If you still have a team alive in the NFL playoffs, you’re one of the lucky few. For the rest of us, mid-January leaves an empty feeling. College football season is officially over. Just reading that last sentence out loud is almost enough to make my eyes wet.
So now we can turn our full attention to basketball. Or can we? I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. I feel no buzz, no excitement, and no anticipation for hoops right now. I don’t think I’m the only one. In this state, no one is talking basketball. Sure, the newspapers and local media will cover the games because they have to, but trust me, the fan bases of our state schools are not fired up. There is far more interest in the next football season than there is in the current basketball season.
Part of that is simply the climate in our state. Oklahoma is a football state, always has been, always will be. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of basketball tradition here. Henry Iba, Eddie Sutton, Wayman Tisdale, Billy Tubbs, the Griffin brothers, Nolan Richardson, and countless others have contributed to the hoops history of Oklahoma. But the truth is, no matter how many Final Fours the colleges rack up, and no matter how many dunks Kevin Durant throws down, basketball is never going to overtake football in the hearts and minds of Oklahomans.
Part of the basketball apathy is due to the unbelievable success of football in 2010 and what could transpire in 2011. OU is already one of the favorites to win a national championship, while OSU is getting its stars back and should start the season in the Top 10. Tulsa finished in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly 20 years, and the search for a new head coach is dominating the headlines in this part of the state. If there’s one constant in Oklahoma sports, it’s that it’s never too early to start talking football.
Fans like me might be energized by basketball if we had something to be energized about. Sadly, as good as the football was, the state’s hoops teams leave a lot to be desired. In Norman, Jeff Capel has seen too much talent walk away and he hasn’t been able to replace that talent with players of equal caliber. As a result, the Sooners are going to suffer through the conference season and don’t have much of a chance to qualify for any postseason tournament. The situation in Stillwater is much brighter, but Travis Ford and the Cowboys are still a year or two away from really being a force in the Big 12. Oklahoma State basketball fans have always been some of the nation’s best, but even the diehards have to admit that every sport on campus is living in the shadow cast by Gundy, Weeden, and Blackmon. In the not so distant past, Big Monday games on ESPN consistently showcased the Sooners and Cowboys. Those critical conference matchups featured sold out arenas and Top 20 teams. Those games were anticipated by fans. Plans were made to bring a six-pack to a buddy’s house with the 60-inch plasma, or meet at a sports bar to catch every minute. Where are those games this season? I don’t see any worthy candidates on the schedule. This season, I haven’t watched more than a couple minutes of basketball and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Maybe because our expectations are so high for football, we want the same from our basketball teams. You want our support, our attention, and our butts in the seats? Then give us something to cheer about. It sounds harsh, but that is the fan’s mindset. It’s not necessarily fair to the coaches and players who work tirelessly to improve their teams and improve themselves, but I’m telling you, that is the unfortunate reality of basketball in Oklahoma in 2011.
Take Tulsa for example. I call it home, and it’s always been a great hoops town. As of right now, TU is 8-8 and Oral Roberts is 7-12. It would only take me a couple of fingers to count the number of times I’ve heard either team mentioned on sports radio. The hosts aren’t bringing up basketball, and neither are the callers. I know this will change as we get closer to March and the NCAA tournament. I’ll get into March Madness, that won’t be a problem. I’ll fill out multiple brackets, participate in online contests, and hopefully block out a continuous four day period of couch vegetation. Until mid-March, I’m not sure I’ll watch an entire basketball game involving one of our state teams. I wish it weren’t the case, but a lot of fans might admit to the same thing.
Let me give us all a little hope by saying this: 232 days until the opening Saturday of college football season.