Oklahoma football: History says OU’s lame-duck status won’t last long

Dec 30, 2020; Arlington, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Brian Asamoah (24) celebrates with teammates after making an interception during the first half against the Florida Gators at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2020; Arlington, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Brian Asamoah (24) celebrates with teammates after making an interception during the first half against the Florida Gators at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Oklahoma football enters the 2021 season with a giant target square on its back.

Nothing unusual about that. As six-time defending Big 12 champions and the owner of 14 conference titles in the past 21 seasons, the Sooners are used to being the object of every opponent’s best shot.

This season will be different, though. Oklahoma and Texas are lame-duck members of the Big 12. As newly invited members of the Southeastern Conference, their future lies elsewhere.

Texas is one of four schools from the Lone Star State that joined up with the Big Eight Conference in 1996 to form the Big 12. As such, Texas doesn’t have the history or the affinity that Oklahoma does with most of the schools that make up the Big 12. It’s worth noting, though, that the gridiron rivalry between the Sooners and Longhorns predates the very beginnings of what is now the Big 12. And the dual move to the SEC ensures that the Red River rivalry will continue.

Oklahoma’s ties to the Big 12 have evolved from what was originally the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association (which OU joined in 1919) through the Big Six years, Big Seven, Big Eight and now the Big 12. The Sooners have been part of what is now the Big 12 for 102 years.

None of that really matters at this point. The Sooners have shown their true colors, and they, along with their partners in crime — that school deep in the heart of the Lone Star State that every other school in the Big 12 loves to hate — can expect to draw a double dose of resentment from every conference opponent this season. And for as long as their stay in the Big 12 continues.

“There’s only one Oklahoma”

Oklahoma State may be the school most angered by the action taken by their conference and in-state rival. The OSU administration ostensibly has been under the mistaken impression that OU has always looked out for Oklahoma State and was bound to always do so.

“We believe this move is not just best (long-term) for OU,” said University of Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz after the Oklahoma  board of regents voted unanimously to accept the SEC invitation to join. “We believe this move is best for our state.”

Harroz said OU contemplated a move that could have included Oklahoma State as well.

“We looked at solutions for us to move together,” the OU president said, but that simply is not what the market we’re pursuing allows. The opportunity for Oklahoma was with one university only, and if we didn’t seize it, the answer would be none.”

As for the future of the 117-year-old Bedlam rivalry with Oklahoma State, OU says it would like to continue it, but that remains to be seen.

The view around the rest of the Big 12 is that Oklahoma and Texas stabbed the rest of the schools in the conference in the back and has left them in the lurch and scrambling to figure out an uncertain future. That mind set is sure to pack a lot of resentment.

And in just a few weeks, we’re going to see how all of that plays out on the football field.

The presidents of both OU and UT have pledged to honor their current agreement (grant of rights) to remain in the Big 12 through the 2024-25 academic year. There are a lot of reasons why that is probably not going to happen.

For one thing, to remain a lame duck in a conference you’ve already made arrangements to leave does not seem like a practical play for four more years.

There’s also the good chance that one or more other Big 12 schools will formalize a similar conference move, if for no other reason than to secure their future stability and revenue stream, despite the Big 12 doing everything it can to hold the conference together.

Watch history repeat itself

Recent history also suggests the Oklahoma’s move to the SEC will come about sooner rather than later.

Sports columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman recently did an analysis of how long it has taken teams to leave one conference for another once the official announcement has been issued. What he found was, going back over 30 years, “conference realignment has always been placed on the fast track.”

The most any school has had to wait in switching conferences during that span was two years.

When Arkansas moved from the Southwest Conference to the SEC in 1990, the move took 23 months, with the Razorbacks playing two lame-duck seasons.

When Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East, respectively, the whole process took 19 months.

Closer to home, when the Big 12 lost Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M to realignment in the 2010 and 2011 time frame, each of the four teams played just one lame-duck season in the Big 12 before moving on.

There is a financial penalty for leaving earlier than the 2024 season, but the annual revenue share OU and Texas are expected to receive in the SEC is enough to offset the exit penalty both schools would incur by leaving two years early.

The Big 12’s track record of figuring things out hasn’t been all that good. The conference has lost six of its original 12 members. There are too many parts at play here. Despite what OU and Texas is telling everybody, I can’t see either school sticking around more than a year or two at most.