Interesting Thursday on the OU campus. The Sooners opened spring practice to students, then I had dinner at an OU College of Engineering event at Headington Hall, the new dorm that houses 180 athletes.
The turnout at the practice was disappointing. Maybe 200 students. I actually thought the turnout would be light, maybe 300 or so. It’s hard to engage students these days. Hard to get students to the football games, hard to get them to stay for the duration. Which is why OU was in the business of reaching out to students Thursday.
It was a good event for students. Free hot dog and drink, drawings for gear, drawings for special status at the spring game on Saturday, when some students will be honorary coaches, even trotting plays out to the offensive players. That’s excellent public relations.
It was a good practice, the 45 minutes or so open to the students and media. Mostly scrimmaging. Some chatter via microphone from Bob Stoops and a couple of players.
Afterward, all the students were invited onto the field to mingle with the players, who first posed as a group for a photo with all the students, then posed for individual photos. Some students kicked field goals — I swear, one guy with his bare feet was nailing 40-yarders — and threw passes into the target net.
All in all, very good PR. Will it carry over to more student passion on autumn Saturdays? Doubt it, but it was worth a shot, at least.
The empty seats at OU games in recent years are mostly found in the student section, where tickets are sold but often unused. I’ve told athletic Joe Castiglione to cut down on the student allotment, but he’s loathe to do that. It would cause a ruckus. It’s completely justified, but as OSU athletic director Mike Holder is fond of saying, these are the universities’ future customers. You’ve got to cultivate students into fans so that they’ll be fans for the next half century.
I certainly saw an example of fan passion later that night. I attended the OU engineering dinner Thursday night in Headington Hall, which I had never toured. The featured speaker was Kelly Damphousse, OU’s dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Damphousse and his wife are faculty-in-residence at Headington Hall — they live in the dorm. He had some great stories about interacting with the 380 students in the dorm (200 non-athletes, 180 athletes) and then offered a tour for anyone who wanted one.
So after dinner, about 50 people went traipsing around the bottom floor of the dorm. We saw the cafeteria, which was interesting, and the rec room, with the Sooner Schooner engraved onto the side pockets of the pool tables, and the movie room, which seats about 60, and the Damphousse living quarters. And the entire group ran into one of the residents as he was about to enter the ground-floor elevator. Fellow by the name of Trevor Knight.
Some women actually got giddy as they posed for photos with Knight, who could not have been more hospitable and personable. Really good ambassador for the university. Knight even was introduced to and had a nice chat with OU professor Randall Kolar, whose son, John, is a Norman North quarterback committed to OSU. Knight talked about Cowboy receiver Austin Hays, his “best friend” and former high school teammate in San Antonio.
Interesting day and interesting night.