Since 2001, this New Year’s Day space has been devoted to looking forward to the coming year in sports.
There have been serious predictions, silly predictions and wishful predictions. Some of them have come true. Most of them haven’t.
After a 2011 that was filled with brilliant highs and disgraceful lows, this seems like a good time to wish again for things that will make the sports world better. Here’s a foursome to start things out.
1. A real college football postseason.
The upcoming BCS games in New Orleans are so exquisitely flawed that it has rekindled the annual hope that real and significant change is on the horizon to fix the disastrous BCS.
The first sham is the once venerable Sugar Bowl, which sold out integrity and merit to the highest bidders (or presumed best travelers). The Sugar Bowl committee bypassed more worthy, but lower-profile, programs Boise State and Kansas State to invite big-name conference also-rans Virginia Tech and Michigan. The idea was that their fan bases would flock to the French Quarter in droves. Turns out the joke was on them, because Hokies and Wolverines fans were too unimpressed with their teams’ unfulfilled seasons to want to spend a small fortune to watch a meaningless game to see which might claim a final top-10 ranking. If the BCS bowls aren’t going to be based on merit, they have no value. If they have no value, they should be flushed.
But this disgraceful cronyism was upstaged by the Superdome showdown coming a week later. The SEC rematch between No. 1 LSU and division runner-up Alabama is exactly the kind of ridiculous climax the BCS needed to finally reach implosion threshold. It completely debunks the system’s stated myth that “every game counts” by proving that only some games count. Alabama gets a second chance despite already losing on its home field to Louisiana State University. Why? Because the Crimson Tide just FEELS like the second best team to the pageant voters. It should be noted that the computers picked Alabama third despite the fact that Oklahoma State beat eight Division I teams with winning records to Alabama’s three. Results, however, don’t really matter. Just appearances.
This will change. This latest mockery of a “championship” will lead to necessary reform. The BCS can’t hold up any longer. It will at the very least create a “plus-one” system that becomes a de facto four-team playoff. Here’s hoping that opens the door to a more legitimate playoff down the road.
2. A tighter MLB postseason.
Major League Baseball seems intent on ruining drama, and the recent decision to expand its postseason with a second wild card team in each league to create a one-game play-in game is another example of greedy leadership.
The final day of the 2011 regular season was arguably the greatest single night of baseball in more than a century. Four games on that last day sealed epic meltdowns by the Braves and the Red Sox and stunning comebacks by the Cardinals and Rays. Three of the games created a simultaneous frenzy of drama that was akin to college basketball’s March Madness. It left fans flipping between channels breathless.
All of that would have been just another day in a 162-game season if the wild cards were expanded. As much as I didn’t like the wild card option to begin with, it has added another layer of intrigue among pretty worthy teams. Further diluting the playoff pool will only dull the drama and diminish the value of postseason qualification. Here’s hoping MLB rethinks this ill-conceived “enhancement.”
3. An awakening of golf’s leadership.
Golf is my favorite sport to play and cover, and so many things about it could be made better if the folks in charge of governing the game would get their collective acts together. Here are three things of immediate concern that need to be addressed.
The first is to scrap this absurd idea of eliminating the openly democratic process known as Q School for a fall series between flailing PGA Tour members and Nationwide Tour scrappers to determine status. Why should a guy who had a whole season to make money on both tours get a second chance while the very best collegians must be forced to hit the minor leagues and mini-tour dreamers get shut out? Q School, as flawed and sadistic as it is, gives everyone an equal chance. The tour’s new plan would create a closed shop.
Speaking of which, there has become too great a reliance on the flawed world golf rankings. So much now rides on the arbitrary fractional line of top-50 status – major championship and WGC inclusion – that it is widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. When silly season events such as the Chevron and Nedbank challenges can let a guy leap from 52nd to 21st in the world, something is wrong with the system. Here’s hoping an entity with the clout of Augusta National can break this exclusionary clique and create its own criteria for qualification that isn’t so reliant on something created and run by a player-management company.
On the governing side, it’s time the ruling bodies showed some backbone on the technology front. They’ve lost the plot on golf balls and clubs that have made some of the great courses obsolete. The least they can do is step up and nip this long-putter issue in the bud before it’s too late. Golf clubs should NEVER be anchored to the body – period. It is literally a crutch. Long and belly putters were created to help golfers whose nerves created the yips. Shouldn’t controlling those nerves be a part of the game? No offense to PGA champ Keegan Bradley and rising star Webb Simpson, but their accomplishments will always have that asterisk until they show they can do it without a crutch.
4. A return to glory by Tiger Woods.
There have been plenty of declarations that Woods is “back” after he snapped a two-year slump and won his 16-player exhibition in December. While reasonable folks understand that the invincible Tiger who once dominated the game like nobody else will likely never return, he’s still one of the best players in the world and capable of climbing back to No. 1.
A victory soon in a major (most likely the Masters) and some rivalries with a new generation of challengers along with a few aging stars like Phil Mickelson will only make golf even better. Woods may or may not be capable of catching and surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors, but it would be thrilling to see him draw closer and make it interesting while guys like Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel and Rickie Fowler try to hold him at bay.