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Monday Mailbag: Sun Devil Hockey, Softball, and the 2020 that could have been in this week’s Q and A

Spring success

COLLEGE HOCKEY: DEC 28 ASU Desert Classic - Clarkson v Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As it stands now, ASU has a national title contender with softball, and baseball is getting hot at the right time. The home stretch for all other spring sports is on the horizon, and it is crunch time for ASU athletics.

With our inbox being flooded this week, some questions will roll over to next week’s edition.

Is ASU softball a “destination job” for softball coaches? Is there any chance another school snatches up Ford, or is the ASU too good to let go? - Zoon P.

JOHNSON: Any program with the historical success of Arizona State is a destination job. Yes, there has been a dry spell for the Sun Devils in terms of championship hardware over the last decade, but the Sun Devils are a big name in college softball. Every coach is an inveterate competitor, and I think there is some additional pride for Ford if she elevates the program back into that pantheon of blue bloods once again.

Her recruiting has been spectacular, and I think another positive sign of this being a ‘destination’ is the quality of transfers she has brought in from other schools. If the Sun Devils make a run in the postseason, I’m sure there will be deep-pocketed athletic departments who will make an inquiry about Ford to see if she can rescue another program, but every indication says she enjoys being here, and with her teams improvement, I think she will be here until she brings home a national title.

Has any other P5 program’s Athletic department suffered as much as ASU’s has due to the Covid pandemic? I’m not talking about missing games/practices due to varying government and municipality restrictions/demands. I’m talking about the timing of 2019-20 really squashing multiple programs who were positively improving/peaking. - ArizonaSon

JJ: Yeah, I get your point, ArizonaSon. Certainly when in the moment, it was unfortunate timing. But the fallout might be even worse.

When the pandemic reached our shores around late February and early March 2020, Arizona State baseball was on a tear. That team was the great hope of the Sun Devil baseball program. So much talent, beginning with Spencer Torkelson and then working down the rest of the lineup. Unlike this year’s team, which can absolutely swing the bat, that team had pitching. Who knows? Maybe they make a run to Omaha and win the thing in 2020, and we’re still talking to Tracy Smith in the post game pressers.

Softball was going to be in contention for a good postseason, hockey was going to be in the tournament most likely. Even men’s basketball was poised to make a run, lining up as the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament that year. We just saw how Remy Martin can elevate himself in March, it would have been so great to see him get the chance with the team they had that year.

Then of course, the fallout, especially with football. The recruiting scandal, the four games played in 2020, none of that helped. The team just didn’t get enough game reps in that season, and as a result of the investigation, it wasn’t a good environment for self-improvement last offseason.

To answer your question, I’m sure there are other athletic departments who have been hit hard — FSU and Dayton hoops come to mind — and some probably a whole lot worse behind the scenes. But for the tangible, on the field stuff, it’s hard not to feel like ASU wasn’t robbed of what could have been a special 2020.

1. With the Coyotes now scheduled to play ~40 games at the new ASU field house for the next three years does that change the plan to have other sports (e.g., gymnastics) use the field house? My strong preference is hockey only but no chance in hell this will happen. 2. What chance, if any, do the Suns have to win, finally, the NBA title. My opinion is not this year. The Suns are not tough enough to win the title. - sundevils

WEIPZ: As of right now the plan is to still host the other sports in that new arena they are building, but it will be interesting to see how they schedule around all of the sports that you mentioned. I’m sure that the occasional wrestling match at Desert Financial will not be a big deal if worst comes to worst, but last I heard, all ASU athletics will take priority on the schedule over the Coyotes. ASU Hockey has even released next year’s schedule already.

I’ll entertain the second question, even though it has very little to do with ASU or Sun Devil athletics. I think the Suns have a legit shot and are contenders. The way they play is very hard to stop for four games in a series, especially if Devin Booker has it going on any night. The Suns share the ball better than any team in the league. They also match teams well defensively (I see you, Mikal Bridges).

The two teams that I see posing the biggest threat from the East are Philly and the Bucks. You saw last summer why the Bucks can outmatch the Suns in numerous areas, but Philly bringing (my MVP) Joel Embiid to the desert would be the biggest test for Deandre Ayton. Of course in the West, they would have to get through Golden State, which I think would be the most entertaining seven game series of this postseason if it were to happen.

Is 8 wins enough for Herm to not be fired? Assume that he is not found guilty by investigators and does not voluntarily retire. - Troll S.

REDFERN: If this team wins eight games, there is no shot Herm Edwards gets fired after this season, especially if the investigation works out in his favor. You can quote me on that.

Let’s assume the three most-likely losses come from Oklahoma State, USC and Utah, and the “locks” are NAU and Eastern Michigan. That means ASU would have to go 6-1 to close the season against the remaining conference opponents. That is a tall task.

With the NCAA investigation creeping up on its first birthday, that makes 2022 a pivotal year for this program. Herm’s employment status is going to be attributed to many factors, but eight wins would only help his relationship with the school, and feed his football desire, I assume.

ASU Hockey. New facility, new traditions, tie-in with NHL team, growing hockey fan base, the weather, the scenery…How long before ASU Hockey makes it to the Frozen Four? And which PAC-12 school will be next to jump into D1 hockey? - DevilDon

KR: I’ve been waiting for this one since we started the mailbag. For the reasons you mentioned, Greg Powers and ASU have built a desert oasis for D1 hockey’s western-most program (in the contiguous states).

This year’s 17-17-1 was an improvement from a losing season in 2020-2021, but the team did spend that entire season on the road in a scheduling agreement with the Big Ten conference. If you can think way back to 2019, that team was on pace for a potential three-seed in the tournament before COVID-19 shut everything down (cc. ArizonaSon).

They made the tournament in 2019, so the next step would be the program’s first NCAA tournament win. Expect that to come within the next five years.

The top-tier programs in D1 hockey (Denver, Minnesota, Minnesota State, Notre Dame and more) really seem to separate themselves every year. Taking down one or even two of them just to get to the Frozen Four will be a monumental task season-to-season. But, we have seen strong individual games against Denver, Quinnipiac and Minnesota State, among others, over the years during the regular season. A run is possible. Getting to the tournament is hard.

As for the next Pac-12 school to join the NCAA, I don’t see it happening soon. There are eight Pac-12 schools in the D2 ACHA (one of two club leagues, the other being the CHF) club “Pacific 8” conference, including ASU. Outside of that conference and competing at the D1 level is, you guessed it, the University of Arizona. Utah also has a team at that level.

Adding and removing programs have Title IX implications as well, and it would take dropping a men’s sport to add another one. For now, the Devils stand alone.