I don't profess to being Nostradamus or, for that matter, having half the access to information that the average Las Vegas bookmaking shop does. 2009 posits to be an interesting (in every sense of the Chinese's philosophical use of the word) year. So, hear goes:
1. President Obama will introduce legislation mandating a playoff system for Division I-A College Football. His popularity strong, he'll take the greatest interest in college football since Teddy Roosevelt did about 100 years ago (even if, way back then, Roosevelt had a more serious issue to deal with -- the safety of the average player, as college men were dying on the field at an alarming rate). Heck, he might even tack this bill onto the stimulus package and get this business taken care of in his first 100 days. If you think that the audience for the NCAA men's Division I basketball final is big, wait until you see the audience for the national championship Division I-A football game (where the two finalists emerge from a playoff system and not some super-computer).
2. "Fringe" sports leagues will fail. We've seen the Arena League postpone its 2009 season, but you have to wonder about the indoor soccer leagues, women's softball leagues, WNBA, lacrosse leagues and the like, especially when they're renting big venues and have large carrying costs. People will spend for their favorite sports, but not the extra add-ons. The recession also raises concerns about the viability of minor hockey and basketball leagues and will trouble some minor-league baseball teams (as well as Major League ones). While I'm at it, certain major college athletic programs will run into economic problems arising from poorly performing endowments, lower alumni donations, reduced participation from sponsors and the like. Look for schools to shed athletic teams as a result of this recession.
3. The NHL and NBA are in more trouble than people think. These leagues don't post their financial statements anywhere, but the product is diluted, there are too many teams and too many games. Baseball and football (and NASCAR, which is having problems arising from both the recession and the added difficulties of the Big Three automakers and the companies who supply them) are more popular. Yes, their are diehard fans for both leagues, but given the NHL's strike of a few years ago (designed to reduce the league's overall labor costs, which ownership thought were destroying the game) and the empty boxes, empty seats and "buy one get two free" like promotions that teams are advertising, it will be interesting to see what these leagues look like when the 2009-2010 season begins. I have read in a few places that pro sports are recession-proof. We'll see. I don't have a prediction for the NHL, but I'll predict that the Boston Celtics will repeat as NBA champions.
4. The Indianapolis Colts will win the Super Bowl. There's no reason that they should, but while I like the New York Giants an awful lot, something tells me that the absence of Plaxico Burress makes their receiving game average, no matter how good their running game is. Still, the favorites can and usually do stumble, and I'm not that sold on Tennessee or Pittsburgh, although both are excellent teams. My Philadelphia Eagles will defeat the Vikings on Sunday, only to lose a close one against the (rested and better) Giants the following weekend.
5. The North Carolina Tar Heels will win the NCAA men's hoops title. They came close last year, and Tyler Hansbrough will go out in style and become a better pro than people think (he won't slip to the second round the way Carlos Boozer did years ago, but he's projected to go in the mid-to-late first round, falling past younger players with better "upside"). All I know is that this guy busts his backside so he can kick everyone else's, and that's better than having "upside."
6. Bill Cowher will not return to the NFL this year, and Bill Parcells will not return to the sidelines. The latter will run someone's front office, while the former will probably wait one year. The reason for Cowher's waiting has to do with the economy -- not many owners will want to pay the bucks that Cowher commands in this type of economy. For the same reason, Denver's owners will replace Mike Shanahan with a lower-cost alternative (even if that alternative is one very good football coach).
7. NFL teams won't be eager to hire Bill Belichick's assistants as head coaches any time soon. Unfortunately, the dismissals of Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini and the flailing ways of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame recommend against making such a move and suggest that Belichick's personality is so dominant that his (former) assistant might not be capable of making the best command decisions without Belichick's standing beside them or looking over their shoulder.
8. The New York Yankees will not make the playoffs; the New York Mets will. The baseball gods like prudent moves, which the Mets have made, and don't always like broad brush stroke-like moves, which are the hallmark of the Yankees. The BoSox and Rays will edge out the Yankees, and Hank Steinbrenner will become entrenched as the Jerry Jones of MLB.
9. The Philadelphia Phillies will not repeat as World Series champions, if only because recent history (within the past 8 or so years) suggests that a repeat won't happen. Then again, if the team hits during the summer and they have a fully healthy Chase Utley for most of the season, they very much could.
10. Through the very public example of President Obama, Americans will play more pick-up basketball and get into better shape. It's not that President Bush didn't exercise (he does, and he's in great shape), it's just that Obama's current popularity and youthful vigor will inspire us all to decline the Twinkies on occasion, walk instead of ride, run instead of walk, and generally take better care of ourselves. That better emphasis on physical fitness will pay long-term healthcare benefits for all of us, in terms of better health and lesser demands on our healthcare system. Congress won't legislate against fats and sweets, but the President's example will have coattails.
There are, of course, many more predictions that one could make, from who will become NCAA champions to who will succeed Bud Selig as Commissioner of Baseball to whether either the Orioles or Pirates will have a winning season after so many consecutive losing seasons. I might delve into those areas in the near future, but for now I'll leave you with these ten predictions and ask for your predictions in the comments section.
Happy New Year!