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COVID dominates 2021 sports scene, a la 2020

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COVID-19

Like just about any other sports year, 2021 had the requisite twists and turns.

We began the year lamenting the explosion in college football coaching salaries. And, as the year ends, we can’t help but note the overpayment of coaches not to coach, as in Ed Orgeron.

Orgeron, who led LSU to a national championship in 2019, but a .500 record in the succeeding two seasons, was let go by the university a month ago. Orgeron will get nearly $17 million over the next four years to be unemployed. Nice work if you don’t get it.

The Olympics, though interesting, failed to produce a breakout star, a name that resonated beyond the extinguishing of the cauldron.

Indeed, the dominant names of the Games, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, became so because they forced us to re-evaluate what we think about the mental toughness of athletes.

Throughout the year locally, we saw the Maryland men’s and women’s basketball teams raise championship hopes only to suffer crushing March defeats. By year’s end, men’s coach Mark Turgeon would leave College Park in the middle of the season.

The Orioles were, well, the Orioles, or at least what we’ve come to expect over the past five years, with lots of losing. Actually, the emergence of Cedric Mullins as a star and the triumphant return of Trey Mancini from cancer took some of the sting off the losing. Some, that is.

And then there were the Ravens. The January playoff loss to Buffalo to close 2020 and this season’s march through mediocrity have a recurring theme: Inconsistency.

To be sure, injuries are a cause, but only part of the issue. Whether the 2021 season ends in a Super Bowl title – Don’t hold your breath -- or a complete miss of postseason, which is much more likely, serious decisions will have to be made among the Ravens’ braintrust.

Hovering over all of Baltimore sports, and the whole athletic world, is the same opponent that was with us at the end of 2020: COVID- 19.

With the introduction of vaccines, fans have thankfully returned to arenas and stadiums, but we’re still having to negotiate with spotty play on the field because of player absences and inconsistent decisions by team and league officials.

As a result, things are a mish-mash across the board as we approach 2022. The NHL, for instance, shut down operations last week, with hopes to restart play Tuesday over COVID concerns.

The NBA, meanwhile, has seen its schedule go kerplooey in the way of the Omicron variant, with players being held out and games postponed to meet protocols.

And then, there’s the NFL, which effectively revised its coronavirus protocols to what amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. The reason: to ensure that every one of its 32 teams would play every one of its scheduled 17 games, of course.

So, in the end, though the calendars and even the players change, one thing stays constant from year to year in athletics: the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening, happy new year, and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.