Oklahoma softball: Does OU have any real softball rivals?

Head coach Patty Gasso takes the field as the University of Oklahoma (OU) Sooner Women's Softball team plays UIC on March 4, 2023 at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla.
Head coach Patty Gasso takes the field as the University of Oklahoma (OU) Sooner Women's Softball team plays UIC on March 4, 2023 at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla. /

If you asked an Oklahoma softball player or fan who is your biggest rival or rivals, what is the response likely to be?

Rivalries are a deep-rooted and widely celebrated tradition within college sports. In simple terms, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines rival as a person or group that tries to defeat or be more successful than another person or group. In college sports, rivalries are best defined as two teams that have a long, often continuous history of competitiveness.

It is often said that the schools, teams and fans of the two rival organizations foster a general dislike, even hatred, toward each other.

Rivalries tend to be a bigger deal in football than any other college sport. They exist, but to a lesser extent, in basketball and in the lower-revenue sports.

For example, if you ask an Oklahoma Sooner fan or alum, or even one of the OU student-athletes, who Oklahoma’s biggest rivals are, the University of Texas would probably be the most common response, largely because of the heated, century-old football rivalry. Some might say Oklahoma State (Oklahoma State would say OU, for sure) and others Nebraska (based on the fact that OU and Nebraska have played each other 88 times in football and have combined to win

But who are Oklahoma’s rivals in softball: Texas? Oklahoma State? Both have outstanding softball programs and are typically ranked in the top-25 nationally (this season in the top-10, with Oklahoma State sitting in the No. 2 position directly behind the Sooners).

Head coach Patty Gasso is in her 29th season at Oklahoma. That dates back to when the Sooners were still part of the Big Eight Conference. A reporter asked her recently who the Sooners biggest rival or rivals are in softball. Some might be surprised to hear that she couldn’t name anyone that met her definition of a rivalry.

The obvious choice(s) would have been Texas and/or Oklahoma State, but the other factor you think of as an important characteristic of a rivalry is a long-running series of intensely competitive matchups that are relatively balanced in terms of wins and losses and are not dominated by one team.

For example, Oklahoma owns an overall record of 56-25 against Texas and is 99-72 in the all-time series with Oklahoma State. But the Sooners have won 30 of the last 31 games against the Longhorns and 29 of the last 31 against OSU. One-sided outcomes like those don’t feel much like a rivalry.

I know you’re supposed to (have a rival)”, Gasso told Tulsa World staff writer Eric Bailey recently. “When I first got here, it was like, these are the two programs you hate. I was like, why? I don’t know anything about them.

“We put value on any team we play. I think that’s the beauty of this program,” the OU head coach said. “There are a few teams we’ve had some chippiness with, but not to the point of all-out war. We don’t play our game that way,” she said.

Oklahoma softball has not played as many games with. say, UCLA or Florida State, as they have with Texas or Oklahoma State. But to Gasso’s point, the Sooners’ 8-13 record against UCLA and 9-8 overall record in games with Florida State have been more competitive than games with their more natural conference rivals.

Gasso says the Sooners look forward to playing teams that play the game the way they do, “which is playing hard.” We make each other better, she said.

Gasso said she’s not sure hate toward each other is the right way to describe a rivalry.

“If that’s how (rivalries are) described, then we don’t have rivalries,” she said.