azcentral sports’ Greg Moore and Mark Faller discuss the expectations for ASU sports as well as the competition and pressure that come with it.

Arizona State President Michael Crow has a team of scientists working on a spacecraft that will fly to an asteroid that is 280 million miles from the sun and composed of metal worth “10 to the 20th quadrillion dollars.”

He wants to learn how planets were created, and eventually he wants to mine it.

So, when Crow says ASU aims to be in the same class athletically as Stanford, UCLA, Michigan and Ohio State, one gets the sense that he doesn’t consider that as an overreach.

“Excellence, excellence, excellence, excellence,” he said in remarks that came just days before the start of fall sports and just moments after he told azcentral sports that he planned to offer a contract extension to Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson.

It’s exactly what fans should want to hear from the head of a university with a massive base and enormous potential. And it’s my opinion that Crow’s comments and Anderson’s extension are putting good pressure on ASU’s most visible programs: baseball, football and men’s basketball, which all are coming off losing seasons.

“Losing records over more than one year in any sport are unacceptable,” Crow said, adding later, “Losing seasons without some transformational explanation are unacceptable.”

Football season starts in two weeks, so coach Todd Graham is going to be first of the Big Three to carry the burden of expectation this year.

“Coach Graham completely understands that his very successful start at ASU has got to be realized again,” Crow said.

For the record, I like coach Graham. I don’t know him well, but the times we’ve met, I’ve found him to be optimistic, enthusiastic and passionate about ASU football and its history. He has taken the Sun Devils to a pair of 10-win seasons, including 2013, when his team played for a conference championship and 2014 when the squad climbed as high as No. 7 in the AP poll.

But he’s coming off a pair of losing seasons with defenses that were among the nation’s worst.

This year, Graham has an advantage that puts him in league with Crow’s space scientists: a top-class facility.

ASU researchers from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the department leading the mission to visit the metal asteroid Psyche, are based in ISTB 4, a building on the Tempe campus that opened in 2012. At more than 300,000 square feet, it’s the largest research building on the campus and has been a hub for work on NASA missions.

For Graham, he has a 120,000 square-foot football facility that opened this summer, complete with teaching spaces, meeting rooms and a gigantic weight room. It’s also got photos and other tributes to great Sun Devil teams and former players who have gone on to the NFL.

Graham also has a new defensive coordinator in Phil Bennett, a hands-on teacher who has spent time working with the defensive backs.

It remains to be seen how the team will play. It’s also an open question whether men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley or baseball coach Tracy Smith will have the same expectations.

Graham runs the biggest program and has had the longest tenure of the programs facing scrutiny. He’s also the only one of the three who wasn’t an Anderson hire.

Anderson didn’t say how many wins Graham would need to stay on in the job, but it’s my opinion that he needs a winning season, at least.

Crow has a strong belief in the importance of competition, and he reiterated that this week, saying it’s at the core of success in all facets of society.

At ASU, he said, “every single way that we can express competitiveness at the highest order we do that. Sports is the place we do it with the greatest visibility.”

“We cannot become a society,” he continued, “in which we’ve decided that competition is too hard, we’ve decided that competition is not something that we want our kids to go through because some of them may end up with hurt feelings because they didn’t get the scholarship, they didn’t make the first string. The second we move in that direction, we’re done.”

Crow shared an anecdote that helps reveal the depth of his competitive streak. Crow threw the javelin at Iowa State University and was often mocked for being a jock.

But he figured out how to deal with it, deciding at some point that, “I’m just gonna kick your ass, so then you might make fun of me less often, so even if you beat me, you’ll remember that you fought me because I’ll have your ear in my pocket.”

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, but it shows just how clear the expectation is.

Graham’s got to win, and he’s got to win now.

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Reach Moore at [email protected] or 602-444-2236. Follow him at


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