Farewell 2018 Sports: Time to envision a crazy future
December is a great time to reflect on the many sport successes over the past year. One of those success stories hits close to home.
It’s no surprise that in her first year as head coach, Lori (Hammer) Rombach guided the Calvert Senecas in a dominant postseason performance to claim the 2018 Division IV Ohio High School volleyball state championship.
Some 30 years ago, a feisty, athletic little girl around the age of 10 or 12 went through a volleyball clinic with a brand new coach at Tiffin University. That little girl was Lori Hammer, who has since matured into a caring, tenacious wife, mother, and coach. Evidently, she never let go of her competitive passion for the sport and fortunately, she has succeeded in building a formidable support system. During the Senecas’ pre-season, Lori invited Calvert alum Laura (Bird) Kuhn, to meet with her brand new squad. A former Georgia Tech player, Kuhn just finished her first season (just like Lori) as head coach of Texas A&M where she amassed 17 victories against opponents such as Pepperdine, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia, Auburn, and LSU.
Too bad for Laura that collegiate volleyball coaching doesn’t pay near the big bucks as the world of collegiate football coaching. The buyouts alone are astronomical for universities making coaching changes before contracts expire. Consider University of North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, who was fired a few weeks ago after a 2-9 season. The coaches’ six-year contract means the UNC is obligated to pay the remaining $12.4 million through 2020, unless a new team puts Fedora on its payroll. Similarly, University of Louisville is on the hook to pay $24.6 million over the next three years to cover the buyout clause after firing Bobby Petrino.
Football always seems to dominate the beginning and end of a calendar year. January kicked off with Alabama beating Georgia in overtime of the College Bowl Series Football Championship, which rolled into the Pride of Philly (AKA the Philadelphia Eagles) winning the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Next came the PyeongChang Winter Olympics that opened the door to renewed relations with North Korea, closed the door on Russian athletes, and streamed its way into the digital world of millennials (Did USA really win the gold in men’s curling?).
Then, a little ol’ lady from Loyola captured America’s heart in a NCAA men’s Final Four tournament filled with a ton of upsets; a horse named Justify won the Triple Crown; the NHL Vegas Golden Knights ALMOST won the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season; and, LeBron did all he could for the Cavs, who fell to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. By the way, history has a way of repeating itself. With only eight wins on the books thus far, the Cavs are on track to tank again after King James’ exodus to L.A. just as the Dan Gilbert’s team did after LeBron’s departure in 2010 (61 victories with LeBron in 2009 vs. 19 victories without in 2010).
The year 2018 has also seen a little resurgence of Tiger Woods, some fierceness in Serena Williams, and the passing of sport legends Anne Donavan (women’s basketball), Mike Slive (former SEC commissioner), and Chuck Knox (NFL Raiders). The Red Sox were World Series champions, but the real story was rookie Shohei Ohtani from Japan who became the first player since Babe Ruth to start in 10 games and hit 10 home runs as well as pitch in at least 50 innings.
The sports industry also incurred its share of tragedies in 2018 including a horrific bus crash that killed 14 youth Canadian hockey players in the spring. There also was the unraveling of USA Gymnastics along with fallout at Michigan State in the wake of the litigation against sexual predator Larry Nassar. Many also called it tragic that USA wasn’t represented at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but perhaps the most significant story was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to give New Jersey and any other state the right to legalize sport gambling.
While reflecting on the past, it is also interesting to contemplate the future of the industry. No one imagined 50 years ago (or even 20 years ago) that spectators could enter a stadium without a physical ticket or sit in a stadium and use a hand-held device to watch a completely different sporting event in real time being played in a foreign country. No one imagined injury-detecting sensors would be embedded in jerseys or that microcurrent wound dressings and laser bio stimulation would warp-speed the surgical healing process. Heck, hardly anyone believed there would ever be a female serving as the president of the NCAA or coaching in the NBA or NFL.
Sports Illustrated recently published an insightful issue focusing on the future of sports where writers provided a five-word title to describe a futuristic sport story. Below are a few headlines:
n College Olympic pay model, finally
n Mayfield, Super Bowl LV MVP
n RoboUmps: Future of plate nforcement
n Becky Hammon: NBA Champion Coach
n Washington Redskins change name
n LeBron Retires as Cleveland Cavalier
Below are a few more headlines that might prove true in the near or distant future:
n Vince McMahon’s XFL surpasses NFL attendance
n WNBA and MLS file bankruptcy
n LeBron James: New NBA commissioner
n Becky Hammon: New NBA commissioner
n AT&T Stadium hosts Esports championship
n CoEd Esports: New Olympic sport
n League-regulated PEDs now Legal
n BCS Playoff System expanded
n _____________: Permanent host Olympic city
Whether reflecting on the past or envisioning the future, sport is a great vehicle to critically appraise what once was or what will be considered revolutionary in the world. Congratulations again to Calvert volleyball — and congratulations to the many other local sport teams and competitors that excelled during the year. Stay tuned in 2019 for more interesting sports stories from around the world, around the USA, around Ohio, and right here in good ol’ Tiffin, Ohio.
Bonnie Tiell is a sports management professor at Tiffin University.