STILLWATER — Riding on an Arkansas-bound bus with the Oklahoma State cross country team last fall, Dave Martin had football on the brain.
It wasn't the historic season that the Cowboys were in the midst of that he was thinking about but rather the season that was still a year away. The man who makes OSU's football schedule usually has contracts for nonconference games signed, sealed, delivered at least five years ahead of time, but last fall, he still needed one more nonconference game for a season that was less than a year away.
The situation was dire.
Calls to dozens of schools hadn't panned out, but Martin had a promising lead on a program that might be more desperate to schedule a game than he was.
It was on that bus ride that Martin first called Savannah State.
“Did we plan that?” he said of the scheduling scramble. “No.”
Want to know why in the world OSU, fresh off its best season ever, is opening with Savannah State, its worst nonconference opponent ever?
Then you need to know what led up to Martin placing that phone call on that bus.
It starts with conference realignment. There was time when Martin had four nonconference games scheduled for the Cowboys this season, but then the conferences started swapping schools. Multiple leagues decided to play nine conference games instead of eight, forcing teams to reduce their nonconference slates from four games to three.
Deals that had been done for years were suddenly being altered or voided entirely.
“One move causes another move, and another move causes another move,” Martin said, “and pretty soon you're moving all kinds of things.”
The domino effect was enormous, and when it hit OSU, the Cowboys were left with only two opponents, Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette, for three nonconference games.
The search was on.
“Listen to this,” Martin said, pulling a sheet of paper out of his files. “I called Stony Brook, Gardner-Webb, Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Jackson State, Southern University, Mississippi Valley, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Southern Utah, Sam Houston State, Tennessee Tech, Portland State, McNeese State, University of Tennessee-Martin, Tennessee State, Idaho State.
“Um, that's just the front page.”