Every year the sports world gives rise to new trends - celebrations, memes, and so forth - that become part of the cultural landscape. Some of these are good and fun, and some, not so much. There are also plenty of dynamics in the sports world that have been around for years and are grating and annoying. Let's take a look at some sports trends we hope to meet their demise in 2022.
I think this one's pretty self-explanatory, at this point. Shall we move right along?
We've had enough of this phony now, right? How many different times does Meyer have to prove himself unworthy of another chance at the college level - no matter how much he wins - and unworthy of another cushy television gig? His failure in the pros was as miserable as it was predictable, and his hollow family values-themed mantras were forever exposed as the fraudulent cover story of a disrespectful bully. The guy has made a ton of money selling people a false bill of goods. Hopefully, he doesn't work again in 2022, and beyond.
Does anyone like the NFL's new emphasis on enforcing taunting fouls? Anyone other than the dullards on the league's competition committee, I mean. The NFL is encouraging group celebrations after turnovers, but direct chatter to a member of the opposing team after a play is somehow a bridge too far? In the rare situations where such a flag seems warranted by the letter and spirit of the rule, it occasionally goes uncalled. In more innocuous situations, a flag is thrown and fans are driven crazy. The NFL is in the entertainment business, and football is an emotional game. The league would do well to remember both of those things.
Deion Sanders lured the nation’s top recruit to Jackson State, an HBCU, and away from Florida State. The reaction was predictable, with some grousing from rival coaches, who decried the situation as if it were somehow unfair. The beginning of the NIL era has been a major positive change for college sports, but one predictable downside was that a bunch of multi-millionaire coaches would whine and gripe and generally be as hypocritical as humanly possible about the whole thing. I think I speak for everyone when I say, “won’t someone think of the incredibly rich coaches in these difficult times?”
If there’s one sport I could pick to gain a massive amount of popularity in 2022, it would be women’s volleyball. The sport is fast-paced, easy to watch and understand, yet filled with enough nuance to justify plenty of analysis. In short, it’s the perfect televised sport – and much more entertaining than men’s volleyball – and something that would be a welcome addition to the televised sports scene. Oh, and it’s extremely difficult to play well, which makes the action that much easier to appreciate.
Aren’t you getting tired of firing up Twitter during a nationally televised football game and seeing people whine about analytics after a team goes for it on fourth down and fails? The trend of “real” football fans whining about mathematically sound decisions that also factor in the quality of a team and its opponent, or lack thereof, is becoming exhausting. What should be far more annoying for most fans is the refusal of many coaches - with John Harbaugh and Brandon Staley notable exceptions - to abandon their old ways and continue to make conservative decisions. Hopefully, 2022 is the year where common sense takes hold and “probability” isn’t treated as a four-letter word.
Alabama playing for – and likely winning – the national championship feels like an inevitability most years. There’s not much anyone can do about that except hope that Nick Saban gets bored and wants to see the world. That said, it’s past time for college football to expand the playoff to 12 teams. I was previously a proponent of maintaining the status quo, but it’s obvious that the same handful of teams – Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, perhaps Oklahoma or another wild card on occasion – will make it. Cincinnati is a nice story this year, but expanding the playoff makes it feel like a more attainable, more exciting endeavor.
Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III were two notable names to bow out of their teams’ bowl games. It just so happened that they were slated to oppose each other in the Peach Bowl. While fans are much more pro-athlete in these situations than they were even a few years ago, there was still the usual cacophony of complaints about entitlement, and quitting on the team, and so forth. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of players who opt out are already likely high draft picks, and only bad things can happen if they play in glorified exhibition games. Guys like Pickett and Walker have given much to their schools and the sport. They should be commended for making smart business decisions and looking out for themselves.
If college coaches hate NIL deals because they take away an element of control, they really hate the transfer portal, in both football and basketball. The funny thing is, while some coaches loudly decry the ability of athletes to transfer one time without penalty, those very same coaches use it, and the best ones are creating considerable infrastructure within their programs for it. If you’re scoring at home, that’s a whole lot of posturing and complaining by people trying to take full advantage of the thing they’re posturing and complaining about.
This one is a personal pet peeve, but humor me. If you’re the type of person who follows lots of sports-centric social media accounts, you’ve probably noticed that the featured comments on Instagram in particular are terrible. They’re almost always from other big-name sports media figures, often within the same company, and 90 percent of the time, they are bland, uninteresting dreck designed to boost views and “engagement.” I don’t need banal commentary coming from people who probably don’t even want to be doing it, but are being told they have to.
Perhaps the fact that I’ve been in the sports radio business for nearly 15 years has made me particularly sensitive to this, but not every opinion you happen to not like is a “hot take.” Sure, there are plenty of them out there, primarily owing to the “embrace debate” mentality that dominated daytime sports talk on television, but using “hot take” to immediately try and invalidate a well-thought-out opinion you disagree with is getting as old as the actual “hot takes” themselves.
Has anyone told Romo that he isn’t very good anymore? The guy who could seemingly predict the future didn’t have anything else in his bag of tricks once CBS told him to cut way down on that practice, and now the majority of his broadcasts are bits of genuine insight mixed in with complete nonsense. Romo is the highest-paid broadcaster ever, making something in the neighborhood of $17 million per year. Would it kill him to actually work at his craft? Or does he just want to continue his slide into full Pepper Brooks mode?
I don’t even understand Formula One all that much; I’m still a newcomer to following the sport. That said, I know an insane, drama-filled product when I see one, and this year was one of the wildest yet. Max Verstappen unseated Lewis Hamilton to win the World Drivers’ Championship, doing so on the final lap of the final race of the season. Does some of this not make much sense to you? Doesn’t matter. I promise you, it’s a ton of fun to watch, and – with apologies to NASCAR – blows stock car racing out of the water.
I understand tanking in football, basketball, and hockey. Making an argument in favor of losing is simple; each of those sports is structured such that a top-rated rookie can make a massive difference from moment one. LeBron James, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Connor McDavid…the list goes on and on. It’s not the same with baseball. Even the best players take a few years to reach the majors, and even the best players can only do so much. Tanking in MLB is much more about owners refusing to spend money than it is trying to acquire a franchise-changing player to impact the following season. Baseball has lots of problems, and a full third of the league – or more – being non-competitive is one of them.
Hey, remember when 3-on-3 overtime was a novel, fun way to spice up the NHL's regular season? Me neither. No sport has more potential to be great, yet is more stifled by some of the risk-averse dinosaurs who coach teams than hockey. More and more teams have gotten ultra-conservative in the extra period, seemingly preferring to get the game to a shootout than actually entertain the fans and play to win. I’m not smart enough to have a good solution, but the league needs to make its overtime something that generates excitement rather than stifles it.
This is an evergreen one, but it’s still happening, so it’s going to continue being mentioned. Soccer, basketball, even football on occasion; any situation where a player tries to take a dive to draw a foul or penalty is still as grating as it gets. A sports world without flopping might be an unrealistic ideal, but we can still collectively hope that 2022 is the year when it happens.
An admission: I’m a sabermetrics guy, someone who thinks baseball’s new way of looking at statistics has dramatically reshaped how I look at certain players. However, there is a downside. Smart front offices are starting to take more control over in-game decisions, which has led to pitchers being pulled when they seemingly have games in control and other analytically sound, but aesthetically frustrating decisions. Process be damned; let’s all root for some irresponsible decisions (and subsequent compelling television) in 2022.
It boggles my mind that there are plenty of vocal fans who are angry when a player gets paid and doesn't perform like a Hall of Famer, as well as those who advocate for a team to let a player walk rather than give them a big contract. Chris Godwin's recent ACL injury - suffered while he was playing on the franchise tag - reinforced the high-wire act that even very good players have to try and navigate because the deck is stacked against them. If you have a favorite player, root for them to get lots of guaranteed money because even for the league's brightest talents, a big payday is far from a sure thing.
Sorry, but screaming "mashed potatoes" as soon as a drive is struck is no longer funny, or even mildly amusing. "Baba Booey" is still slightly amusing, yes, but let's all agree to quit while we're ahead with that one, okay? I am, however, very much here for more Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau drama, even if they were overplaying it to hype their eventual match (they were).
Why are we still doing this? In 2021, pitchers across all of baseball hit a combined .110 and posted an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .293. They were responsible for a whopping 17 home runs in 4,829 plate appearances, and one lucky pitcher even hit a triple. Pitcher at-bats are built-in boredom in a sport with far too much of that already. Purists will hate it, but purists tend to hate everything. Is it too much to ask for a universal designated hitter in 2022? Pretty please?
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.