LOL, here’s me, an athletic drop-out who gets winded jogging up a single flight of stairs, dropping opinions for saving Arkansas State’s baseball, basketball and football programs. I’m just a guy in the stands who is currently procrastinating on billable work to deliver my unsolicited solutions to problems far too complex for mortal man to untangle. Don’t worry about my reputation. It’s besmirched beyond repair.
To pinpoint the problems surrounding A-State athletics isn’t much of an exercise. We need more money. More recruiting. More talent. More facilities. Maybe a few more benefactors (seems like the steel industry is picking up in NEA). Red Wolves always need more. However, more is difficult to come by in a state where more is perpetually earmarked to the sports program who has the most. So let’s focus on one thing; what is the one thing that each of these programs need to pull themselves into the Sun Belt’s elite orbit?
Red Wolves Men’s Basketball
Arkansas State hasn’t seen a conference championship since 1999 and seems forever mired in ho-hum doldrums. However, the recently completed season has given fans a glimmer of what lies beyond mediocrity’ gray veil. The team has the Sun Belt Player of the Year in Norchad Omier, and it will see key contributors return like Desi Sills, Antwon Jackson, Caleb Fields and Markise Davis. So what does this team, that finished 6th this year in the Sun Belt, need to challenge the conference elite?
The First Priority: Get a Lights Out Shooting Guard
The Red Wolves have enjoyed a recent history of capable shooters: Ty Cockfield, Devin Carter and Trey Finn come to mind. What those guys lacked was the balance of the dominate inside presence that Omier provides. The roster currently includes player with shooter potential, such as Sills, Malcolm Farrington and perhaps Caleb London. But what Mike Balado needs to find is a transfer guy who can take over the game from 15-25 feet out.
Red Wolves Football
For ten years, the Red Wolves enjoyed a nice string of bowl games punctuated by conference championships. For the last two seasons, fans have endured an unfamiliar hell, culminating in a 2-win season in 2021. When Butch Jones took over the program last season, it was clear that the Red Wolves had fallen behind the Sun Belt talent-wise. Programs like Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, and Appalachian State got bigger and faster, while Arkansas State seemed stunted.
The First Priority: Recruit Players, Not Projects
It’s a kind of Red Wolves tradition to scour the Earth for jewels in the rough and turn them into solid Sun Belt players. The program often brought in undersized defensive linemen, light offensive linemen, and undefined “athletes” and converted them into bowl bids. That’s not good enough in today’s Sun Belt. Butch Jones and his staff need to recruit size, speed and skills, and all reports indicate that the team is on that track.
Red Wolves Baseball
Red Wolves baseball hasn’t won a conference championship since 1993. Since the under-supported Tommy Raffo took over the program in 2008, the Red Wolves have gone 334-369-1. Currently, Arkansas State is 4-13 and has lost seven straight at Tomlinson Stadium. The team ranks last in the Sun Belt for fielding percentage, has committed the most errors, ranks 9th in slugging, has delivered the most bases-on-balls, and is dead last in ERA – 7.26! This isn’t just bad baseball; it’s impossible to watch baseball. Can anything save this program?
The First Priority: Start From Scratch
There’s nothing to do here but start over. The A-State Athletic Department announced its intentions to build new facilities, and funding that initiative is vital. But honestly, new turf and a beer garden isn’t going to rescue this program, which has simply lost so many games and disappointed so many fans that it has become invisible. It’s time to start over; pretend it’s a new program. Just get rid of everything: from the “ASU” logo to every person affiliated with the program. And then, find some deep pockets to fund a full staff of quality assistant coaches.