Oklahoma football: Is there an officiating conspiracy against OU because of SEC move?

A referee talks with Oklahoma's McKade Mettauer (72) in the second half of a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov., 11, 2023.
A referee talks with Oklahoma's McKade Mettauer (72) in the second half of a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov., 11, 2023. /

It’s no secret that the Texas and Oklahoma football farewell tours through the Big 12 this season weren’t going to be met with a lot of love and affection.

The Sooners and Longhorns have been in lame-duck status for the last two seasons after announcing they were leaving the Big 12 to become members of the Southeastern Conference.

Let’s put it this way, short of the revenue stream they are leaving behind, no team or Big 12 official is probably sad to see Oklahoma and Texas take their football and go play elsewhere. Between them, the Sooners and Longhorns have won 17 of the 27 Big 12 championships since the conference was formed in 1996.

As undeniably two of the biggest brands in college football, OU and Texas have long been the power merchants of the Big 12, and because of that they have had a huge target on their back against everyone and everywhere they played in the conference. That just goes with the territory.

Since being named Big 12 commissioner a year and a half ago, Brett Yormark has made if fairly clear through his words and his actions that, as far as he is concerned, the Sooners and Longhorns can’t be gone soon enough and that the Big 12 will be just fine without them.

Penalties and officiating calls going against Oklahoma seemingly have been a longtime issue for the Sooners, and in the past couple of years have OU fans postulating that Big 12 officiating crews are unfairly picking on the Sooners and, presumably, Texas as well.

Penalties aren’t nearly the issue when your winning, but in a losing performance penalty calls get extra scrutiny, especially from fans of the losing team. In Oklahoma’s recent losses to Kansas and Oklahoma this season, officiating decisions involving the Sooners late in both games had a definite impact on the outcome.

You can effectively argue that no game should come down to one or two judgmental calls on the part of the officiating crew — and you can put Sooner head coach Brent Venables in that camp — but two calls late against Oklahoma State — one of which drew a questionable penalty flag and one a blatant no-call — give pause to the idea that perhaps Oklahoma is being unfairly singled out as it makes the rounds in its final Big 12 season.

With Oklahoma leading 21-17 at Oklahoma State early in the final quarter and the Cowboys backed up on their own eight-yard line and facing a 3rd and 5, a pass by Alan Bowman intended for Rashod Owens short of the 20-yard line fell incomplete. Instead of forcing a punt situation, however, Oklahoma State got a reprieve when the OU defender drew a questionable flag for pass interference.

The pass interference call resulted in a 15-yard penalty, followed by a second 15-yard penalty when Venables charged on the field of play to challenge the call. The back-to-back infractions awarded 30 yards to the OSU offense, ending eight plays later in a go-ahead touchdown.

With the score 27-21 in favor of Oklahoma State. the Sooners mounted a 57-yard march inside the red zone in OSU territory. Faced with 3rd and 12 from the Cowboy 18-yard, Dillon Gabril threw a pass to Drake Stoops in the back corner of the end zone. The Oklahoma State defender clearly pulled Stoops to the ground before the ball had gotten there. Stoops still managed somehow to make the catch but was ruled out of bounds. There was an official looking right over the play, but no flag was thrown for interference.

What made this call so egregious was that this non-call was much more obvious than the one called on Oklahoma earlier in the quarter and would have awarded OU the ball on the one-yard line and most likely would have scored to take the lead.

Conspiracy theory, anyone?

"“I don’t believe in conspiracies,” Venables said in his weekly press conference this week. “I’m not going to give them (the OU team) an excuse. I’m not going to let anyone else give them an excuse either.“The opportunity I have around them, my challenge, is not to put it in anyone else’s hands. Play clean. Do the little things right. Sometimes it’s going to go for you, sometimes it’s not. Keep playing, keep fighting, keep working, keep believing. Don’t get distracted.”"

The truth of the matter is that Oklahoma gets penalized a lot. The Sooners are the most penalized team in the Big 12 this season, averaging nearly seven penalties per game for an average of 59.3 yards. And this is not just a one-time phenomenon. And a good number are of the pre-snap kind or unsportsmanlike calls, which drive coaches absolutely crazy because they are mostly mental in nature and about not being disciplined and drive coaches absolutely wild.

For the last five seasons, including this one, Oklahoma has been dead last or next to last in the conference in penalties incurred. That hardly speaks of a conspiracy. More than anything, it says the Sooners are guilty of self-inflicted wounds and bear the blame of beating themselves more than what any official or opponent might inflict upon them.

If anything, the rest of the Big 12 and their fans are a bit jealous and just plain tired of seeing Oklahoma win all the time and are longing for better days ahead and what is perceived as a greater chance of capturing the conference’s top prize when the Sooners and Longhorns move on.

Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, Oklahoma easily owns the league’s best record at 176-60 (.744). Texas is next with a record of 155-79 (.662).

The departure of Oklahoma and Texas makes it six of the original Big 12 members that have left the conference beginning in 2011. Four new members (BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF) joined the Big 12 this season and four more (Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado) are set to join the the six founding teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor) next season. Colorado is actually rejoining the Big 12, having been one of the founding members in 1996 before leaving for the Pac-12 after the 2010 season.