TEMPE – While Arizona State football coach Kenny Dillingham tried Monday to help his team put news of a self-imposed postseason bowl ban behind it, some prominent ASU boosters lamented the decision to impose the ban now.
The news of the ban comes amid an NCAA investigation that began in June 2021 into recruiting violations committed at ASU under former coach Herm Edwards. The violations took place primarily during an NCAA-imposed summer recruiting dead period in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Edwards was fired early last season and most of his assistants have either resigned or been fired since the allegations surfaced.
“I hope the NCAA recognizes that the damage has already been done and people responsible for it are already gone,” said long-time Sun Devils booster Charles “Nap” Lawrence. “It’s a shame to penalize young kids who just looked at their future and came to Arizona State, then get stabbed in the back.”
ASU opens the 2023 season Thursday against Southern Utah, and Dillingham and his staff said they did not learn about the ban until early Sunday morning. Fans and boosters have questioned why the ban wasn’t imposed before Dillingham arrived rather than at the 11th hour, blunting the momentum Dillingham was building.
“If we were going to give up a bowl game, we should’ve given it up last year,” Sun Devils booster Edward Sandidge said. “By procrastinating and doing it this year, I’m afraid it would adversely affect the kids.”
Now Dillingham is faced with the challenge of motivating a squad that can no longer reach the ultimate goal of winning a championship or even playing in a lower-tier bowl game as a reward.
“The seniors deserve the right to try and win every football game. That doesn’t change anything,” Dillingham said. “They deserve the right to go into every football game. At the end of the day, it’s whatever we can do to win football games for our seniors to make this season worth it and something they remember for the rest of their lives.”
"The adversity is behind us."
Arizona State head coach Kenny Dillingham speaks with the media about the self-imposed bowl ban.
— Cronkite News: Phoenix Sports (@sportscronkite) August 28, 2023
Following Sunday’s news, Dillingham said that the team had a predictably poor practice. However, he said the Sun Devils had their “best practice in two weeks” Monday after having a day to process the bad news.
He said his message to the players is to focus solely on the game, and they have adopted that mindset. The hope of a postseason game might be gone, but there is still plenty to play for after a 3-9 campaign in 2022, some of the returning members of the squad said.
“For those of us on the team last year, this season has enough meaning,” ASU defensive back Jordan Clark said. “There’s a lot of people we’ve got to play, a lot of people we’ve got to get back. So I’m not necessarily worried about a bowl game or a championship. We play all those same teams this year, and I’m just ready to play football.”
The Sun Devils have shifted their focus to Thursday’s season opener after taking time to process and accept the reality of their circumstances for the 2023 season. And Dillingham believes his squad is ready to focus now on what they can control.
“To me, the adversity is behind us,” Dillingham said. “We gave everybody one day to get (their) feelings out, including me. Get it out there, and let’s move on. We’re not just going to say something and get over it instantly, but we gave ourselves a day and moved on.”
Despite the adversity, Lawrence and Sandidge believe Dillingham is the coach to lead the football team forward this season and into the Big 12 Conference a year from now.
“Coach Dillingham is so talented, and he will have those players realizing they’re on a national stage now,” Lawrence said. “They have a chance to show that this group is talented, and they’re going to use (the bowl ban) as an advantage, not a liability.”