Oklahoma football: Pods are next generation of conference alignment

SEC logo seen during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., Monday, July 19, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]Sec Media Days
SEC logo seen during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., Monday, July 19, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]Sec Media Days /

We are entering an entirely new era of Oklahoma football.

The first thing that came to mind after rumor became reality that Oklahoma would be changing conferences for just the second time in its 127-year history is where the Sooners would be placed in the SEC structure.

Let’s begin with a short history lesson.

Oklahoma’s first conference affiliation was in 1915 — a decade after the school first fielded a varsity football team — when the Sooners became founding members of the Southwest Conference along with Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Rice Southwestern University and Arkansas.

Oklahoma remained a member of the SWC until 1919 before leaving to join what was then known as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association. That conference eventually became what is today known as the Big 12,

In 1928, six of the seven state schools that made up the MVIAA broke off and formed what became the Big Six Conference. That league later expanded, becoming the Big Seven and then the Big Eight, which endured from 1957 through 1995.

Big 12 brought with it a new era in conference structure, scheduling

Things were relatively simple, in terms of scheduling and structure, until the Big 12 came into being in 1996. At that time, the conference was divided into two divisions, the North and South, with six schools in each. Prior to the expansion to 12 teams, schools played a complete round-robin schedule and the team with the best record at the end of the season was crowned conference champion.

With a dozen conference teams, it was impossible to play every team every season.

The Big 12 was no different than any of the other major conferences when they expanded beyond 10 teams. Hence the universal movement to a divisional format.

The Big 12 North comprised the six northern schools (Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa State). Oklahoma was assigned to the South Division, where it was reunited with former Southwest Conference teams Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech along with in-state rival Oklahoma State.

Instead of playing a round-robin conference schedule, which had been the case for the entire previous history of OU’s conference affiliation, under the Big 12 structure, each conference school played four nonconference opponents and eight league games. Teams played all of the teams in their division and three inter-divisional games. The three inter-divisional teams you didn’t play one year were on the schedule the following year.

This was only for football, incidentally. The structure and format was different for basketball and other athletic programs. At the end of the season, the two divisional champions met to determine the conference champion (except from 2011 through 2016).

What would SEC alignment look like with OU and Texas?

The SEC is the first major conference to expand to 16 teams, and that number could grow even larger in future years. It’s all part of the future vision that most college football experts believe will end up as two or three superconferences that will end up displacing the NCAA, at least in its present form, and control college football.

This evolution will also bring with it more change in the way we’ve been conditioned to think about college conferences, particularly how they are aligned and structured.

For example, at first impression, here is what the experts were saying and projecting about where Oklahoma and Texas would go in the revamped SEC structure. The majority opinion was that the Sooners and Longhorns would be slotted into what is now the West Division of the SEC.

That group would include incumbents Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi along with transplanted Missouri and newcomers Oklahoma and Texas. To make room for the addition of OU and Texas in the West, Alabama and Auburn would move over to the East Division and join Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

That is all conventional thinking, though, under the old paradigm. The SEC network recently proposed that we think of things in a different way. Another approach that is quickly gaining traction is a pod system that takes in geographic considerations and preserves most of the traditional, deep-seated rivalries.

In the case of the 16-team SEC, that would mean eliminating the two division and going with four pods consisting of four teams. You could set it up on the basis of geography, on historical lines or you could go with a combination of the two.

The SEC Network suggested an alignment of Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas could be one approach. OU and Texas have a longtime rivalry, and OU-Missouri and Texas-Arkansas have long histories playing each other. That’s one possibility. Others might be:

Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Arkansas

Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M

Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Missouri and Arkansas

.The SEC Network asked its viewers which potential alignment involving the Sooners they liked the best, and the most votes went to OU, Ole Miss, Missouri and Arkansas. But, of course, this was a highly subjective poll.

I do think that a pod arrangement makes a lot of sense. I personally would like to see an Oklahoma pod that includes Texas, Missouri and Arkansas (four different state schools from adjoining states).

Under a four-team pod format, OU would play three nonconference games every season, play the three teams in its pod every season, play two games against teams in each of the other pods every season and host every team in the conference at least once every four years.

The more I get into it, the more I like it. If you had a say in the matter, what would it be?