Like a kid on Christmas morning, every year I wait with anticipation to see what the Associated Press has deemed as the Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year.  Ok… so maybe that’s overexaggerating a bit, but it’s still fun to look back on the year as a whole to see what stories mattered in the world of the sports.  You can check Matt’s podcast with SI’s Richard Deitsch discussing many of these stories.  And, as with any year-end list, the 2011 selections by the AP have left plenty of room for debate.  First, the Top 10 from the AP:

(1) Penn State
(2) NFL/NBA Lockouts
(3) Packers Win
(4) Conference Realignment
(5) Cardinals Win
(6) Ohio State
(7) Mavericks Win
(8) Dan Wheldon Dies
(9) Syracuse
(10) Women’s World Cup

Now, some analysis:

What The AP Got Right
-Absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the AP got the #1 story of the year right, the Penn State scandal.  Very rarely does a sports story grip the nation in the fashion of the horrible child abuse scandal at Penn State and the fall of the legendary Joe Paterno.  The developments at Penn State didn’t just lead the likes of ESPN and the blogosphere for weeks, it led the top of national news programs.  Not only was the detail of the allegations on a disgusting and sensational level, but the coverup by people in power at Penn State directly led to the firing of the all-time winningest coach in college football history.  

-The AP also got the 2nd story of the year correct, the ongoing labor drama in the NBA and NFL. The first half of the year, the sports media was paralyzed by the thought of missing a second of NFL action.  And, perhaps in part due to the overload of lockout coverage and the mass hysteria missing games would cause, the NFL players and owners finally got a deal done.  The NBA was not so fortunate with their lockout causing games to be missed, although the messiness of Godfather Stern versus the players is still making for endless fodder as we approach the Christmas Day opening of the season.

Stories Ranked Too Low
-For a story that dominated much of the summer months, it was surprising to see the Mavericks NBA Title win rank only #7 on the AP’s list.  If nothing else, the Mavericks were only supporting characters to the real drama of the NBA Finals, the fact that they beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat.  After the Decision Debacle of 2010, there was even more pressure on King James and the Heat to win the championship.  The fact that they made it all the way to the NBA Finals, only to lose to a deserving Dirk Nowitzki, was certainly a bigger story than just the #7 spot.  Then again, a LeBron James choke job in the playoffs isn’t anything new.  

-It may have been a token nod, but the Women’s World Cup was one of the most dramatic sporting events of the 2011 calendar year.  From the dramatic run of the U.S. Women’s National Team, to the eventual champions Japan winning the tournament after the devastating earthquake in their country, the Women’s World Cup showed this country will support soccer at the highest level, no matter the gender.  

Stories Ranked Too High
As a bitter Bears and Cubs fan who lives in Columbus, OH… I’d like to argue with a straight face that the Packers Super Bowl win, the Cardinals World Series title, and the Ohio State scandal are overrated.  Yes, 2011 wasn’t the best year for yours truly as a sports fan.  But, if I had to go with one that was really ranked too high, it would be the St. Louis Cardinals and their comeback World Series win.  Yes, Game 6 was an epic comeback by the Cardinals, but it was also a spectacular failure by the Texas Rangers. Much like 2006, the Cardinals were once again a mediocre team who got hot at the right time.  Heck, the Cardinals only had the 2nd best miracle comeback to even get in the postseason, ranking behind the Rays/Red Sox race.  If anything, after seeing the San Fransisco Giants slotted in the same #5 position last year, it seems the AP just slid the generic World Series winner in the same spot.  The AP also fails to mention Albert Pujols’s money grab to leave the Cardinals for the Angels in free agency this month, a baseball story with perhaps even bigger ramifications.  

Stories That Could Have Been Considered
-Yes, the AP did a great job as usual with their year-end review.  But, there were a couple of stories that were just as big that could have slotted in the Top 10.  The dependancy on the leader remains constant in the lives of sports fans, but ESPN certainly shifted from reporting news to making news in 2011, and mostly for the wrong reasons.  From the Longhorn Network and college realignment, to Craig James, to the #1 New York Times bestseller about the inside world of Bristol, ESPN found their motives in question by many in the sports media world.  In fact, one could argue the #FreeBruce movement alone was one of the top sports stories of the year because it showed the blowback against ESPN’s darker side from fans and bloggers.  

-And last, but certainly not least… Tim Tebow.  Whether you like him or not, or think the media has obsessed over Tebow with their coverage, there is no question Tebow has been the story of the NFL season.  Let’s just hope 2012 doesn’t see the predictable overcorrection by the sports media that sees Tebow the quarterback, and the person, obliterated.  

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