Many college sports headlines in 2011 displayed sin: Penn State and Syracuse had sexual abuse scandals, Ohio State fired football coach Jim Tressel for covering up violations, and a booster provided prostitutes, free cars, and paid vacations for Miami football players. Other sports stories were sad: Two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died in a 15-car crash, Peyton Manning suffered season-ending and career-threatening neck surgery, the entire Russian hockey team died in a plane crash, and the Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy.
Still, many moments worth celebrating emerged over the past 12 months-baseball's pennant race and playoffs come to mind. Here are four developments to watch in 2012 ...
Four billion viewers are likely to tune in to the games beginning July 27. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has hinted at adding the 4x400-relay to his repertoire, which could give him a legitimate chance at four gold medals. If Bolt is healthy, he might tack on two or three world records, but American Tyson Gay has proven he can beat Bolt. That competitive challenge could push either athlete beneath 9.5 seconds in the 100 meters. Swimming could bring a similar battle: Michael Phelps will try to duplicate his eight gold medals from Beijing, but friend and competitor Ryan Lochte has beaten Phelps in some of the champion's signature races. Between that challenge and the newly unveiled Fastskin3 swimming systems from Speedo, more world records are likely to fall.
He lost the final golf event of 2010 when a rival sank 20-foot putts on back-to-back holes, but in the final event of 2011 Woods won by sinking clutch birdie putts on back-to-back holes. With a new swing, a new caddie, and new hope, the 14-time Major winner looks ready to add to that total.
No sooner had owners and players finalized a new labor deal than signs of discontent emerged. Owners claimed small markets can't compete. Players' representatives skipped press conferences. The league office nixed a trade for reasons unclear. With the NBA mess far from cleaned up, the league will spend most of 2012 in damage control.
Analysts still wonder whether Tebow can be a starting NFL quarterback in the long term, but in the meantime he's piled up rabbit-from-hat victories. If darker days come, the sports world will watch closely to see how the evangelical athlete responds. Happily, Tebow says, "I know that no matter what happens on the football field, that's not what defines my life."