Carlson: The future of the Bedlam rivalry seems more uncertain than ever. Here's where things stand
Joe Harroz sounded sincere.
“Make no mistake, we want the Bedlam rivalry to continue,” the OU president said the other day, “and make no mistake, even with this change, we want to play Oklahoma State in every sport, in every year.”
Of course, the OU president made those comments Friday morning as the OU Board of Regents met to approve the change he was referencing, the Sooners’ move to the SEC. Goodbye, Big 12. So long, conference affiliation with OSU.
This is a move that has come after months of super-secret, behind-the-scenes talks between OU/Texas and the SEC that no one in the Big 12 knew anything about, including OSU.
So, I understand if Cowboy Nation questions Harroz’s sincerity.
Ditto for his motivation.
Even with OU's and Texas’ move to the SEC cemented, lots of big questions remain. Will the Sooners and Longhorns really remain in the Big 12 until the end of the current grant-of-rights contract? Will they buy their way out of the deal and be SEC-bound before 2025? Will that buy-out money entice the remaining Big 12 teams to stay together? Or will the league splinter?
Will it survive?
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OU wants that. Such has been the sentiment from OU leaders since news first broke a couple weeks ago about this potential SEC move. They said privately what Harroz said publicly last week.
And it makes sense. This rivalry is one of the best in college athletics, and I’m not just talking about football. Frankly, the football version of Bedlam has become the most relevant rivalry in the country over the past decade, with the outcome of game regularly having a significant impact on the college football landscape. But the rivalry is robust in nearly every sport. Softball. Baseball. Basketball. Golf. Wrestling. Soccer.
There are lots of reasons to want to keep Bedlam alive.
You have to wonder, though, if Harroz made his comments about Bedlam in part to lob this in-state, public-relations grenade back to OSU. Make it known OU wants to keep playing the rivalry, then if it doesn’t happen, the blame falls on OSU.
Maybe not — but maybe.
Pretty clearly, OU and Texas are being seen by many as villains in this whole thing. Making secretive maneuvers. Putting the almighty dollar over loyalty. Throwing the rest of college athletics into chaos as they seek stability.
And in our state, there’s the added layer of OU aligning with Texas instead of OSU.
Here’s guessing anyone in OU’s position would’ve done the same, from the methods to the outcomes, but that doesn’t change the fact those not in OU’s position are none too happy with the Sooners. Some are down right furious.
So Harroz and athletic director Joe Castiglione playing the kumbaya card with OSU makes OU look a little better, and if Bedlam can’t be saved, then maybe a bit of the bad-guy tag rubs of on OSU.
Truthfully, I’m not sure OSU cares if that happens.
OSU president Kayse Shrum issued her latest Twitter statement on Sunday. She’s been communicating with Cowboy fans via social media, and she has not minced words about the Sooners or the current situation.
“While this is a time of uncertainty in college sports, I view this as a time of opportunity,” she wrote. “OSU is charting a course for our bright future and will take the necessary time to consider the best path forward, working cooperatively with the Big 12 Conference and its institutions.
“Many have asked about the future of Bedlam. We enjoy the intensity and tradition whenever we play OU in any sport. Right now, there are too many unknowns to determine what the future holds.”
Shrum and OSU athletic director Chad Weiberg have more important things than Bedlam to worry about right now. What will become of the Big 12? Where will OSU be in the best position for success?
But even after those questions have answers, you don’t get the sense Shrum and Co. would be all that worried about fallout from Bedlam not continuing. Now, maybe they should be concerned about the revenue, the attention and the tradition that would be lost should the rivalry cease.
Shrum has no doubt dealt with that during her career. After all, she’s a woman at the highest levels of leadership, the first female to be OSU president in school history. Handling naysayers comes with the territory.
It’s pretty likely, too, if Bedlam ends, there’s a good number of OSU fans who will celebrate not blame.
But plenty of other folks would blame. Why couldn't Bedlam continue? Who's fault is it?
I’m on record as saying I believe Bedlam can continue and I hope we don’t get to that point of pointing fingers. I hope Joe Harroz was being sincere about Bedlam last week even as OU hitched its wagon to Texas, not OSU. I hope Kayse Shrum was putting the rivalry on the backburner only until bigger issues at OSU are remedied.
I hope that's the case because we know at some point, talk won’t save Bedlam.
Only action will.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.