NCAA

Column: An ugly year in sports - or was it?

201212171347496463619-p2.jpeg

Column: An ugly year in sports - or was it?

Good riddance, 2012.

The year that almost was left us with a string of hideous story lines.

From the ongoing repulsiveness of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State to Lance Armstrong being stripped of his Tour de France titles for injecting himself with everything but the kitchen sink.

There was the New Orleans Saints' cash-for-hits bounty scandal, and Commissioner Roger Goodell being slapped down by his predecessor for the way he handled the whole thing. And the sad, sad plights that emerge almost every day from ex-football players who took far too many blows to the head while playing America's most popular sport.

Those were the top four in The Associated Press' annual survey of the year's sport stories.

Thanks a lot, 2012.

Your legacy is pain and misery - if we allow it to be.

This year could be a turning point on so many vital fronts.

Maybe when we reflect back years from now, we'll remember 2012 as a time when we decided sexual abuse was no longer an embarrassing problem to be swept under the rug, that doping was a scourge we needed to address no matter who it took down, that football players must be taken care of physically and emotionally if our national sport is to survive.

If we could pick one figure who we hope will epitomize this year more than any other, it would be Cy Young Award-winning pitcher R.A. Dickey. A journeyman who became a star in his late 30s after taking up the knuckleball. A victim of childhood sexual abuse who summoned the courage to talk about his plight in a candid autobiography. Someone who triumphed in the end after all the pain.

``One of the hopes I have for the book is that people will be able to draw something from it that might be able to help them,'' Dickey said during spring training after it was published, ``whether it's to talk about it more, to not be afraid, to be open with what's happened, that there are people available that will love you no matter what.''

That would be a worthy legacy for 2012.

Of course, it's terrible what happened at Penn State, which was voted the top sports story for the second year in a row. But who knows how many kids will be saved in the years to come because the next time a child is raped in the shower by a dirty old man, the police will surely be called. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly spoke hopefully of the guilty verdict against Jerry Sandusky persuading ``other victims of abuse to come forward.''

And that's a good thing.

Of course, it's shocking to learn of the lengths Armstrong was willing to go to away from his bike, all to make sure he climbed to the top step of the podium on the Champs-Elysees year after year. But who knows how many future cyclists will decide it's not worth the risk of getting caught or having to deal with the inner turmoil of knowing they are a cheat. ``Our mission is to protect clean athletes by preserving the integrity of competition not only for today's athletes but also the athletes of tomorrow,'' U.S. anti-doping chief Travis Tygart wrote in the voluminous case file against Armstrong.

And that's a good thing.

Of course, the Saints scandal exposed the dirty little secret in the NFL that apparently wasn't much of a secret to those who play the game, the idea that money changes hands when someone doles out a hit that leave the other guys crumpled on the turf. While former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the punishments against four players, he doled out enough blame that one can only hope this is the last time we hear of anyone using the word ``bounty'' or intentionally trying to hurt someone.

And that's a good thing.

Of course, it's heartbreaking to see former greats of the gridiron, like the late Alex Karras, withering away in their golden years, unable to recognize friends and loved ones because the game they played turned their brains into mush. But everyone from the NFL to Pop Warner leagues finally seem to be addressing this wrenching issue, providing a glimmer of hope that future generations will be better protected. ``He is interested in making the game of football safer,'' Karras' actress-wife, Susan Clark, told the AP a few months before he died, ``and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement.''

And that's a good thing.

Oh, sure, there were some triumphant tales from these last 12 months.

The London Olympics were a sight to behold. Michael Phelps went out in splash of glory, Usain Bolt blazed down the track, Gabby Douglas and Missy Franklin stole our hearts.

LeBron James finally claimed a ring after a season that even his critics had to concede was one of the most dazzling in NBA history. The San Francisco Giants kept us up late at night, winning baseball playoff games in the most unfathomable of ways. Quarterback Peyton Manning made an inspiring comeback from career-threatening injuries, leading Denver to a division title.

All were events worth celebrating.

But they're unlikely to have the far-reaching impact of those that made us cringe.

Now, if we can do better, maybe 2012 won't be such a bad year after all.

---

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

ncstate_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- D.J. Funderburk scored 14 points before fouling out and North Carolina State overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than 10 minutes in a 53-51 victory against Virginia on Monday night.

C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), including a jumper with 27 seconds left after allowing the shot clock to race to near 0:00. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cavaliers.

Viginia (12-6, 4-4) used a 15-0 run during the N.C. State scoring drought that lasted 10:13 to take a 46-42 lead, bringing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena back into the game. But Jericole Hellems hit a 3-pointer for N.C. State with 3:38 left and, after a free throw by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer and then Hellems' putback gave the Wolfpack a 50-47 lead.

Johnson and Bryce both missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, and Kihei Clark hit a pair for Virginia. Braxton Beverly made the first and missed the second for the Wolfpack with 7.2 seconds left, and the Cavaliers Casey Morsell was short on a contested 3 at the buzzer.

Clark led Virginia with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack had used an 8-0 run to go ahead 42-31. Virginia helped out by going scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes. Francisco Caffaro, who had just been inserted into the game, ended the drought with 11:13 left.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack seemed on their way to a solid victory until the drought, during which they were 1 for 8 from the field with five turnovers and repeatedly let the shot clock run down into single digits, forcing bad shots.

Virginia: In the Cavaliers' continuing search for scoring help, freshman Casey Morsell had as many as three field goals for the first time since a 65-56 victory against Navy on Dec. 29. He was 4 for 20 from the field in his last five games. He finished the night 4 for 9 and his buzzer-beater attempt was closely guarded.

UP NEXT

The Wolfpack remains on the road and plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Cavaliers go on the road and play at Wake Forest on Sunday.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE NCAA NEWS:

Quick Links

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: