s a pretty good indication of how unappealing the Sun Devils’ home schedule has been over the years.
(ASU did play Kansas and Oklahoma State the years they went to the Final Four; they were unranked when they came to town).
This season’s slate is no different.
The lineup at Wells Fargo Arena, excluding Xavier: Cal Poly, Florida Gulf Coast, Delaware State, Coppin State, Montana State, Idaho and Saint Francis.
Is that any way to build interest in a basketball program?
Look, I understand that ASU is starting over under Herb Sendek, and it wouldn’t make sense to get trounced at home by a bunch of top-10 opponents. I also get that “name” universities like Duke, Georgetown and North Carolina aren’t interested in a trip to Tempe.
What do they gain by coming here, other than a sun tan? If they win, well, they beat a below-average Pac-10 team. If they lose, their RPI takes a tumble.
Still, there needs to a happy medium between Florida Gulf Coast and Florida.
One way to change the apathy in the Valley — besides playing in the NCAA tournament — is to schedule home games that are attractive to the consumer.
Yes, ASU’s Pac-10 schedule is chock-full of prestigious programs and top-20 clubs. But that doesn’t justify a snoozer of a nonconference schedule.
It’s OK to bring in a couple of cupcakes — every school does — but they should be balanced with either big-name opponents or teams with regional interest (BYU, New Mexico, etc.).
“We want to schedule so we give ourselves the best opportunity moving forward to gain an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament,” Sendek said. “Obviously in order to do that you have to play some good people and win games. It’s not just a function of, 'Let’s see how challenging we can make this schedule.’ There has to be some intelligent balance given where your basketball team is and what is kind of the right prescription for now.”
Sendek also believes that in terms of public interest, the opponent shouldn’t matter. His analogy: When he goes to his daughters’ softball games, he doesn’t care what team they play. He wants to see his girls.
That’s a nice story but irrelevant. Sendek’s daughters aren’t competing with four pro sports teams and the ASU football team for attention and the fan’s dollar.
Plus, he’s fighting decades of rigor mortis. The Sun Devils finished 24-4 in 1980-81 and featured future NBA players Byron Scott, Fat Lever, Alton Lister, Kurt Nimphius and Sam Williams. The average attendance that season: 8,703.
“It very well may be a harder sell, but we also have a much greater population base than a college town,” Sendek said. “We can’t give ourselves all the traditional reasons why not. At this point I just refuse to accept that we can’t have lines from here (Wells Fargo Arena) down to Mill Avenue.
“Maybe I’m Don Quixote, but that’s the way I think.”
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 3:25 p.m. on The Fan (1060 AM) with Bob Kemp.