As 2012 comes to a close and 2013 begins, it’s time for some New Year’s resolutions. The sports world is in a pretty good place right now, but it could be in an even better place next year. Here are 10 things I’d love to see in 2013. — Peter Schrager
Even more inspiring comeback stories
Whether it was Peyton Manning, Chuck Pagano (pictured), Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Kayla Harrison, Buster Posey or Eric LeGrand, there were more than a few incredibly inspiring comeback stories in the sports world in 2012. Here’s to seeing even more in 2013.
Accept advanced technology in the sports world
The year 2012 was the year of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. If there was something you wanted done, there was a high-tech way to do it. But our sports leagues continue to ignore everything going on in Silicon Valley. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the NFL, where referees have to imagine uprights extending indefinitely into the heavens and have to blindly parse through piles of behemoth linemen to determine whether a runner has crossed the invisible plane that is the end zone. This month, soccer unveiled goal-line technology at the Club World Cup, a precursor to its use in the 2014 World Cup. This is a major step for the world's most popular game, a move that will undoubtedly ensure wrongly disallowed goals such as Frank Lampard's "goal that never was" for England in the 2010 World Cup are correctly adjudged in the future. Other sports leagues should take a page from FIFA's playbook and use technology to make sure the most fundamental aspect of the game, scoring points, is accurately judged.
Fewer headaches for Roger Goodell
It wasn’t a great 2012 for the NFL’s commissioner. Though the game is still simmering and TV ratings are at an all-time high, Goodell had a rough calendar year. First, there was the Bountygate situation and Paul Tagliabue’s eventual overturning of the Saints players’ suspensions. Then, there was the Ed Reed one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit, which was overturned, as well. The year ended with Richard Sherman winning his appeal for a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Add in widespread criticism for the Thursday night schedule, mounting lawsuits from ex-players and a string of off-the-field DUIs by players, and Roger Goodell — usually, a national media darling — could certainly go for a better 2013.
A better sports year for Cleveland
The year 2012 wasn’t kind to Cleveland’s professional sports teams. It was awful for the city’s fans. The Cavs struggled for the second straight year without LeBron James. The Browns limped to another season at the bottom of the AFC North. The Indians finished 20 games out of first place in the American League Central. If the poor play wasn’t enough for the fans to endure, key players on two teams actually took umbrage with the Cleveland sports fans. In May, Indians pitcher Chris Perez told reporters: “It feels like I can’t even give up a baserunner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It (ticks) me off.” Last week, Browns return man Josh Cribbs said: “A lot of people don’t know nothing about football and keep calling this just a game. But this is our life, this is my life. It’s more than a game to me.” Three franchises, three very, very bad 2012s. This city deserves better.
Knicks-Nets and Lakers-Clippers in NBA playoffs
It surely will be Durant vs. LeBron, Part II in the NBA Finals, and everyone will be just fine with that. But in the opening round of this year’s NBA playoffs, let’s see the battles of New York and Los Angeles. After jumping out red hot, Brooklyn has slumped badly, culminating with the firing of coach Avery Johnson one month after he won NBA Coach of the Month honors. The Knicks continue to stay hot and atop the NBA’s Atlantic Division. Out west, it has been a reversal of fortunes for Los Angeles’ two hoops teams. The Clippers are playing so well that Magic Johnson referred to them as “Showtime." The Lakers got off to a rocky start, but Steve Nash is finally healthy and Pau Gasol’s back in the lineup. It would make for quite a couple weeks on both coasts if the teams squared off in intracity opening-round series.
Get a real QB for Larry Fitzgerald
Consider this: In a loaded field for the Pro Bowl at the NFC’s wide receiver position — one that included such young stars as Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Victor Cruz, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Randall Cobb, Vincent Jackson, and Michael Crabtree — Larry Fitzgerald didn’t finish in the top 20 in receiving yards in the conference. The Arizona Cardinals veteran wasn’t injured. He wasn’t disgruntled. He wasn’t serving a suspension. He just had nobody throwing him the ball. It seems like forever ago, but Fitzgerald was once the most dominant and feared wide receiver in the NFL. At 29, he should be in the very prime of his career. Alas, his entire 2012 campaign was a throwaway — like so many of the passes tossed near him. Here’s to a fresh 2013 for Larry Fitz.
A healthy Rafael Nadal
Men’s tennis might not be the biggest thing going in sports in early January, but with a healthy Rafael Nadal in 2013, we could have the sport’s greatest year of all-time. Alas, Nadal needs to get right and he’s not. With Roger Federer still playing strong tennis well into his 30s, Novak Djokovic at his best and Andy Murray finally a grand-slam champion, it’s the perfect year for all four to square off. But Nadal withdrew from the Australian Open last week. He missed the US Open and the Olympics because of tendinitis in his left knee. "My knee is much better, and the rehabilitation process has gone well, as predicted by the doctors," Nadal said in a statement. "But this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week, and, therefore, I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open." Get well, Rafa.
Less conference realignment
This came up for discussion recently: Would the Big East be wise to bring in Gonzaga and St. Mary’s? Two up-and-coming basketball programs, quality academic institutions — it made some sense. But Spokane, Wash., and Moraga, Calif., would be awfully strange in the Big East. Then again, does San Diego State make any sense? How about Tulane? Should West Virginia be in the Big 12? Does Texas A&M belong in the SEC? College football and basketball conferences have realigned so many times in the past few years that even the most fervent college sports fan would be hard-pressed to name all the teams in each conference correctly. This was not the year for college athletes. They took a backseat to heinous scandals (Penn State, specifically), high-priced coaching moves and widespread conference realignment. It would be great if college sports just chilled out with the realignment and we heard less from folks such as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany (pictured). For one year, at least.
An end to this seemingly endless NHL labor dispute
It is awfully strange to see a professional sports league have its third major labor dispute in 18 years. We’ve already lost one full season a few years ago, and it looks like we’re headed down that road again. Fresh off an exciting Los Angeles Kings run to the Stanley Cup, fans were ready to jump back into hockey this winter. Alas, we're seeing players at union press conferences (pictured) instead of on the ice. It would be nice to see some NHL hockey at some point in 2013. If that doesn’t work, Paulina Gretzky’s Twitter feed will have to suffice.
A new (happier) home for Tim Tebow
A year ago, Tim Tebow was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and leading his Denver Broncos to a playoff win over the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. A year later, he’s a lost man on a team that doesn’t want him in a city that doesn’t care for him. After a season in which he saw less than 50 snaps, even Tebow’s good reputation as a “team player” took a hit when reports of him refusing to enter a Week 16 game surfaced. Tebow needs a fresh start. Whether that’s in Jacksonville, New England or Toronto, Tebow needs a fresh start and a clean slate. Will he ever start an NFL playoff game again? Maybe. At quarterback? Probably not. Either way, he needs to escape the toxicity of Rex Ryan’s locker room, the New York City tabloids and whatever else brought him down in 2012.