Local sports coverage is slipping in Oklahoma. As a former member of the Tulsa media, it saddens me to make that statement. Covering local sports was my passion and my livelihood. Back then I sensed it, and even more so now, I see the profession slowly dying.
There is no longer an investment being made in real, substantial journalism. When I tune into local news these days, I cringe because each station’s sportscast is predictable and dull. Each channel airs a slightly altered version of the same show.
It’s fine to show highlights from the Drillers, Shock, Talons, Barons, OU, OSU, and of course the Thunder. However, I have a feeling no one is flipping on their TV to see a couple of lousy highlights. Nobody is sitting at home anxiously awaiting 20 seconds of Redhawks footage.
So why do stations fall into this cookie cutter pattern? Is it because the anchors and producers are afraid to miss something or is it because they’ve been in the same routine for so long that they’re just too comfy and complacent to think outside the box? Frankly, I know it’s the latter because I was guilty of it when I sat at the anchor desk.
The famous motto of Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis is somewhat ironic considering the Raiders do everything but win. However, those three little words perfectly describe how almost every American sports fan feels about his or her team.
I am a fan just like you and frankly, I’m sick and tired of the expectations that are placed on me. I don’t need to hear another coach, player, owner, executive, or media member call me out for not being supportive. Here’s how this works: You (the team) create a successful product, and then I show up. I’m not going to show up if there’s nothing in it for me. Selfish? You betcha. Wrong? Nope.
There’s no way athletic directors Joe Castiglione and Mike Holder enjoy seeing thousands of empty seats at Lloyd Noble and Gallagher-Iba, but the fan is the last person I’m going to blame for those arenas looking no better than junior high gyms. Nobody is expecting Oklahoma to turn into a basketball crazed state anytime soon. That being said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the Sooners and Cowboys to make the NCAA tournament four out of every five seasons. These are schools with a decent amount of basketball tradition. They are big-time universities with big bucks coming from big boosters trying to get into a tournament that’s anything but exclusive. If Jeff Capel and Travis Ford can’t give me something to look forward to, then why should I pay through the nose to watch a team hoping to sneak into the NIT?
Good economy or down economy, fan dollars are stretched thin. If I have to pick and choose carefully, why am I going to pick a loser? Some claim the Thunder is taking dollars away from the college basketball teams in this state. I think that’s right, but it’s not because of over saturation in the market. One team is on the rise and sells out; the other teams flounder around .500 and hear crickets during home games. Fans will go see a winning product, period.
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.
With a gullet full of turkey and the anticipation of tomorrow’s Bedlam showdown, this weekend is simply the most wonderful time of the year.
Houses will be divided, trash will be talked, and twelve months of bragging rights will be on the line.
It’s tough to find an Oklahoman who doesn’t care about this game. But tomorrow, Bedlam will be foremost in the mind of a football crazed nation. The game has the prime time slot on ABC and ESPN’s College Gameday is setting up shop in Stillwater. I might make the journey to the land of orange if for no other reason than to give Erin Andrews my phone number. No doubt, I’m exactly what she’s looking for.
OSU is in unfamiliar territory because there has never been this much at stake for the Pokes. The program has never played for a Big 12 championship. Beat the Sooners, and the Cowboys will do just that. Not to mention OSU can secure the first 11-win season in school history and snap that pesky seven game losing streak to its in-state rival.
Pressure can do funny things to a football team, but the Cowboys have proven themselves in crunch time all year long. The Sooners? Well, not so much. OU still hasn’t figured out how to solve the equation of a road game on prime time TV against a highly ranked opponent. The win over Baylor was nice, but routing an overrated Bears team doesn’t mean the Sooners’ road issues have suddenly disappeared.
While the Sooners may have been victimized by expectations, the Cowboys came into this season without any. They’ve been a looser bunch because of it. When asked on a local sports radio show which of his players were playing over their heads, Mike Gundy named nearly every starter on both sides of the ball. Can Bob Stoops make that statement about any OU players outside of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles? I’m not so sure.
It’s a good thing I don’t gamble on sports. I’d have better luck picking Powerball numbers than predicting the outcome of college football games much less how the season is going to play out. This year on the gridiron is like a science experiment gone wrong. There is no hypothesis to be made, because there are no trends, no consistent data, no rhyme, no reason, only random chaos.
How else can you describe what’s happening in the Big 12? Baylor, yes Baylor is in first place in the Big 12 South. This is the same Baylor that’s been a doormat of the conference for more than a decade. Eight games into the season and the Bears are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Right now, Baylor looks every bit as good as Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State. Maybe better. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.
Try to wrap your brain around this: Oklahoma blasts Iowa State 52-0; the Cyclones then dominate Texas in Austin, the same Texas team that just came off a convincing road win at previously unbeaten Nebraska. Those same Huskers that were locked up by the ‘Horns, go to Stillwater and hang 51 on the undefeated Cowboys.
But the wackiness isn’t limited to the Big 12. The number one team has now fallen in three straight weeks. That hasn’t happened since 1960. Maybe the most bizarre part of it all is the fact that a computer gets to decide how an eventual champion will be determined. Ever try arguing with a computer? I’ve yelled at, sworn at, and pleaded with my computer, but it can’t be reasoned with. The folks at the BCS obviously think computers are smarter than humans. I won’t win that debate, so let me just make some general comments and predictions that will surely go wrong because they come from my feeble human brain.
WHAT HAPPENED TO OU AND OSU?
Sooner fans, let me be clear. Your team was badly exposed and outplayed the other night in Columbia. OU was not, is not, and won’t be the best team in college football this year. To think otherwise is simply delusional. The Sooners were not worthy of the number one BCS ranking, and there is a laundry list of reasons.
First, the best team in the country doesn’t turn the ball over twice inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. Second, a team that can win a national title is a team that can rush the quarterback effectively and tackle in the secondary. The Sooners can do neither. Third, the quarterback for the best team in the country doesn’t continually pull this Jekyll and Hyde act. Landry Jones is one player at home, and a complete mess on the road. Staring down your intended receiver is not a trait of the leader of the best team in the land. Fourth, the last time I checked you are the University of freaking Oklahoma. With your history and tradition, you are one of the powers in college football. Why in the name of Bud Wilkinson can’t you find someone who can kick a 30 yard field goal? Please tell me why the coaching staff isn’t bringing in one of the country’s best high school kickers year after year? A big time football program like the one in Norman has no excuse for this. None. Fifth, and maybe most importantly, the best team in the country doesn’t quit. How else do you describe what Bob Stoops did when he elected to punt with two minutes left? No, you’re probably not going to win the game, but what kind of message does punting send to your players and to your fans? It says we’ve lost, we’re done, let’s get this over with please.
The message to Oklahoma State fans is much simpler. If your team is ever going to contend for a South title or a conference title, you must have a defense. The last decade in Stillwater has seen a carousel of coordinators with very limited results. Right now OSU ranks 97th in the country in total defense, but 3rd in total offense. Sadly, it’s the same song, different verse for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State hasn’t had a defensive player drafted in the first round since Kevin Williams in 2003. There just isn’t enough top-notch talent on that side of the ball coming through Stillwater. Put a halfway decent defense with the Pokes’ offensive talent, and there’s a team I will believe in.
WHO WINS THE BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP?
Maybe it’s too soon after the weekend, but I have very little confidence in OU being able to run the table. The Sooners are abysmal on the road and tough tests remain in Waco, College Station, and Stillwater. On the other hand, I can’t pick OSU because the meat of the Cowboys’ schedule is still ahead, and did I mention their defense? Texas is done, and Baylor might just be the best team in the South. I’m going to repeat this sentence three times: “Baylor wins the Big 12 South.” Every time I say it, it sounds more absurd. I’m not ready for it. Sorry Bears, I’ll go with OU by default.
My gut tells me Nebraska is the best team in the conference, and I see a massive let down for Mizzou when the Tigers invade Lincoln this week. I love Bo Pelini’s coaching style and his intensity, no way the Huskers are dropping two straight at home. Nebraska takes its first step back to being the program it was in the 90’s by winning the Big 12 championship.
WHICH TEAM IS REALLY THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY?
Not an easy answer, but I believe Alabama is the most complete team I’ve seen. Sure, the Tide lost to South Carolina, but the loss was early enough in the season for Nick Saban’s team to recover. Alabama has two of the criteria I’m looking for in a title contender. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson makeup the best backfield in the country, and if Saban will just stick with the ground game for four quarters, the Tide can roll all the way to a championship. ‘Bama also plays great defense, a defense that will be meet it’s toughest test when Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa on November 26th.
Auburn won’t get past Alabama, and I don’t see Oregon going unscathed either. The Ducks go to USC, have to get by Arizona at home, then survive the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvalis. Chip Kelly has done a phenomenal job with that team, but a one loss Oregon team isn’t going to pass a one loss Alabama team.
I can’t convince myself that Michigan State is for real (maybe if the Spartans win at Iowa this week), and even though Boise State and TCU deserve to be highly ranked, I can’t label them as the best because of the competition they face.
‘Bama plays Boise for the national championship and the Crimson Tide, improbable as it may sound, finds a way to win back to back titles.
(I can’t wait to come back to this column after the season and see just how far off I was!)
WHO WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY?
Sadly this award has become a trophy for the best player on a front running team. The number in the loss column matters more than all the other stats combined. That said, right now it’s Cam Newton’s to lose. If the Auburn quarterback leads his team to victory in Tuscaloosa, there’s no way he’s not hoisting that bronze statue.
WHICH TEAM IS MOST OVERRATED?
Missouri. Major props for beating a mistake prone and highly overrated Oklahoma team on your home field, but I’m not ready to buy in to the Tigers just yet. Mizzou’s non-conference schedule featured a long list of puff pastries, and again the toughest game to date was at home. I’ll maintain that OU lost that game more than Mizzou won it. I’d also like to see Blaine Gabbert complete a pass over 15 yards. The Tigers have a chance to prove me wrong this weekend at Nebraska. Win in Lincoln and you’ll get rid of the overrated tag in a hurry. But for now, I’m not a believer.
WHICH TEAM IS MOST UNDERRATED?
Utah. Nobody is talking about the Utes even though they’re undefeated. Kyle Whittingham’s team is 14th in the country in total offense and 5th in total defense. In other words, the Utes are getting it done on both sides of the ball. You want style points? Utah is beating up the opposition by an average of 35 points per game. This team shouldn’t be under the radar because of what its accomplished over the last few years. The Utes haven’t lost a bowl game under Whittingham and have two BCS bowl victories to their credit. If the Utes get through this current gauntlet of games (at Air Force, vs. TCU, at Notre Dame), there’s no way they should be ignored.
Take that computers.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.