The Oklahoma Sooners are something of an anomaly in the world of college football.
Oklahoma isn’t a wealthy state. It doesn’t have a huge population base within its borders. You can drive from Norman to the Dallas Metroplex in a couple hours, but that’s about the extent of the football program’s natural advantages.
The Sooners have one of the richest histories in the sport, however, because the team became a source of pride for a downtrodden state nearly a century ago. They win big consistently thanks to a foundation laid by decades of sweat equity and support from people who haven’t had much to spare. All fans like to think there’s something special about the relationship between their favorite teams and their states or communities. That’s more true about Oklahoma than most anywhere else.
As the Sooners prepare to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC, it’s worth noting that OU isn’t offering fertile recruiting territory or big TV markets. By adding Oklahoma to its ranks, the SEC is getting a product that will further burnish its reputation as the elite of the elite in college football. Quality is OU’s value proposition, in other words.
Joint statement from OU and Texas. The first step is complete. pic.twitter.com/8HpyGDY2Az— Jeremie Poplin (@jeremiepoplin) July 26, 2021
That also explains why the Big 12 has given the Sooners a great home – a much better one than it seems to get credit for. Its members may not all have access to the best raw materials, but their commitment to playing quality football manifests itself in a culture of innovation throughout the league.
In the process, the Big 12 has become the dominant influence on how football is played at all levels in the modern era. Many of its programs consistently punch well above their weight as a result. Despite having a better roster year in and year out, the Sooners have been forced to push the strategic envelope in their own right to stay on top of the conference.
That makes OU’s imminent defection to the SEC feel — in a sense — pretty shitty. Seeing OU take part in hastening the corporatization of college football is bad enough. It’s worse knowing how this move will likely impact the other Big 12 teams even though they didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, they did a lot right to help turn Big 12 football into something far more interesting than watching teams like Tennessee and LSU beat each other over the head for four quarters.
So would everyone be happier overall if OU had a change of heart? Some would say yes, and that includes some Sooner fans who have become accustomed to annual conference championships and double-digit wins.
But for better or worse, college football and the Sooners matter a lot to the school, fans and the state of Oklahoma. Given the direction of the sport, to not make a move to the SEC now risks consigning the Sooners to a future in which everything they’ve built over time fades away. It’s not a choice that feels good, but there really isn’t a choice to be made.