And so, this Sunday the sporting year of 2006 comes to an end. Like any other year, it has produced its share of thrilling moments, moments that will be and have been recounted by many other columnists this week. To be sure, 2006 had its fair share of praise-worthy stories — the Final Four run of the George Mason Patriots and the Super Bowl win by the Pittsburgh Steelers with hometown hero Jerome Bettis (did you know he’s from Detroit?) among them. There have been stories of the peculiar — such as when a Romanian Soccer player was traded for 33 pounds of meat. Heck, even the media wasn’t safe from the transaction wire. ABC dealt announcer Al Michaels to NBC for the rights to a 1927 cartoon rabbit.
There have also been stories that have cast a pallor over the world of sports — those of Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis and their alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. Then there have been stories so shameful that they make Bonds and Landis’s doings seem tame by comparison. Take, for example, the case of Minnesota Timberwolves player Eddie Griffin. It was shameful that Griffin crashed his SUV into a parked car while driving drunk and without a license, but plenty of athletes have done that before. The fact that Griffin did so while watching a pornographic movie on a dashboard video screen and furiously … uh … working his stick shift … takes this particular ignominious instance to a whole new level.
In instances such as Griffin’s, I think we can all agree that it would be best to simply move on and look to the future.
So what’s up next? What are the big issues looming before the sports world in 2007. Here’s a look at what figures to be mentioned in next year’s batch of year in review columns.
Has Cinderella been working out? George Mason might have won last season’s Elite Eight Clash with Wichita State, but currently the Shockers are No. 16 in the country. What’s more, almost a full fifth of the Top 25 is currently comprised of mid-majors, with Butler, Air Force and Nevada also ranked. That doesn’t even include perennial mid-major darling Gonzaga, who sits just outside at No. 26. At this time last season, only two mid-majors were ranked: Gonzaga and Nevada. Does this mean that the Mids are better this season, or that now they’re being recognized. It could be the latter, but even the unranked Mids are playing tough. Old Dominion (of the Colonial Athletic Association) defeated Georgetown on the Hoyas’ home court. Drexel (also of the CAA) has road wins against Villanova and Syracuse. Oral Roberts even gobbled up Kansas at Allen Field House.
Parity appears to be upon the NCAA, but will these mid-majors get recognized in March? If they do, will they still perform without the element of surprise?
Will NCAA football teams like Rutgers and Wake Forest continue to improve in 2007? It seems like Greg Schiano is staying put in Jersey, and now that Rutgers is no longer a joke of a program, perhaps it can capitalize on its proximity to New York and capture that city’s football market. You want exposure, kid? You want your name in lights? Why go to L.A. when the Big Apple’s got all that and more. Heck, even if they can keep their top recruits in the state of New Jersey (recruits like, say, Dwayne Jarrett), the Knights will continue to improve. Wake will have it harder, as Miami and Florida State aren’t going away. Neither is North Carolina, having reinvested in the program with new coach Butch Davis.
Much like the Energizer Bunny and Rocky movies, for Major League Baseball, the steroid controversy just keeps going and going. And in 2007 it seems like it’s poised to generate the most waves of all. Not only could Barry Bonds break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, but Mark McGwire’s name appears on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.
Bud Selig must be praying that federal prosecutors will find Barry’s name in the confiscated 2003 steroid reports (an appeals court ruled they could use the evidence on Tuesday) and indict Bonds, thus solving this dilemma for him.
If that doesn’t happen, Selig faces a tough choice on whether or not to recognize Bonds as the new home run king. And that opens another box of worms.
If Selig takes a stand on Bonds, then where does it leave him with other tainted guys like McGwire who resurrected the game after the 1994 strike, but allegedly cheated in doing so? Who else was named in those 2003 test results? What will happen to them?
If Major League Baseball wants people to continue to hold the game in high esteem as the county’s national pastime, it must hold those involved with it to a higher standard. But if it does so, players just as famous and far more liked than Bonds will probably get burned. One way or another, this one is a powder keg.
As exciting as all of these stories promise to be, I just ask you all to please, heed the lesson of Eddie Griffin and just keep your pants on.