NORMAN — An Oklahoma fan recently took a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
There, he watched college football's behemoth, the winner of three of the last four national championships, practice.
The Crimson Tide paired its Aug. 4 fan day with an open practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium, leaving the Sooner fan with one question: “Why can't we do something like this?”
With Oklahoma going through its first quarterback battle in six seasons, and with changes apparent on defense, Sooners practices remain closed, even while some programs — including Texas — are making practices more open to their fans.
Oklahoma hasn't had any practice sessions open to the public since 2009, when several Sooners practices were open.
Coaches have to balance the desire for secrecy with the good will that comes from opening practices to the public.
“We want (fans) to be able to watch to some degree,” Bob Stoops said in 2009 when he decided to let fans in for a few sessions after initially saying they would be closed. “I feel like we're doing the right things. You want to be able to enjoy it when we can.”
Coaches started gradually shutting out fans as message boards, widespread use of camera phones and other ways of instantly disseminating information came about.
“Most coaches are cutting out all fans at practice,” Texas coach Mack Brown said recently. “They're doing it because of camera phones. You can video, and we can't keep it to just our fans.”
Stoops said before practice started that there could be a gap between when he decides on a starting quarterback — and when that player starts getting the first-team reps in practice — and when the starter is announced.
In the spring, the Sooners were reportedly headed toward a 3-4 defense, but coaches denied that had been set in stone.
Sources said the Sooners spent significant time in Saturday's scrimmage using a three-man front.
Either way, Stoops and his staff have tried to keep plenty of mystery surrounding their schemes on both side of the ball leading into the Aug. 31 opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
Other schools, even ones that have been much more closed than Oklahoma in recent years, have started opening things back up.
First-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes has opened all Bears practices to the public.
“We don't have any secrets,” Dykes said. “The thing is, people can watch our film. They can rewind it, fast forward it, make cutups, all that stuff. I don't know why you wouldn't want someone to be able to come and watch.”
Texas opened its first three practices this fall to the media, then opened the next three to fans.
“Our staff is so excited about this team and I want you to see them coach and see how hard they're working and what they're doing,” Brown said.
Like Stoops in 2009, other coaches had a change of heart after seeing their teams.
Arkansas' first scrimmage last Saturday was scheduled to be closed to outsiders.
But after seeing his team go through the opening days of practice, first-year Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema decided to open the session to Razorback fans.
“With the growth and development we have shown with our practices, we will open the scrimmage tomorrow to the media and public,” Bielema posted on Twitter in announcing the change.
The Sooners did hold an autograph session for children 14 and under earlier this month, though the crowds for that event were considerably less than in the past.
Louisville was set to have a similar event, but after helmets signed by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater showed up on eBay for more than $200, the school decided to cancel the event in light of the recent accusations against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
In its place, the Cardinals opened a practice instead.
Other prominent programs have held at least one open practice session, including Texas A&M and Florida.