Expectations are a funny thing when applied to sports. In nearly every case, expectations serve only one purpose - to ruin an upcoming season. Have you ever been a fan of a team who entered into a season with lofty expectations and seen that time live up to the hype? If you have then you know that in those rare cases fans spend the whole season dreading something bad happening only to feel relief, not joy, when their team's goals are finally realized. As Missouri fans we have dealt firsthand several times just in the last few years with teams that begin their seasons with big dreams, and nearly every time those expectations have "ruined" the season in the eyes of the fans because what was "supposed" to happen didn't come to fruition.
An excellent case in point is the very basketball season we are experiencing right now. Back in October, pundits everywhere lauded Missouri as a team that could challenge for a conference championship and, if things really came together, maybe even make a run at a Final Four. Fast forward 5 months and we all know what really happened. Tony Mitchell didn't make it to campus, several players haven't lived up to the expectations that were placed on them individually, and we sit here with a team that has won a lousy 22 games. Thanks to the expectations that were heaped on to the 2010-11 incarnation of Missouri's hoops team we as fans look at a 22-9 record as a near disaster of a season. Wouldn't things have been so much easier if, instead of trying to hype teams and predict who will win a championship before anybody steps foot on the field/court/diamond we all just sat back and actually watched some games first? What if we did away with trying to pretend we know anything about a team before competition starts and just enjoyed the early part of a season before forming what we think will or should happen?
2007 Missouri football happens. Going into 2007 Missouri fans had fairly moderate expectations for their football team. Most fans were thinking 8-4 or 9-3 would be a good showing with a second year quarterback who had a solid cast of supporting characters. After breezing through the nonconference schedule a primetime tilt with Nebraska loomed. I don't need to rehash how that night went, but needless to say everything changed over the course of 4 hours (and more). Suddenly the fans knew they had a good team on their hands. suddenly some big prizes came into play. Missouri fans weren't thinking national championship yet, but a spot in the conference championship game was all of a sudden there for the taking. What made the next month and a half so awesome wasn't just that Mizzou won a bunch of games. It was because Mizzou won a bunch of games in a season where they were supposed to be good-not-great. Twice since then Gary Pinkel's squad has put forth 10 wins, but 2008 and 2010 weren't half a satisfying to the fanbase as 2007 was. The reason? Because in 2010, and especially 2008, Missouri was supposed to win 10 games - or more. By expecting 10+ wins those years fans set themselves up to spend the whole season worrying about failing to meet expectations rather than enjoying the ride that a 10 win season brings.
It is obviously impossible to try and take expectations out of sports. If something as simple as doing away with the preseason college football poll can't even happen, what chance does fanbase expectations have? However, as fans it would be a lot easier to enjoy a season if we try to tamp down those Great Expectations a little every year. Sometimes things happen, and that's why we all watch sports so often. For every 2007 football where a team comes seemingly out of nowhere to do great things there's 2010-11 basketball that is expected to do great things and fizzles. While we can't do anything about having expectations, maybe we as fans can try to do a little better at adjusting those expectations as the season goes on. Maybe perhaps we can even try to accept a little easier when a team fails to live up to their expectations. Winning is hard, folks, and if we let a silly little thing like expectations before anybody steps onto a playing surface ruin an otherwise good season, then over time we will find sports to be far less enjoyable than we once found them. So why don't we try to quit putting so much weight into those expectations and try watching sports for the sake of seeing a game instead of worrying so much about the ramifications of how every game will affect the standings. To do otherwise risks missing out on a perfectly fine season and discredits the work that our young men do every day for the sake of our entertainment.