For years, Oklahoma City has served as the definitive home to college baseball in the state.
But Tulsa is making a clear bid to change that.
It started last week, when the schedule revealed two of the three Bedlam conference games will be played in Tulsa next season. Only one will be played in OKC, a flip from years past.
Then, in a more surprising development on Thursday afternoon, the Big 12 announced Tulsa as the home for the conference tournament in 2015, an event that OKC has held, including next year, for 10 straight seasons and 16 of the past 18.
“It was a disappointment from our perspective,” said Tim Brassfield, the OKC All Sports Association executive director who oversees the bid process. “There's a home here, but we also understand that there are other capable facilities and cities like Tulsa that can host the event.”
Oklahoma City will welcome the event back in 2016, the conference also announced on Thursday, but future plans beyond that are up in the air.
“Our corporate community is behind making sure that this event does well in 2014 and it does well in 2016 when it returns,” Brassfield said. “We'll always desire to host this championship.”
But Tulsa, apparently, maintains similar hopes of becoming the event's annual home. Tulsa Sports Commission senior vice president Roy Hoyt told the Tulsa World he plans to bid for the tournament in 2017 and 2018.
So in theory, that puts the state's two biggest cities into a competitive college baseball spotlight over the next two years, with each provided a stage to make its argument before the future sites are announced in the fall of 2015.
Oklahoma City, more than any other site in the region, provides a comfortable and convenient setting for the players and visiting fans.
“I love Bricktown,” Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday said. “I love Oklahoma City, the whole setting for tournament play and Bedlam is awesome, with the hotels and the eateries and the great stadium. The use of the batting cages, the proximity of the hotel to the ballpark, where fans and players can walk there. It's a great setup.”
But in recent years, during both Bedlam and the tournament, attendance has declined and overall interest has waned.
The factors are aplenty: Nationally, college baseball has struggled to entertain. Locally, Oklahoma State went through a disappointing patch. And, perhaps most damaging, the NBA's Thunder has stepped in to capture the hearts, attention and pocketbooks of a vast majority of the city's sports fans.
“There are only so many entertainment dollars out there,” Brassfield said, noting that the NBA playoffs (from mid-April to June) overlap with the end of college baseball season.
From Holliday: “It's kind of hard to blame a fan base with getting infatuated with a pretty awesome NBA team with marquee players. That's the right thing. People should be fired up about that and they should be following it.”
So in steps Tulsa, with a sparkling new ballpark (ONEOK Field, completed in 2010) and Bedlam attendance numbers (an average of 9,300 for four games; OKC averaged just 5,017 the past four Bedlam Sundays) that suggest they could support a tournament.
“I'm sure they'll do a great job,” Brassfield said. “It'll be a tremendous event in Tulsa, and I'm sure they'll have great ticket sales. It's new, it's a novelty and it only makes sense that people will come out. And if it's going to be someplace else, I'd love to keep it in Oklahoma and I think they'll do wonderful for it.”
Added Holliday: “I'm good with both places, I think they both have a lot to offer … If the tournament is in the state of Oklahoma, that's good for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. I'd hate to lose the tournament to Texas or somewhere out of state.”