If T.S. Eliot had been a sports fan, he would have known that August, and not April, is the cruelest month. I mean, seriously, the NBA playoffs (which, quite joyfully, took place in June and July, instead of the usual May and June) are done. Preseason football games are an abomination foisted upon season-ticket holders by greedy owners trying to squeeze out the very last nickel.
Baseball, which I didn’t think could get any more boring, has surprised me. The stacking of infielders on one side of the field based on analytics (and the stunning refusal of pull hitters to at least try to hit it where they ain’t) has teamed up with a proliferation of pitchers who throw 100 miles an hour to turn the once strategy-filled game into a soccer-like spectacle of boom or bust. These days, you see lots of home runs and LOTS and LOTS of strikeouts, with almost nothing else in between.
Plus, it’s the Dog Days, when it feels like the season has just been droning on forever. What little fun that is left in Major League Baseball comes after Labor Day when the teams hit their stretch run.
So, all there is to do at this time is to look ahead, longingly and hopefully (which is a rare instance in which the word “hopefully” is being used correctly).
Here are a few things that could help make for a most-pleasant Autumn sports season:
• High School Football. After last year’s disaster, it will be great if all of the local teams can just have a full season. Ironwood Ridge’s season was canceled after one game. Amphi was a roaring 4-0 when Pima County pulled the plug on prep football a couple days before Thanksgiving.
It was just a nightmare of COVID tests and cancellations. But this season could…should…we hope and pray…be different.
One positive thing has already happened. For the past several years, Arizona’s high schools had been experiencing schedule creep. For decades, prep football schedules would start in September. Then, there were a few games showing up in the last week of August. Then, it was the penultimate week of August. There was no real explanation from the Arizona Interscholastic Association but it kept creeping.
It was dumb and dangerous. In the heat island that is the Phoenix metropolitan area, nighttime “low” temperatures can hover near the triple-digit mark. It may be a matter of luck that nobody died in those conditions.
But this year, it’s back where it should be. Amphi opens with Flowing Wells on Sept. 2. Marana opens at Mountain View on Sept. 3. Ironwood Ridge and Canyon Del Oro also open their seasons on Sept. 3.
• Other Prep Sports. Even with the Delta variant lurking, most of the other fall sports—including cross country, swimming and girls’ golf—should be able to proceed. (Ironwood Ridge’s golfers are defending state champs and have everybody back from the title-winning team.)
All of those sports are contested outdoors and probably shouldn’t face any serious threat of cancellation. The one to worry about is girls volleyball. All three Amphi District schools—Amphi, CDO and Ironwood Ridge—are perennial powers, as are Marana and Marana Mountain View. Look for all five of them to make a serious push to state.
• Arizona Wildcat Football. No, it wasn’t a mass hallucination. It really happened. The Wildcats lost to the much-despised Sun Devils by a score of 70-7 AT HOME! It was the 12th-straight loss for Arizona over a two-year span.
This year, the only reason that Arizona is picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 South is that there aren’t seven teams in the Pac-12 South. The Vegas over/under line (a predicted number of wins on which bettors can wager) is a dismal 2 ½, which is perhaps the lowest number for Arizona EVER!
But I’m going out on a limb here. I’m almost certain that Arizona will win a game this year; I mean, they play NAU. We’ll call that a sign of improvement.
• Arizona Cardinals. Fine, you’re in the toughest four-team division in football, along with the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks—three teams that have all been to the Super Bowl in the past seven years. Wah, wah, wah! How about not losing to bad teams…at home? Last year, the Cardinals lost to both Miami and Detroit in Glendale. A win in either one of those games would have had the Cards in the playoffs.
This year, NFL teams will play 17 games instead of 16. Fans will get one more week of games on TV while the owners will just keep on making more money. The over/under for the Cardinals is a dismal eight.
• Arizona Diamondbacks. They’re horrible. Maybe they can finish their season without setting the all-time record for losses in a season.