Before we give a Tush Push to the sports year of 2023 and move on, let’s give it a quick look back.

What just happened?

Glad you asked. Here’s what happened: Tay-Trav, Coach Prime, NIL (continued), Andy Reid, Super Shoes, the sinking of the S.S. Pac-12, the nonsensical College Football Playoff selection committee, the Nuggets (not the chicken), Puka Mania, Red Rocks upheaval, Utah distance runners, BYU’s conference debut/flameout, a $700 million contract, SpyGate II (the college version), the continuing Zach Wilson saga, the NBA’s weird in-season tournament (huh?), and of course the Tush Push (aka the Brotherly Shove) — an ugly, grimy rugby play that found its way into football right smack dab in the middle of the passing era and the National Football Flag League. It’s like they were playing a nice, polite game of chess and a mud-wrestling match broke out.

Anyway, let’s look at 2023, the good and the bad.

NIL continued to be a hot topic, and the line between the NFL and collegiate athletics grew thinner. Many of the sport’s top football players can earn more money in collegiate athletics than they can in the professional ranks. Nebraska football coach Matt Rhule told reporters, “Make no mistake: a good quarterback in the portal costs $1 million to $1.5 million to $2 million right now. ... Let’s make sure we all understand what’s happening. There are some teams that have $6-7 million players playing for them.”

As Utah coach Kyle Whittingham warned a year ago, someday we’ll be able to predict the top 25 based solely on NIL money. This means there will be a growing separation between the haves and the have-nots in college sports; it also will have profound consequences for smaller schools (Utah State) and private schools (BYU). Meanwhile, a local car dealer gave each Utah football player who is on scholarship a free truck lease, and later, Utah gymnasts and men’s and women’s basketball players were given the same perk.

• • •

After a dozen years of searching for a conference home, BYU began play in the Big 12 this year and, well, they got (tush) pushed all over the field (winning just two league games). The four schools that joined the league in 2023 finished ninth, 11th, 13th and 14th. In Big 12 games, the Cougs finished last in total yards per game, last in rushing yards, last in passing yards, tied for last in scoring (23.1 per game). They better find some more NIL money.

• • •

Through some quirk in the universe, a team from the Mountain West won the NBA championship for the first time ever — and it wasn’t the Utah Jazz or Phoenix Suns, who have come this close a few times. It was the Denver Nuggets.

• • •

The chaos in college football continued, and the Pac-12 died. Like rats jumping the ship, teams scurried over the side to find a lifeboat in another league, and 10 of them succeeded. (I wonder if their new leagues required that they be “research institutions.”) Anyway, Utah signed up for the Big 12, where the Utes will be reunited with their old pals from BYU, the team they have sometimes refused to play in recent years. Now they can’t avoid one another.

• • •

Megan Rapinoe retired from soccer after wearing out her welcome with her bitter attacks on just about everything. Like Terrell Owens, Hope Solo, Bobby Knight and so many others, her behavior will likely be remembered more than anything she did on the field.

After suffering an injury early in her final game, she said, “I’m not a religious person or anything, and if there was a God, like, this is proof that there isn’t.” She also was quoted as saying (excluding prolific profanity), “I don’t deserve this (injury). I’m a better person than this.” Let’s give her the hard Tush Push out the door and bring in someone more fun. Like Gregg Popovich.

I hope you picked up on the sarcasm because Pops is about as fun as hemorrhoids. Let’s give him a Tush Push out the door, too. Last month, the King of Curmudgeons took the court microphone and scolded his own Spurs fans for booing Kawhi Leonard, who forced his way off their team years ago even though he was under contract. Popovich has no business lecturing anyone about manners when he is chronically rude, condescending and mean-spirited toward reporters. Oh, and the fans resumed booing, asserting their Constitutionally protected right to be, well, fans.

• • •

NBA players continue to force their way out of legitimate contracts to jump to another team by pouting or refusing to play or practice, or all of the above. James Harden has made it an art form. He forced his way out of Philadelphia, his fourth team in six years.

“The NBA should probably stop letting me bail out on teams and force me to honor my contract,” he admitted.

Well, actually, he didn’t say that. I made up that quote — like Charissa Thompson, the TV sideline “reporter” who admitted that there have been times when she couldn’t find a coach to interview so she simply made up statements for him.

Thompson said she thought this was acceptable because her comments echoed what a coach probably would say (this deserves a column all by itself, but let’s move on). Her peers were outraged, but given the inane questions that sideline reporters often ask and the wooden answers that coaches offer them, made-up quotes might be an improvement. But let’s Tush Push Thompson off the sideline anyway.

• • •

Journalism — if you’ll pardon the overstatement — was in the spotlight again for the wrong reason. Futurism reported that Sports Illustrated, the once-great magazine in a long, steep decline, was posting stories that were written by AI and given bylines for authors who don’t exist, including mug shots and bios.

In a story entitled “Sports Illustrated Published Articles by Fake, AI-Generated Writers,” Futurism writer Maggie Harrison noted that one of SI’s “authors” was one “Drew Ortiz,” whose bio read, “Drew has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature. Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn’t out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents’ farm.” Harrison reported that Ortiz does not exist and that “his profile photo on Sports Illustrated is for sale on a website that sells AI-generated headshots, where he’s described as a ‘neutral white young-adult male with short brown hair and blue eyes.’”

Taylor Swift, left, talks with Brittany Mahomes, right, during game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. | AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) ENT

Taylor Swift was everywhere in 2023 and that included football stadiums that featured her man Travis Kelce. Look, she is a great entertainer, beloved by zillions, but when she’s at a game it’s a big distraction. Football fans tune into football games so they can watch, you know, football. But the TV cameras often leave the field to show Tay Tay in the suites. Can we just watch the game already? Let’s give her a very gentle Tush Push out of the stadium suite (but if you tell girls under the age of 18 that I suggested this, I’ll deny it).

• • •

At the age of 36, Novak Djokovic appeared in all four finals of Grand Slam tennis events and won three of them, giving him a record 24 Grand Slam titles. It’s the fourth time he has won three Slams in one year, and he has won a ridiculous 23 of the last 51 Slam events. That’s just not supposed to happen in tennis.

• • •

The New York Jets made a lot of plans for Zach Wilson, and they all failed. Plan A: Wilson would be an understudy behind Aaron Rodgers. The plan lasted four plays, which was how long it took Rodgers to tear his Achilles. Plan B: Start Wilson. That lasted nine games, then they benched him. Plan C: Start someone else for the rest of the season and privately tell Wilson they will trade him in the offseason. This plan lasted two weeks. Plan D: Start Wilson for the final five games of the season, or at least until he gets injured. 

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson comes off the field during game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. | Adam Hunger, Associated Press

Wilson was heavily criticized in the brutal New York media when it was reported that he was hesitant to return to a starting role, but that’s because the media didn’t know at the time that the Jets had already told Wilson they would trade him. In his first game back as the starter, he threw for 301 yards, two TDs and 0 interceptions and led the Jets to a win over the Texans. The next week he was sacked four times before leaving the game with a concussion late in the first half. That makes 113 sacks in 34 career games. Who knew that when the Jets told Wilson after the 2021 draft that they would “lift” him, they meant “lift” him off the turf. Plan D also will likely fail now that Wilson is in concussion protocol. Memo to college quarterbacks: take a hard pass if the Jets call.

• • •

Nobody exploited the chaos of college football more than Deion Sanders, the new Colorado football coach. He drove off the players he inherited and added 86 new players, a record 53 via the transfer portal. Some observers were outraged with his “abuse” of the portal, but Sanders did what the rules allowed. Everyone complains about the transfer portal, but nobody does anything to fix it (because no one is in charge). At season’s end, Sanders had the audacity to complain about rules that allowed several recruits to break their commitment to his school when Sanders himself had “flipped” several recruits last year and signed those 53 transfers who broke commitments to their schools.

Colorado head coach Deion Sanders plays to the fans in the first half of the team’s spring game Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. | David Zalubowski, Associated Press

• • •

It’s difficult to know what to take away from that mess on the hill after the Utes spent months sorting through allegations by gymnasts and their parents that coach Tom Farden was mistreating athletes. A formal review determined that while Farden’s coaching methods left some gymnasts feeling “increased fear of failure” and pressure to retain athletics scholarships, the review determined the coach did not engage in “any severe, pervasive or egregious” acts of emotional, verbal or physical abuse or harassment as defined by NCAA regulations and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, according to Deseret News reporter Trent Wood. Nevertheless, Farden and the Utes made a “mutual” decision to part ways.

• • •

The NBA added a pointless, silly in-season tournament this year in a desperate attempt to add some meaning and interest to early-season games. There’s a simpler way: How about just cutting the 82-game season in half?

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OK, seriously, can we give a good hard Tush Push to the College Football Playoff selection committee? Those people somehow chose once-beaten Alabama over unbeaten Florida State to play in the playoff. Their explanation: ’Bama has a better chance to win than FSU. Where is that written in the criterion for selecting the four teams? Nowhere. They’re not supposed to select teams based on their prediction of their next performance. In fact, let’s don’t give them a Tush Push — how about a big kick in the wazoo. The four-team playoff, which will expand to 12 teams next year, has been ridiculously inadequate for a 130-team field (the NFL has 14 playoff spots for 32 teams).

• • •

Kenneth Rooks crosses the finish line to win the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final during the U.S. track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Ashley Landis, Associated Press

What BYU — and the state of Utah — did best was run. The BYU men’s team finished third in the NCAA cross-country championships without two of its best runners. BYU steeplechaser Kenneth Rooks pulled off the rare feat of winning both the NCAA championships (after falling to the track and rolling twice) and the U.S. championships. American Fork’s Danny Simmons was the nation’s top-ranked prep distance runner all season, but it was Olympus High’s JoJo Jourdon who won the Nike cross nationals, becoming the fourth Utahn in seven years to do so.

Herriman and American Fork high schools finished 1-2 in the team competition. Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, BYU grads and Utah natives, finished sixth and seventh in the Chicago Marathon, becoming the fourth and seventh fastest American runners ever. Utah Valley University’s Everlyn Kemboi and Utah’s Emily Venters finished 1-2 in the 10-,000-meter run at the NCAA championships. The Salt Lake Community College women’s team won the national championships 18 months after starting the program.

The real stars in the world of running were the so-called Super Shoes, with springy carbon fiber plates. The shoes reached the road racing scene in 2016 and the track in 2019, and the results have been astounding. Nine of the 10 fastest men’s marathons have been produced since 2019 for both men and women. Both world records fell this year — Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa covered the distance in 2:11:53, more than two minutes under the old record, and Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum clocked 2 hours and 35 seconds, which was 34 seconds under the previous record and an average of 4:36 per mile for 26.2 miles. There were similar results on the track, where Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon covered a mile in 4:07.64, knocking a whopping five seconds off the old record. The shoes have destroyed the natural progression of human performance; it has been artificially advanced by decades.

• • •

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua warms up before a game against the Washington Commanders Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. | Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

BYU’s Puka Nacua became a sensation in the NFL. The Rams rookie has caught 96 passes for 1,327 yards and five touchdowns, easily the greatest showing ever by a receiver from BYU. Not bad for a player who was drafted in the fifth round and was the 20th wide receiver taken overall.

• • •

While going through the season unbeaten, Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan football team also stirred up a huge controversy when it was revealed that a low-level assistant allegedly attended more than 30 games at other schools and stole teams’ signals using “illegal technology.” NCAA bylaws prohibit “off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents during the same season.” The assistant even showed up on the sidelines of future opponents in disguise. You can’t make this stuff up.

Or this. Bryson Barnes, who grew up on a large pig farm and played for Milford High — a 1A class school, the lowest of six classifications — became a starting quarterback in the Pac-12, for Utah. He played a heroic role in beating USC and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. He was the team’s third-string quarterback in camp but rose to the starting job because of injuries. He inspired a T-shirt — “That’s My Pig Farmer / Bryson Barnes.” Alas, Barnes hit the transfer portal after the season ended.

• • •

Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani listens to questions during a baseball news conference at Dodger Stadium Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Los Angeles. | Ashley Landis, Associated Press
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In baseball, a player is either a hitter or a pitcher, but not both. Then along came the unicorn, Shohei Ohtani. His average fastball travels 97 miles per hour (with a recorded high of 102). Earlier this season, he hit a home run that traveled 493 feet. He missed 27 games last season with an injury and still led the league in home runs (44), on-base percentage (.366), slugging percentage (.654) and total bases (.325), with a batting average of .304.  He also sported a 10-5 record as a starting pitcher, striking out 167 batters. In July, Ohtani pitched a complete-game, one-hit shutout in the early game of a doubleheader against the Tigers, then returned for the afternoon game and hit two home runs, including the game winner. In December, he signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers, making him the highest paid athlete in the world.

• • •

Andy Reid, the former BYU lineman and graduate assistant coach who considered LaVell Edwards his mentor, took a team to the Super Bowl for the fourth time, including three of the last four with the Chiefs, winning two. He became the fourth-winningest coach in NFL history. While the great Bill Belichick has languished without Tom Brady at quarterback, Reid has won with a variety of quarterbacks — Alex Smith, Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Pat Mahomes — and the latter is only 28 years old.

And with that, let’s give a Tush Push to 2023 and move on to 2024.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid watches during a game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo. | Reed Hoffmann, Associated Press
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