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Lightweight nonconference schedule stinks for television networks, fans

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy prefers easier load early in the season so Cowboys will be healthy to face tough Big 12 schedule
by Berry Tramel Published: August 13, 2012

Clemson is gone from future OSU football schedules. So is North Carolina State. And Purdue. And Air Force.

“Perfect,” says Mike Gundy.

Every name opponent on OSU's nonconference schedules has disappeared, except Tulsa (and not again until 2015) and Arizona, which the Cowboys visit Sept. 8.

After that trip to the desert, OSU football is booked for a steady diet of mid-majors, at best.

Texas-San Antonio. Lamar. Central Arkansas. Central Michigan. South Alabama.

That stinks.

Stinks for the fans, even though OSU ticket-buyers haven't been all that discriminating. Stinks for the television networks, which are paying Big 12 schools a ton of money and getting little September return. Stinks for the sport, which likes to claim all this pageantry and splendor but in reality is stuck with one to three exhibitions a year per school.

Stinks for the players, who revel in real competition, unlike their coaches, who prefer automatic wins.

OSU didn't initiate the cancellation of the series with Clemson and Purdue. Conference realignment changed the parameters.

Clemson is headed for a nine-game schedule in the ACC; the Tigers always play South Carolina, so they didn't want OSU, too.

And Purdue and OSU mutually agreed to scrap their series, because the Big Ten was headed for a nine-game conference schedule, and the Cowboys and Boilermakers were on the same rotation of five home games in even-numbered years, four home games in odd-numbered years, and couldn't settle on dates.

Of course, the Big Ten has backed off the nine-game schedule, but that's the way it goes in scheduling. Coaches look for reasons to get out of games and never look for reasons to get into games.

Gundy is glad they're gone and hopes nothing resembling a decent opponent is added.

“Now, with nine games, it's tough,” he said. “If you look at who we play (in conference), we're going to be playing some good teams. We've probably got five teams in the top 25 or 30, don't we?

“I know the fans want it, everybody wants it, but if you want to give yourself a legitimate chance to win your league and win the whole thing, you just can't get beat up every week. There's only so many hits and collisions.”

That's not true, of course. OU has won seven of the last 12 Big 12 titles, usually playing the league's best nonconference schedule.

Time was, hardly any major school played even one exhibition. And teams still won trophies.

But economic factors required more home games, and coaches and athletic directors learned that poll voters — writers, coaches, the Harris Poll's collection of zombies — are mostly dolts who can't see past the won-loss ledger.

So the incentive to schedule tough in the nonconference is limited only to politicking for one of the two berths in the Big Bowl.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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