The 77th All-College convenes Saturday in, like always, downtown Oklahoma City. But unlike always, the future is not confirmed for the city's oldest sporting event.
What once was an eight-team holiday basketball tournament, then became a four-team tournament and finally a four-team doubleheader now is a two-team affair. OU and Texas A&M play at 1 p.m. in what will be a sleepy Chesapeake Arena. If the crowd reaches 4,000 fans, I'll be surprised. The Tulsa 66ers would draw more, so long as Reggie Jackson suited up.
The market for pre-New Year's college basketball, especially off campus, has dried up. Here and yon. Last Saturday in Houston's Reliant Stadium, Texas and UCLA played in front of an announced crowd of 2,797 that apparently was much smaller than that.
The only long-term solution for the All-College is Bedlam. OU and OSU playing a doubleheader, men and women. That would bring people to the ‘Peake. We're pretty sure.
OSU athletic director Mike Holder is on board.
“That's what everyone wants to see,” Holder said. “Why not give it to ‘em? Makes a lot of sense to me. What you're trying to do is a draw a crowd. Bedlam tends to do that.”
But Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione has reservations. He's not crazy about the potential of playing the Cowboys four times in a season. Castiglione also wants to protect the relevancy of the Bedlam Series on each campus; that game is a huge part of both schools' season ticket package.
“Could be some new idea that helps the event re-invent itself, but right now, I'm certainly not seeing that occur,” Joe C. said.
Before we flog Castiglione, know that he and his school saved the All-College this year. The event was about to go belly-up before the Sooners offered up A&M as an opponent and agreement was reached to make it the All-College.
The All Sports Association wanted to include the OU-Vanderbilt women's game, scheduled for Sunday in Norman, as a doubleheader, but that didn't work out. So we've got one game, between schools a lot more interested in their impending Cotton Bowl than their basketball teams.
And it raises the question. Is the All-College worth saving? Its history is grand, and its decades-long importance in maintaining OKC as a basketball destination is indisputable. But now the All-College is long past its prime. Is it long past its usefulness?
No, says Holder: “Anything that's good for Oklahoma City and the All Sports is good for us. They've done so much for so long for athletics in general and college athletics in particular, to promote it, grow it in the state of Oklahoma, keep it in the forefront of people's minds.
“They do a great job of everything they host. So yeah, we're 100 percent behind All Sports.”
But here's the thing. Does even the All Sports Association need the All-College? The All-College birthed the association, and the tournament for many years was All Sports' bellcow. But that was long ago.
The All Sports Association now brings much bigger events to OKC. The Women's College World Series has become a runaway annual success. Periodic Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. NCAA Championships in wrestling and volleyball are headed to OKC. All Sports is bidding on the 2017 women's basketball Final Four.
Compared to those events, the All-College is an antique. A museum piece. The All Sports Association is a wonderful success story for Oklahoma City, even without the All-College.
Tim Brassfield, All Sports' 14-year executive director, said preserving history is important. But he also said keeping the All-College alive is important for OKC's reputation.
“Thriving cities that are doing well are keeping their collegiate sports,” Brassfield said. “We are doing that with the Women's College World Series, Big 12 baseball took a trend up this year. Having college basketball here keeps us to where we're not taking a step backwards.”
OSU has agreed to play a men's/women's doubleheader next December. Then Brassfield is shooting for a Bedlam All-College in 2014.
I'll sign the petition. But I won't blow a trumpet. It would be hypocritical. College basketball's attendance problem is multi-faceted, but it starts with too many off-campus games. Too many marquee matchups are played where no one cares — like Reliant Stadium.
The best thing for Sooner basketball is for OU-A&M to be played at Lloyd Noble Center, just as the New Year's Eve OSU-Gonzaga game in Stillwater best serves the Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
And more and more, you wonder if keeping the All-College is even the best thing for the All Sports Association.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.