An off-season for fans of Sun Devil football can only mean one thing these days, unhappiness. In 2015, fans were up in arms over the dreaded uniform change from Nike to Adidas. In the prior years under Coach Graham, the discontent among the fan base was a new coordinator being hired, the unsuccessful search to find a consistent pass rusher, and what quarterback should be under center.
The 2016 off-season started with many options for the “sky is falling” faction of fans. There was the mass exodus of the coaching staff, a slight hangover from being left at the altar by another highly touted Arizona high school player, and the continued reconstruction of Sun Devil Stadium which has resulted in a second year of seat displacement. But as the calendar begun to flip to March and the talk of spring football filled the valley’s warming air, a new target of fan hostility was introduced.
For college football fans, the first sign of spring isn’t just wildflowers and chirping birds, spring is also the return of college football. It is the time of year that teases fans with a small glimpse of what will consume their fall and winter Saturdays. On February 23, the first piece of the 2016 Sun Devil football schedule was announced with the release of the dates and times of their spring practice sessions. The usual joy that surrounds this announcement quickly turned to anger and a feeling of disbelief as the words “practice closed to public” accompanied the press release. Further salt was poured into the wound of many diehard Sun Devil fans as the announcement also included rules for limited media viewing availability during the 15 practices. As if those two announcements weren’t enough to forever scar the emotional state of a lifelong Sun Devil fan, the carnage continued. For the next two years, there would be no spring game to conclude the spring practice sessions. The athletic administration cited Phase II and III renovations of Sun Devil Stadium, along with the logistical issues of finding another home for the spring game as the core reason for the cancellation. Tuesday February 23, the day a little part of spring and college football died in Tempe.
Sun Devil football fans would not take this news lying down. They would make their voices and opinions be heard. They would flood the AD with calls of anger and disappointment, threats of withholding athletic contributions would be made. Perhaps not, but the diehard segment of the fan base did erupt in anger. They flooded the subscription message board forums raging about the public practice closure, social media savvy fans took to twitter and facebook to express their disgust, and others phoned the valley radio shows during the fifteen minutes dedicated to ASU sports. The explanations given for such anger was broad. Some considered watching a practice their tax payer right since Todd Graham is a state employee. A more touching reason was that watching spring practice with a loved one was a moment of bonding between fans. Then there was the, I donate this much, I should be able to watch whenever and whatever I want reasoning. As the great Allen Iverson once put so eloquently; “ I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game…. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about practice…. But we’re talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man.”
Spring practice officially kicked off on Monday to much the same fanfare as if the closure was never announced. There was coverage on the evening sports reports, in the paper, and on the fan/recruiting websites. Sure, one could argue that the coverage was lacking due to the time limit placed on the media. But the key storylines for the 2016 Sun Devil football campaign remain the same no matter if the practices are open or closed. Who will come out of the spring ahead in the three person race to become the new starting quarterback? What newcomers or second year players will contribute the quickest or set themselves apart? How quickly will the new members of the coaching staff adjust and adapt to the players and head coach Todd Graham? These are a few things that the fans should be focusing on, not the 15 practices at 8am in March, while the players are in shells and shorts.
The unknowns that exist with this 2016 team will go beyond this small window of weekday morning practice sessions. The chance any of the questions facing this team being answered by April 16th is slim to none. Yeah, it sucks that the usual ritual of watching football in spring has been temporarily taken away. But anger towards the coaching staff or program isn’t going to bring it back. Spring will turn to summer, Camp T will resurrect all the good feelings towards the program, and then opening weekend against the NAU Lumberjacks will be here. So this March, don’t worry about calling in sick to catch a few morning practices. On the usual spring game Saturday, head out to an ASU baseball or softball game instead. And just save up all of that ASU football anger on the upcoming new Adidas color schemes that are sure to launch this fall.