Every year the sports world has trends that crop up, and invariably most of those trends are terrible and need to go away immediately. From ugly behavior on social media to bad trends within the games themselves, let's take a look at some sports trends from 2019 that need to disappear in 2020.
The Astros are quickly being revealed as one of baseball's more loathsome organizations, but they still have some fun players. Alex Bregman was trying to have some fun when he homered in Game 6 of the World Series and then carried his bat all the way to first base. Naturally people got angry and Bregman apologized, even though what he did was fun, and what Washington's Juan Soto did, mocking Bregman's celebration after he hit a go-ahead homer later in the game, was also fun. Baseball has a major problem with the unwritten rules, so let's hope 2020 is the year that the sport stops taking itself so seriously.
The New Orleans Saints were high-profile victims of an early whistle in a Week 2 NFC championship game rematch with the Rams, when what should have been a fumble return touchdown was instead whistled dead. The play changed the course of the game and possibly the outcome. NFL officials have been much too quick to blow plays dead when they should be letting things play out, particularly because egregious missed calls can (and should) be fixed with instant replay. For a group that misses plenty of calls, officials sure are happy to blow their whistles when they shouldn't.
The Clippers got fined for a situation involving Kawhi Leonard and rest, and it isn't just network suits who get mad when a prominent player sits for a prime-time game, its fans as well. The NBA has done a great job of marketing individual stars, but this is the flip side of that coin. Having said that, it's a long, grueling season, and while fan disappointment is understandable, the degree to which some grouse about it is over the top. You'll still get to watch your favorite players 75 times or more. The world isn't ending.
You've seen it if you've been to a baseball game and watched a home run sail over the fence. The pulsing light show plays as the hitter rounds the bases. You've also seen it at college football games, particularly Alabama's. I don't recall this being a trend before last year, but it can stop right now. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, but it already seems played out and cliche, and if I may have a "get off my lawn" moment, it makes me think the stadium is about to have a power outage.
Chase Young in college football. James Wiseman in college basketball. It doesn't matter which major revenue generating sport is being discussed, chances are the NCAA is doing something to screw it up all while under the guise of trying to keep high-level college sports "pure" and the veneer of amateurism shiny. No one is fooled. Big-time college sports are a dirty business, and the NCAA is a profiteer without compare. It would be glorious if 2020 was the year we saw this mindless bureaucracy decide to stay in the background and stop trying to play watchdog despite its own corruption.
The chain gang is still a thing that exists. Spotting the football is a laughably inexact science, so much so that there is an entire Twitter feed devoted to bad refereeing that focuses much of its attention on spotting. Figuring out whether the ball made it over the goal line is a torturous process. The NFL is a multibillion dollar business, and 2020 needs to be the year that a fraction of the league's vast resources are used to improve the technology that often decides games.
Riveron is the NFL's senior vice president of officials, and he has the final word on all pass interference challenges. He butchered one spectacularly in the Ravens' Week 11 beatdown of the Texans, upholding the initial no-call on the field on a play that saw Marlon Humphrey bear hug DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone, clearly preventing him from catching a touchdown. Riveron is in over his head, and his seemingly happy-go-lucky manner makes his incompetence all the more infuriating. It's time for a replacement — or a whole new system — in 2020.
You still don't have to look too hard to find a highlight of a great dunk — usually from the NBA — and see responses to the original highlight pointing out that the dunker in question traveled. Even when traveling truthers are right, which is often, they're missing the point. Traveling violations are rarely missed in major spots, and if one of the best athletes on the planet takes an extra step while gearing up for a breakaway windmill dunk, the sanctity of the sport will survive. It is entertainment, after all. Hopefully 2020 brings with it an end to traveling trutherism.
Has Lamar Jackson put the mobile quarterback discussion to bed? That is not to say that every mobile quarterback will succeed the way Jackson has but more to point out that the days of short-sighted general managers, scouts or talking heads saying, "so-and-so should just be moved to wide receiver" need to be done. The NFL is more innovative than ever with offense, and Jackson's success with Baltimore should be a sign that sometimes you just need to surround elite talents with the best supporting cast possible, and let them do their thing.
The latest example of this phenomenon happened with Falcons running back Brian Hill, who was picked up by fantasy owners who thought he would get a lot of touches against the Panthers. They were bitterly disappointed when his 15 carries netted just 30 yards, and his one catch went for just 8. Hill caught plenty of flak on Twitter, which he thankfully swatted away with a tweet telling angry fantasy owners that he didn't care about their teams. But the idea that people still want to gripe at athletes for ruining their fantasy squad is, what's the word — childish? Maybe. Pathetic? That's better.
It sure seems like baseball is heading for a major labor war, but a more disheartening trend within the sport is the seeming devaluation of players across the board. Contracts seem to be trending in the wrong direction, and now analytics departments are almost more important than players. The fact that the approach has worked in places like Houston is part of the problem, because it justifies a continuation of this behavior while locking players in with one team for a long enough time that they never have the chance to sign a big free agent contract. The sport has many problems, and this dynamic is chief among them and needs to go away.
Last year it was the .gif reaction tweet that I prayed would go away in 2019. It has not. This year let's all try to do a little better than posting "dead," or "wow," or "this," on a sports highlight or story. There is only so much of that that I can tolerate before I go crazy. Twitter is a place presumably full of clever, bored people trying to procrastinate at work. Let's see some better responses in 2020, people. If you have only one word to say, don't say it at all.
Stats are great. I love stats. They give context to the present, to what we're seeing with our own eyes, and they are helpful for figuring out who is good and who is not good. But sometimes when I watch a baseball game and see a great catch, and then find out that the catch probability was actually 35 percent, I get a little bummed out. The technology is good, yes, but I don't know, perhaps keep a little of the mystery? I'm trying to imagine being a kid today watching a game and saying, "Wow mom, wow, dad, Mike Trout's exit velocity there was 106.7 miles per hour!" I know these things all have very real utility, but they are contributing factors in the continuing data takeover of baseball.
"Outside leverage." "12" personnel. "A" gap. All of these terms are important to football. Understanding them helps people comprehend the game of football better. In a vacuum all of those things are good. But when analysis becomes dominated with those terms, instead of simpler explanations of what they mean, my eyes start to glaze over — and I'm paid to cover and talk about sports. I can't imagine what casual fans think when they hear some of this jargon. An appeal for 2020 to all the smart football folks out there: Dumb it down for the rest of us.
I love basketball. Love the NBA, too. But some of the arbitrary statistical achievements that pass as "noteworthy" are starting to get to me. I don't need to know if someone was the first player since [fill in the blank] to have 12 points, four blocks, three assists and two steals in the third quarter of a road game. Easy to digest, obviously spectacular achievements are great, but there is such a thing as too much data, and the admittedly impressive NBA research arm is guilty of it.
As sports betting becomes legal in more and more states, I think there is one thing we can all agree should happen in 2020, and that's that vague injury updates in hockey need to be over and done with. Yes, the sport is the hardest to bet on and yes, even star players being out can be irrelevant, but this "upper body injury, lower body injury" nonsense is for the birds. We live in a hyper-connected age, so when I see someone's knee twist like a pretzel, the last thing I want to hear is, "day-to-day with a lower body injury."
Pictured here is James Harden executing his greatest move. It's called "get fouled." Harden is at once the most devastating isolation scorer in league history and also the personification of everything bad about the modern NBA. He's a ruthlessly efficient player, which in his case means getting to the foul line 14 times per game on average. Harden makes about 86 percent of his free throws, which is how he's averaging 36 points per game this season. That would be electrifying if it was all slashing and shooting and dunking, but his methods are painful to watch yet very much en vogue. I may sound like a grumpy old fart, but how about aesthetics over efficiency in 2020?
Nike revealed its new Milwaukee Brewers uniform designs, and in the process the Brewers sent out a tweet about minor stylistic changes to their iconic "glove" logo. The explanation of the (extremely minor) changes was one of the most tortured things you'll ever read and was a case study in marketing minutiae. The new logo is virtually identical to the old one but came with a backstory worthy of a screenplay. It's a logo. You're trying to sell more merchandise. That can be the end of it. The Brewers aren't alone in this regard, but in this instance they're the ones that get picked on. Sorry, Milwaukee!
Let's get something out of the way right off the bat: The "NCAA Football" series was infinitely superior to "Madden" in every way. It still is, even though there hasn't been a new game in years. Yet "Madden" has become a cultural touchstone. The players still play it, so stories are written about it that actually gain plenty of traction. If it was a better video game, perhaps I would humor this absurdity a little more. It is not, so let's let 2020 be the year that we all acknowledge that the game is buggy and glitchy and just not very good, and never speak of it again.
Can it be over? Carmelo Anthony was once one of the league's great pure scorers, but as the NBA turned into a three-point shooting league, he was left behind. He's found his way back onto a roster with Portland, and nostalgic fans are hoping he salvages some late-career dignity. But his first game back brought with it a 4-of-14 shooting performance and five turnovers in 24 minutes. Sometimes it's OK to say it's over.
There are plenty of good men and women coaching college sports. Many of the best toil in anonymity, because the highest-profile coaches tend to be the most obnoxious. Can we stop making them the stars? No more finding out what Dabo Swinney thinks about the major issues confronting college sports. No more Nick Saban getting grumpy with reporters. No more huffy denials by the Bill Selfs of the world. None of it. These aren't exactly the most morally strident people around, so focusing less on them and more on the (unpaid) players would be a refreshing change.
Multiple times per year, a story comes out about the NFL still considering the possibility of a team in London. The logistics of this, of course, are nightmarish, and that's one of many reasons why it will likely never happen. Still, the fact that the whole thing isn't feasible doesn't stop the masses from speculating about which team would get moved. Let's put the issue to bed now. It will likely never happen, but if it does it will be the Jaguars on the move. The end!
This one has no chance of happening. Once Pandora's Box was opened years ago, there was no closing it. Still, in case you were wondering, the high school debuts of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's sons for their California team was a thing that you could watch live on the internet. I have no idea if the game I briefly clicked on was a freshman team game, a JV game or the varsity team playing; all I know is that I immediately felt some sympathy for both teenagers because their next several years will be anything but a normal high school experience.
Remember earlier when I lamented about the tech takeover of baseball and the loss of some of the sport's mystery and folksy charm as a result? One place on the diamond where there shouldn't be mystery is the strike zone, but all too often we see umpires make inconsistent ball and strike calls and affect the outcomes of games as a result. I suspect the technology has advanced enough that computerized strike zones could be possible. So let's bring some actual progress to the sport in 2020, shall we?
Does anyone do this anymore? Fighting in the sport is way down, so why not do away with it altogether? Fewer than 200 games had a fighting major in the 2018-19 season, and just 15.3 percent of games had a fight. Ten years prior, it was 41.4 percent. No one seems to be enjoying the sport less despite some hockey fans claiming that fewer fights would make the sport less fun and interesting. Do away with it altogether, NHL. It's possible no one will even notice, much less get mad.