Sports Schmooze: The Current State of National Sports
Since the publishing of the previous issue of the Conard Courant, a variety of notable events have rocked the sports world. A historic quarterback retired, one team won the College Football National Championship for the first time in forty-one years, and an NBA superteam failed to make it to the playoffs. A lot has changed since early November. Here is a review of recent major sports events and their resulting impacts.
The Bengals will be facing the Rams in the Super Bowl after a chaotic series of six playoff games which were determined in the final minute. This statement within itself is extremely surprising as each of these teams was in a radically different place back in November. The last two months of the NFL regular season featured a drastic shift in the playoff landscape. At the time of our last printing, the Chiefs were struggling to find a win, the Rams were beginning to fall into a slump with a loss to the 49ers (who were notably 4-5 at the time), and the Bengals were getting throttled by an Odell Beckham-less Browns team. The only team that remained in their same location was the Titans, who consistently held the first or second seed for the final two months. Albeit, that success only led to a first-round playoff exit at the hands of Joe Burrow and Ja’marr Chase, but nonetheless a large step for a team that has had virtually no success for nearly 20 years. Throughout the last two months, the Chiefs and Cardinals went in polar opposite directions as the Cardinals quickly sank from the number one seed to a wildcard spot and the Chiefs continued to win and sadly, to produce more Jackson Mahomes TikToks. The Bengals ended their season on a high note with a win over the Chiefs, similar in score to their later win against them in the AFC Championship. Other notable shifts included virtually the whole Ravens team getting injured, causing them to fall from the one seed to out of the playoff along with the Packers yet again experiencing regular season success but faltering in the playoffs.
This leads to the next area of great change: the players. The only known, major offseason movement to this point was the retirement of Tom Brady, historically the best quarterback to play in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers also could be nearing a change of scenery as it is speculated that there is a level of resentment between him and the Packers organization. He also is the frontrunner to win the MVP award in the coming weeks but features competition from Brady, Cooper Kupp, and Joe Burrow who has been trending upward with the Bengals’ surprising playoff success. A variety of records were either broken or threatened this season. TJ Watt, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, tied the record for sacks in a season, Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins) set the record for rookie receptions, and Kupp (Rams) challenged the receptions, yards, and touchdowns record for a receiver this year. This success was likely in connection to the newly extended season. The Super Bowl will occur on February 13th, between the Rams and the Bengals as a culmination of another entertaining season.
Aaron Rodgers mid-throw against the undefeated Cardinals
College football came to an end in the past few months with a non-Alabama/Clemson winning the championship. Georgia won their first championship for the first time in 40 years beating Bryce Young-led Alabama after having lost to them only a month earlier. Young, himself, didn’t have a bad season winning the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a starter. Michigan, led by Heisman finalist Aidan Hutchinson, finally beat Ohio State leading to them joining Georgia and Alabama in the playoff. The fourth team in the playoff was Cincinnati. Although they were throttled by Alabama, this was a massive step for the sport as it was the first time a non-power conference (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) team made the playoff.
The transfer portal has also risen to an entirely new level of prominence in the last few months. With Lincoln Riley’s escape from Oklahoma hours after losing to their rival Oklahoma State, a variety of Oklahoma players quickly entered the transfer portal including star quarterback Caleb Williams. Williams recently decided to join Riley at USC along with many of his fellow teammates from Oklahoma. Other notable transfers include Quinn Ewers to Texas (former #1 ranked recruit), Dillon Gabriel to Oklahoma, and Spencer Rattler to South Carolina. The transfer portal continues to act as a weapon within the college football world as players can spontaneously move from one school to the next. This season featured a variety of shifts and unexpected moves, setting a standard in multiple areas across the sport.
Caleb Williams warming up prior to an Oklahoma game in late November
College basketball and the NBA both began around the last time the Courant published and have featured a variety of significant outcomes in the intervening weeks. The College basketball season began with Duke beating Kentucky in a matchup between two likely top ten teams. Gonzaga butchered UCLA in a match of the #1 vs. #2 ranked teams in late November but followed that up with a tight loss to Duke. From there the season has featured a variety of unexpected upsets such as Miami over Duke and Dayton over Kansas. Baylor held the #1 ranked spot for the longest period of 5 weeks from early December to mid-January. They lost this spot with back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Auburn is the current #1 ranked team with only one loss in late November to Uconn. Some notable underachievers this season include Texas, North Carolina, and Memphis who all were expected to have top-15 level seasons but have sputtered to unranked. The candidate field for the national player of the year award features a wide mix of expected and unexpected players. Drew Timme (Gonzaga), Paolo Banchero (Duke), and Ochai Agbaji (Kansas) were all known forces entering this season and have continued to perform at a high level. Some new faces to the stage include Johnny Davis (Wisconsin), Keegan Murray (Iowa), and Benn Mathurin (Arizona) who were all relatively unknown entering the season but through outstanding performances have catapulted themselves into the spotlight. The college basketball season still has two months remaining but can be expected to feature more twists and turns.
The NBA has continued to produce a high-quality season throughout the beginning of this winter. A variety of semi-unexpected teams are currently within the top 4 in each conference. The Bulls have had arguably the most unexpected season in which Demar Derozan and Zach Lavine led them to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Collin Sexton-less Cavaliers have also experienced continued success within the same conference. The Grizzlies currently stand at 3rd in the Western Conference and have an MVP candidate in Ja Morant who has exploded in his third season. The Warriors, who recently got Klay Thompson back for the first time in two years, and the Suns have continued to bat the #1 seed in the west back and forth as the season enters its final stretch. It’ll be interesting to see if either manages to pull away from the other. The Nets and Bucks currently hold the 5th and 6th seeds in the East respectively. This is lower than what was projected at the beginning of the season but both of these teams are expected to be the frontrunners for the Eastern Conferences bid in the NBA Finals. Although the Grizzlies’ success has been unexpected, the Lakers’ lack of success is even more noteworthy. A team featuring Russell Westbrook, Lebron James, and Anthony Davis currently sits in the 9th seed in the west and has been performing at absurd levels below the expectations held for them in the basketball community. It’ll be interesting to find out on what note this team will finish out the season.
The NBA MVP race includes the likes of Morant (Grizzlies), Joel Embiid (76ers), Giannis Antetokoumpo (Bucks), and Derozan (Bulls). This is a combination of expected contenders and preseason longshots. It is difficult to judge which direction the award will end up going as currently, no player has pulled far away from the others. The NBA still has over four months left in the season meaning there is still a lot of time for both standings and award races to shift but it is fun to try and anticipate to whom the award will fall.
Ja Morant after hitting a deep shot
Other notable sports updates include that the MLB is currently at a standstill with the player’s union and fears the lockout continuing into the spring and possibly the season. This is a massive threat to a sport that has already been struggling to keep itself afloat economically and attention-wise as the NBA and NFL have grown in prominence. The MLB continues to engage in talks with the union over possible changes which will allow the season to begin on time but is reportedly unwilling to give in too far to the union. The NHL has also played throughout the winter. The Florida Panthers currently hold the best overall record with the Vegas Golden Knights only a game below up to this point. Their season still has a long way to go, similar to the NBA, and will be reported on greater in the spring issue of the Courant, along with the Winter Olympics which will be beginning around this time. The U.S. is diplomatically boycotting the Olympics over Chinese actions recently including, but not limited to, the genocide of the Uyghur population in northwestern China. It is good that the athletes are still being given the option to attend but critical that action is taken to prohibit the inhumane standard set by China.
These past few months have featured a variety of large sporting events and entertaining moments and will only continue. We hope this is a good, quick summary of the large world of sports, and please reach out if this is a recurring theme you would like to see in every issue!