10 Sports Stories That Won't Die with 2016

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2016

10 Sports Stories That Won't Die with 2016

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    Some sports stories will fade quietly into the night with 2016. Enthusiasm over the Chicago Cubs' World Series title will dwindle, and controversy over the final four College Football Playoff teams will blow over.

    And yet, there are plenty of stories flaring up right now that aren't going anywhere with the new year. As fans count down the great sports moments of 2016, others will look ahead to 2017. And either way, good luck avoiding talk of another Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals rematch as December fades to January.  

    The following are 10 sports stories that are big now and will continue to be big in the future. If you're sick of Jim Harbaugh-to-the-NFL rumors, sorry. Those are probably going to be an annual thing. 

Warriors vs. Cavaliers

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    The Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. This was a story in 2015. It was a story in 2016, and guess what? It'll be a story again in 2017.

    The Warriors and Cavs met in each of the past two NBA Finals, taking one home apiece. In mid-December, each are atop their respective conferences and look, well, strong.

    Deadspin's Tom Ley wrote:

    There are no guarantees that this NBA season is destined to end in a Finals rematch, but last night was a reminder that for all the time we've spent drooling over Russell Westbrook's triple-double factory and wondering if we are seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo ascend to stardom, the only questions that really matter come April are Who are the best teams in the NBA? and Can anyone stop them? Right now, it looks like the answers are the same as they were last year.

    The Warriors have four reigning All-Stars in the starting lineup, and the Cavs have LeBron James. The two teams are scheduled to meet for the first time since the Finals on Christmas Day, but don't expect the rematch chatter to end there.

Tony Romo's Future

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    Longtime Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo lost his job in 2016. A preseason injury sidelined him and paved the way for rookie Dak Prescott to step in and earn his job.

    Under Prescott, the Cowboys are 11-2, but the young QB struggled against the New York Giants in a Week 14 loss—17-of-37 and two interceptions. This led to predictable speculation about potentially replacing the rookie with a now-healthy Romo.

    Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, "It's pretty simple for us: Dak's going to play quarterback as we go forward," per Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.

    Even so, expect to hear this talk any time Prescott slips up, even a little from here on out and into the playoffs.

    And even if Romo never plays another snap in a Cowboys uniform, all signs point to him playing football somewhere in 2017. But where? Oh yeha, those stories will keep coming too. ESPN's John Clayton likes the Chicago Bears, for what it's worth.

Ronaldo Tax Evasion Allegations

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    In early December, documents uncovered by Football Leaks led European news outlets to allege Portuguese football Cristiano Ronaldo has "directed at least €150 million in income through the British Virgin Islands tax haven since 2009," per ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan.

    Ronaldo's camp has staunchly denied the claims and even released his 2015 tax records.

    And yet, per Corrigan, outlets also reported Spanish authorities have been investigating these allegations and, "The president of the union at Spain's tax authority says he expects Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo to face charges in court over his financial arrangements, just as Lionel Messi had in the summer."

    Amid all the drama, the Real Madrid star won his third Ballon d'Or, an achievement he said was "spoiled" by the allegations, per Ian Holyman of ESPN FC.

    If Ronaldo is indeed charged, this is going to be a big story in 2017. And even if he isn't, expect to hear more as everything plays out.

Marijuana in Pro Sports

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    The use of medical marijuana for pain management in sports has become a hot-button issue in 2016. Former NFL players like Eugene Monroe and Jake Plummer have spoken about the benefits of cannabidiol specifically and urged the NFL to consider removing it from its list of banned substances. 

    The NFLPA is reportedly also looking into medical marijuana as a tool for pain management and "is in the process of putting together a committee to study it," per  NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport (via Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com).

    The issue is dominant in the NFL, but it has come up in NBA circles as well.

    Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and New York Knicks president Phil Jackson each separately revealed they have used marijuana for back pain management.

    With continuing discussion and probing from the NFLPA, this issue shouldn't lose any steam with the new year.  

Westbrook Sans Durant

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    Speaking of Russell Westbrook, how is the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard faring without his former teammate Kevin Durant?

    Since Durant announced his departure for the Golden State Warriors in July, speculation has been rampant about how the Thunder will fare without the 2014 MVP.  Bleacher Report's Jon Hamm wrote the offense needed a "massive overhaul without Kevin Durant." James Herbert of CBSSports.com wrote OKC would be "just fine."

    On and on.

    At the open of business on December 13, the Thunder are 15-9, while the Warriors are 21-4 and atop the Western Conference standings. There is plenty of season left to play, and Westbrook has already proved to be a force, putting up seven straight triple-doubles at one point.  

    Meanwhile, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Westbrook is not a true "superstar" unless the Thunder win a playoff series, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com.

    This will be a season-long talking point, folks. Settle in.

Harbaugh-to-the-NFL Rumors

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    The Los Angeles Rams fired Jeff Fisher after a 4-9 start, and almost instantaneously, the Jim Harbaugh rumors started.

    Special teams coordinator John Fassel will take over for the remainder of the season, at which point a coaching search is likely to be in full swing. Sure, the Rams could hire someone before January 1, but given the speculative nature of sports media, doesn't a Harbaugh-rumor-filled few weeks seem much more likely?

    His Michigan Wolverines will play Florida State in the Orange Bowl on December 30, so Harbaugh will be a bit busy until then.

    Cameron DaSilva of Fox Sports wrote, "Jim Harbaugh is a long shot to leave Michigan—where he's completely turned around the program and is considered a savior—but [Rams owner Stan] Kroenke has deep pockets and shouldn't be afraid of throwing around a bit of money."

    Let's face it. Harbaugh's name is likely going to come up after Black Monday every year. So even if he stays put this time, expect to hear his name again when the 2017 round of pro firings come down.

Henrik Lundqvist's Age

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    The New York Rangers are fighting to contend for a Stanley Cup in 2016-17 after yet another disappointing playoff exit. And once again, the age of franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is a topic of conversation.

    Lundqvist has been benched four straight times in favor of Antti Raanta after a 12-8-1 start to the season. Fans might recall Lundqvist was benched three consecutive times in 2013 and rebounded nicely to finish sixth in the Vezina voting.  

    Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy wrote:

    Again: It's December. That means crowded malls, the abomination that is egg nog and Henrik Lundqvist posting a save percentage low enough to make him an honorary Dallas Star. Overreaction is foolhardy. Lundqvist, even at 34, will find a groove and a level of dominance well before the Rangers inevitably make the playoffs. And Raanta, at the very least, will have caught the attention of Vegas expansion draft scouts.

    Is the 34-year-old Lundqvist declining? Is Raanta playing well enough to dethrone him?

    Even if Lundqvist rebounds as some expect, his age will still be a talking point as the NHL season rolls on. And with a capable backup like Raanta waiting in the wings, any subsequent slips will ignite conversation anew.

Russian Doping Scandal

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    The Russian doping scandal was big in 2016, particularly since it resulted in the banishment of 118 athletes from the Olympic Games in Rio.

    And yet, as the year comes to a close, this story only appears to be gaining ground.

    In July, the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed the results of an independent report by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren (resulting in the Olympic bans), and in December, additional information was revealed. 

    Per Rob Hodgetts of CNN.com, "McLaren alleged an 'institutional conspiracy' among officials within the Russian ministry of sport and state security services that resulted in the London 2012 Games being corrupted 'on an unprecedented scale.'"

    The gist was the state-sponsored doping has been even worse than originally thought. 

    McLaren's report is complete, but the IOC is still investigating and sorting it all out, per Rebecca E. Ruiz of the New York Times. Many questions—will more medals be rescinded, what will happen going forward—are left to be answered.

Bryce Harper's Free Agency

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    For something that's not happening until after the 2018 MLB season, the impending free agency of Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper sure gets a lot of press.

    It probably has something to do with speculation he'll fetch a new deal worth north of $400 million.

    Rumors of which teams might land him abound. Are teams already jockeying? Making moves with the purse strings?

    Meanwhile, there is news on the home front. In early December, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported an anonymous Nationals executive indicated the team does not intend to offer Harper a 10-year, $400 million deal.

    Per Nightengale, Harper's agent, Scott Boras, said he has had no long-term contract talks with the team.

    Where do the Nationals stand on Harper? Is an extension in play? What of this anonymous executive? And beyond all that, just where will he be playing baseball in 2019? 

Mayweather vs. McGregor

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    Dan Rafael of ESPN.com says there is "no chance" a fight between UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and retired boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. will actually take place.

    Meanwhile, 50 Cent apparently told UFC President Dana White Mayweather is "dead serious about it," per Des Bieler of the Washington Post.

    Regardless, don't expect the new year to cease speculation about a possible fight between these two uber-stars. Bieler added, "This Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor thing is not going away. Well, at least talk of the hypothetical mega-fight is not going away..."

    McGregor has said he would fight Mayweather for $100 million and actually got himself a boxing license in California in late November.

    And as for White, he told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports the fight "ain't happening." But hey, this non-fight has dominated sports news for months. There's no sign a ball drop is going to change that.