Bedlam is a staple food of the Big 12 everyone loves to consume. It is college athletics personified. Vitriol, name-calling, bragging rights — the trappings of a great rivalry wrapped into a series of in-state showdowns.
It also may be in peril with OU (and Texas) jumping from the Big 12 to the SEC. And some have gone as far as to suggest it shouldn’t exist — that OSU should not engage OU in scheduling games — as retribution for leaving the Big 12 (and OSU behind in a withering league).
It’s poppycock. Bedlam is big-time college sports. In football, it’s usually a guaranteed spot on the national radar with conference title implications. In basketball, it’s often water-cooler talk. Growing up in Oklahoma, I know firsthand that even during off years, it’s the subject of bragging rights. It’s an ice-breaker, too. You’re either an OU fan, OSU fan or not from ’round here. It is an identity and often an extension of your personality.
Bedlam is not just a game or games, either; it is an experience. I remember the 2013 Bedlam ice bowl, freezing my toes off alongside my future wife, my sister and my parents. I remember being in the building for the 2017 Bedlam hoops game in Norman, where Phil Forte’s late-game heroics helped lift OSU to a 68-66 win. I remember all the late-game OSU melts. I remember losing my mind — and exactly where I was — when Bob punted again and Tyreek did his thing. I remember those games meant something to me. A lot of my sports memories — (many of them quite painful!) — come from Bedlam. It hasn’t shaped me as a person, but it certainly has as a sports fan. To grow up in Oklahoma is to grow up emotionally invested in one side of that experience.
To willingly punt on the game because OU is joining a bigger, better league would only do harm to OSU, too. Does it stink that the Big 12 might dissolve in large part because of this move? Yes. Yes, it does. Does OSU have the right to be extremely upset? Also yes. Yes, it does. That’s reasonable.
But here’s the truth: OSU is going to need OU. Whether the school ends up in the Big Eight or Pac-12 or Big Ten or ACC or Conference USA or MAC, the uncomfortable reality no one on the orange side of the fence has quite realized is that OSU is in real trouble. In almost every scenario moving forward OSU is going to take a serious financial haircut. Games against SEC teams strapped with cash will be precisely what OSU (and other left-behind Big 12 teams) need.
More than anything I empathize with those wanting to, and willing to, distance from OU. What they’ve done has enraged new president Kayse Shrum and endangered the health of the other eight Big 12 teams. The knee-jerk reaction to sever ties on its face makes logical sense. But the knee-jerk in reality would actually be a swift kick to the groin of OSU’s own relevance. OSU has always needed OU even as it has ascended in football the last two decades. Now, with uncertainty about where OSU might land and with both schools headed for different conferences, OSU will need even more to lean on its in-state rival. For the emotional experience of all Oklahomans, for fans of great rivalries and for the long-term health of Oklahoma State, let’s hope Bedlam manages to be one of the few Big 12 traditions that survives this.
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