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ASU ATHLETICS: The good, the bad and the ugly; Ray Anderson’s tenure as Sun Devils Athletic Director

The accomplishment and shortcomings of former athletic director Ray Anderson

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nine years ago, Arizona State University President Michael Crow introduced a man who stepped down from his position of Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Atlanta Falcons to the exploding athletic scene in Tempe, Arizona. Ray Anderson was the qualified candidate who took the job in January of 2014, transforming the Arizona State athletic department across nearly a decade during rapidly changing times of college athletics.

Under Anderson, Sun Devil Athletics has been good, bad and ugly.

The good: Expansion

Under Anderson, Sun Devil Athletics expanded greatly as athletic director. Since 2014, Anderson helped to introduce four new varsity sports: men’s ice hockey, men’s tennis, women’s lacrosse and triathlon. Anderson was responsible for hiring 23 new coaches across nine years for 18 different sports. A tremendous amount of change, for better or for worse, under Anderson.

In 2015, Sun Devil Stadium underwent a nearly 300-million dollar renovation which Anderson oversaw. The renovations, officially completed in 2019, reduced seating, the rebuilt the west side, lower loge level and the east side lower bowl. The project introduced significant upgrades to the club levels, a new athletic training facility on the north end as well as a new video board.

Anderson and the Sun Devils agreed to a deal with Adidas in 2015, an eight-year partnership for all officially licensed on-field apparel. The $33.8 million deal at the time was worth double what ASU was receiving from the previous outfitter, Nike. The deal ranked inside the top 10 nationally when Anderson signed it.

In November of 2020, the Arizona Board of Regents approved Arizona State’s 5,000-seat ice hockey arena, Mullet Arena. After two intense years of construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the arena was completed under the leadership of Anderson, a significant asset to the campus of ASU and to the university’s athletic department. In January of 2022, the Arizona Coyotes and Arizona State agreed to a three-year deal for the Coyotes to play their home games in Mullet, bringing significant revenue to the school.

Winnipeg Jets v Arizona Coyotes
Mullett Arena opened in October of 2022 and quickly became a premier college hockey destination.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Anderson, along with Crow, was instrumental in securing a 15-year naming rights deal from Mountain America Credit Union in August of 2023, one of the largest rights deals in college sports history.

Most recently, Anderson was at the helm when Arizona State needed to exit the dissolving Pac-12 and perhaps influential in ASU maintaining their alliance with fellow Pac-12 schools Arizona and Utah. Although necessary, Sun Devil Athletics will receive a healthy check of $42 million in 2025 once the naming rights deal hits the Big 12.

Another key element, often overlooked in Anderson’s period in charge, was the academic success of Sun Devil Athletics. In 2021, 10 ASU athletic programs hit 100 percent graduation success rate, a new high.

For more information about Anderson’s accomplishments as athletic director, visit the Sun Devil Athletics website article.

The bad: Moderate success in three major sports

In February of 2021, despite heavy criticism from ASU donors and alum, Anderson received a five-year extension to continue oversight of Sun Devil Athletics. At the time of signing his deal, Anderson was the second highest-paid athletic director in the nation, according to AthleticDirectorU.

Oftentimes with Anderson, ASU’s on-the-field success came under question. For Sun Devil fans, three major sports became an issue and contributed to Anderson’s lackluster reputation with the community.

Under Anderson, the football program drowned in the competitive changes that West Coast football underwent in the last 10 seasons. Not once did ASU win the Pac-12, let alone make the conference championship game. ASU football went through three different coaches, one interim and appeared in three Sun Bowls, two Las Vegas Bowls and one Cactus Bowl, going just 2-6 in bowl games. In nine years, ASU produced two All-Americans. ASU’s football record while under Anderson is 56-57, not including bowl games.

Men’s basketball, while qualifying for the tournament four times in nine years under Anderson, hasn’t gotten past the first round. 181-142 is ASU’s men’s basketball record in nine years under head coach Bobby Hurley, a hire that sparked basketball culture back into Tempe, but has drawn little results in March since. The pressure between Anderson and Hurley has reached an all-time high, especially in the past few years with issues of trust

Perhaps the biggest fall from prominence has come on the diamond for Arizona State. The grip on utter dominance of the college baseball realm has loosened significantly over the watchful eye of Anderson. Anderson hired two coaches, Tracy Smith and Willie Bloomquist over the past 10 baseball seasons and qualified for the NCAA tournament in five of those years, never advancing past the regionals. This is the longest stretch of ASU baseball without a World Series or Super Regional appearance, and it isn’t particularly close. The Sun Devils have finished with a losing record only four times in their 64-year history, three of those times have come in the past 10 years.

Arizona State Sun Devils v Florida Gators
The decline of ASU baseball has been historic. Once an Omaha regular, the Sun Devils haven’t been back in 13 years.
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

ASU has won eight team national championships under Anderson with women’s golf winning in 2017 and triathlon winning seven straight titles from 2016-2023.

The ugly: Scandals

The saga that was Herm Edwards involved possible recruiting violations by ASU football and resulted in a self-imposed bowl ban for the 2023 season, the first year of head coach Kenny Dillingham. Anderson was heavily criticized for his retention of Edwards during the allegations, and common opinion in the ASU fanbase, boosters and media worsened.

In 2020, former associate athletic director, David Cohen, filed a claim against Arizona State and Anderson after his termination in 2019. Cohen suggested the university and Anderson take action in investigating former booster Bart Wear for sexual harassment of three women, one being Cohen’s wife. Cohen claimed Anderson ignored these allegations and attempted to cover up these accusations which occurred during the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas of 2020. The University and Anderson claim his firing had nothing to do with the claim filed by Cohen.

Anderson’s time with Sun Devil Athletics was impactful nonetheless. Although his career will certainly be defined by additions and key partnerships, his leadership qualities in directing sports for one of the largest universities in the country will forever be in contention. Anderson will officially continue his next chapter solely as a professor and advisor at the Sandra O’ Day School of Law under the same salary of $950,000 thousand a year until 2026.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State
Ray Anderson will continue to teach at ASU’s school of law under the same salary.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

“The goal for our student-athletes is simple: make it the most excellent opportunity and experience they could possibly have.”— Ray Anderson in the introductory press conference in January of 2014