There was once the hope that Boone Pickens Stadium would become the traditional location for all high school football championship games.
It would have been what the State Fair Arena is to the state basketball tournaments.
That time has passed.
With the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association and Oklahoma State University not renewing their contract together to use the stadium, the future locations of the title games are up in the air. Still, the hope remains a new tradition and even more fan-focused atmosphere will emerge.
“We just want to make this a great moment, a great experience for the kids, coaches and fans for everybody involved,” OSSAA executive director Ed Sheakley said. “We enjoyed our time up at Stillwater during the five years we were there, also understanding the issues they were dealing with it falling on Bedlam every single year and other things going on.
“Our experience was great, I hope it was great for our member kids who got to play on a premiere facility, but at the same time we understand logistically it didn’t always work out what was best sometimes.”
OSU has not been eliminated from the discussion for future games, but locations such as Yukon, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Moore and Cache now come into play.
The addition of a championship game with Class 6A being split into two divisions also has implications, though both games will be played on the usual weekend along with Class 5A and Class 4A.
Logistically and aesthetically, the games will look different moving forward.
There likely will no longer be thousands of empty seats during the game, bringing back a traditional Friday night experience.
Last season’s severe weather conditions forcing the OSSAA to move games to Moore and Cache served as a blueprint moving forward with strong attendance and a great atmosphere.
And perhaps a new addition will be added at the end of the games with each player being honored, something done in every other OSSAA-sanctioned sport.
“With football it gets kind of crazy and it would take some time, but is there a way to line them up and honor them individually, but still a situation where it doesn’t take you 45 minutes to do an awards presentation?” Sheakley said. “We’re trying to think of a better way to do our awards presentation at the end of the game.”
High school stadiums like Yukon, Moore become more viable options
In case you hadn’t noticed, the facilities war that engulfed college athletics over the last 20 years has stretched to the high school realm.
New stadiums at places like Yukon, Stillwater and Cache, along with significant upgrades at others, like Moore and Mustang, have made those locations viable — and perhaps even preferable in some instances — as state championship sites.
These stadiums are bringing the amenities of big college stadiums to a compact environment that produces a more exciting atmosphere.
Moore and Cache hosted the Class 2A and A title games, respectively, last year when weather forced the OSSAA to find alternate locations for some games. Each had an electric atmosphere with a capacity crowd.
Yukon and Moore have emerged as the two most notable stadiums in the Oklahoma City metro area. Both have large seating capacities, impressive locker rooms, video boards and large press boxes to accommodate a variety of media.
Stillwater has hosted eight-man title games in the past, and it still has one of the nicer high school stadiums in the state. Cache offers a high-quality venue in the Lawton area, and Tulsa has multiple high school stadiums capable of hosting a championship game.
Because of booster clubs and strong community support, some high schools have the ability to funnel more money into their football stadiums than small colleges can afford.
Five years ago, when the OSSAA entered into its contract to hold the Class A-6A title games at Boone Pickens Stadium, there were hardly any high school stadiums that offered the quality now available at multiple sites around the state.
High school facilities have entered a different world, and the OSSAA is in position to help its athletes benefit from it.
Small-college stadiums offer geographic flexibility
The varied locations of the state’s small-college stadiums offer a great deal of geographical flexibility for the OSSAA in searching for championship game sites.
That becomes even more important for the smaller high school classes, which are spread farther into the rural areas of the state.
Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford has been an ideal location for the Class B and C title games in recent years, since those games were not part of the OSSAA’s contract with Oklahoma State. And Southwestern could be an option for bigger classes if the OSSAA needs a location to the west.
Southeastern in Durant and East Central in Ada have both hosted playoff games in recent years, and Oklahoma Baptist, with its brand new stadium in Shawnee, was being considered last postseason.
Central Oklahoma in Edmond has fallen off as a regular location for playoff games, but could still be an option, with plenty of seating, both in the bleachers and the press box, and a high-quality scoreboard/video board.
Major-college stadiums still viable options for larger classes
The end of the contract with Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium doesn’t automatically signal the end of major-college venues as state championship sites.
For instance, a Jenks-Union title game in Class 6A has had a strong turnout and incredible atmosphere at Tulsa’s Chapman Stadium.
At the Class 5A or 6A level, it’s feasible that Boone Pickens Stadium or Oklahoma’s Owen Field could be ideal sites, geographically, for a title game.
There’s no reason a Midwest City-Tulsa Washington title game in 6A Division II wouldn’t be suitable in Stillwater, or a Guthrie-Lawton MacArthur 5A final in Norman.
But in smaller high school classes, look for large high schools and small-college stadiums to become the locale of choice for the OSSAA.
It’s a tough line to walk, deciding between a big stadium or a big atmosphere. Is it better to have 50,000 empty seats for a Class A title game, but give the players the opportunity to play in a Big 12 stadium? Or is it better to have a standing-room-only crowd in a high-quality but smaller stadium?
Both offer a memorable event, but the OSSAA learned a lot with the Class A final between Hollis and Ringling last season. Played at Cache High School — a much easier drive for both schools than Stillwater would have been — the crowd was packed and the atmosphere was palpable.
The thought that Boone Pickens Stadium could be to football what the State Fair Arena is to basketball was a noble pursuit, but the flexibility the OSSAA will once again have offers the opportunity for a better overall experience.