In a letter to donors and alumni last week, University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz, Jr. set an accelerated time-frame for the departure of the Sooners' collegiate athletic teams from the Big 12 conference.
Addressing the termination notice to the "Dear OU Family," Harroz wrote that "the University of Oklahoma" and the Big 12 Conference had "agreed to terms that will enable us to officially join the SEC for the fall 2024 athletics season, pending final approval of the OU Board of Regents.”
He said the departure comes a year earlier than first expected, “and we are pleased we could arrive at this decision in close collaboration with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark and other Big 12 Conference members. Together, we created a path forward that delivers the stability and certainty we have all sought over the past 18 months."
Harroz asserted that, "From the beginning, we have been committed to fulfilling our contractual obligations to the Big 12. As time progressed, we, Commissioner Yormark, and everyone involved recognized our common interest in an earlier departure. With a new era of collegiate sports fully upon us, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore a mutually beneficial earlier exit.”
While apparently unhappy with departure of the state rivals initially, Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy had over time become resigned to the exit -- and even, eventually, anxious for it take place as he (and many others) grew weary of the reasoning for the OU decision.
Harroz put a happy face on the decision, saying, “With this agreement to join the SEC in 2024, we have immediate clarity and command of our own future. It gives us the chance to quickly reap the benefits of this transition – from exciting competition on the finest stage in collegiate sports to a top-tier fan experience, to more appealing game times and a greater national visibility that will allow us to share the OU story to people across the country.
“Moving to the SEC will most obviously impact OU Athletics, but this move will ultimately benefit our entire university, as it affords us the ability to aggressively invest in our academic and research missions.
“Our Strategic Plan includes our ambition to join the Association of American Universities – a prestigious coalition of tier one research universities – and moving into a conference with more AAU institutions offers an opportunity to align OU to our aspirational peers.”
Fans of OU football and other Sooner teams will no doubt warm to the new affiliation with the SEC.
However, a percentage of OU fans and backers of its Big 12 rivals at the grass roots level despise the tumult created by the OU and Texas University departures.
Oklahoma State University Athletic Director Chad Weiberg spoke in practical terms about last week’s formalization of OU’s exist, essentially arguing that accelerating the inevitable had become in the best interests of the teams remaining in -- and incoming for -- the Big 12.
Scott Wright of The Oklahoman reported Weiberg’s comments: “I think the end result was what everyone wanted. We knew how this was going to end, so the question was what does it look like and what’s fair to everyone involved. And I feel good that they reached that as best they could.”
OU’s Dr. Harroz threw scattered obligatory compliments toward rivalries existing since before statehood, saying in the letter to donors and alumni:
"Our nearly three-decade tenure in the Big 12 has brought us many historic rivalries and exhilarating memories with esteemed opponents, and we look forward to finishing our remaining time in the league with intensity and sportsmanship.
"As we prepare to face our new conference rivals next year, we are eager to contribute our iconic traditions and competitiveness to the SEC. It’s our belief that the undeniable power of Sooner Magic will only make us, and our new conference partners, stronger."
Harroz signed his missive, "Live On, University."
OU will live on. But it’s a lot harder to change states than to change conferences.
When it comes to living through moments or even eras of transformation in human history, there is usually more going on than meets the eye.
That’s why journalism – reporting about or commenting upon events that have just taken place – is often called the first draft of history.
The transformation of OU’s relationship with its (increasingly impactful) state rival, and the severing of ties with its long-standing competitors in the Big 12 will play out in an important context.
This includes increasingly controversial steps at OU to conduct academic investigations of conservative or tradition-honoring critics of investigations rather clearly aimed to limit academic diversity.
That’s not to mention explicit steps to restrict some campus activities that do not match the left-of-center political, cultural and scholarly orientations of many large and powerful national institutions of higher education.
While not officially part of the reason for OU’s exit – or that of the Longhorns – perhaps the long-standing antipathy of former OU President David Boren toward inclusion of Brigham Young University within the Big 12 fed Harroz’s enthusiasm for the quicker SEC ties.
BYU is the national university affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).
Boren was firmly opposed to BYU’s addition to the conference in past years, long before his resignation from the OU presidency. The former U.S. Senator (and governor) prevailed in pressing down all moves toward bringing the Cougars into regular Big 12 play.
But maybe it’s all about sports, after all – and for at least some, “sports” means football.
This past season in football, Brigham Young secured an 8-5 record, including 24-23 over Southern Methodist University in the New Mexico Bowl.
Oklahoma State lost to OU in regular season play, but defeated the Sooner last season.
OSU finished this football campaign with a record of 7-7, including a 24-17 loss to Wisconsin in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
OU finished the year 6-7, including a 35-32 loss to Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl.
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