Talk of Oklahoma and Texas making the move to the SEC has centered almost entirely around the health of the football programs.
But the hypothetical move would send ripples across all sports on campus in Norman, with the pair of diamond sports being no exception.
On one hand, Patty Gasso’s softball program has proven time and time again that they can contend at the highest level. Gasso just notched her fifth national championship in June, and the Sooners have clinched three of their five titles with wins over SEC schools (Florida, Auburn and Tennessee) in the WCWS Championship Series.
There is no doubt that the SEC is a stronger softball conference than the Big 12. The Sooners would have no problem contending with the elite programs, but fans would have to adjust to a tight conference race as opposed to Oklahoma’s usual steamrolling of the Big 12.
Texas and Oklahoma State are the two teams responsible for pushing the Sooners each year in the Big 12. The Cowgirls would be traded for national powers in Alabama and Florida. Baylor and Iowa State, the middle of the conference, will be swapped for the likes of Arkansas, Missouri (again), Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee, who were all named top 16 seeds in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Gasso’s Sooners have never shied away from competition though. In normal years where the schedule isn’t ravaged by a pandemic, Oklahoma often finds itself matched up against softball powers in the non-conference slate.
When the Sooners finally break ground on their new softball stadium, they’ll be building Patty’s Palace with the SEC in mind, so the facilities shouldn’t be a major concern. Besides, the Sooners already have an incredible pipeline to the West Coast as is. A move to the SEC could open up the entire country to Gasso and her staff.
Oklahoma just won a national championship with a roster that contains just two players from east of Oklahoma and Texas: Florida’s Shannon Saile and Georgia’s Jana Johns. Furthermore, both Johns and Saile were additions out of the transfer portal, not recruiting battles Gasso initially won out of high school. Similar to Lincoln Riley’s recruiting plan on the gridiron, Gasso will have a much stronger foothold in the Southeast, and be able to spread her recruiting base from coast to coast.
There’s no question that Gasso’s program is primed to compete at the highest levels in the SEC immediately.
Skip Johnson’s baseball program is in a completely different position.
Much like in softball, the SEC is the premier baseball conference in the country, and the OU baseball program will be thrown to the wolves.
Since reaching the College World Series in 2010, OU’s baseball team has only appeared in the NCAA Tournament five times, and has failed to win a Super Regional game.
While Johnson appeared to have the team contending to make it back to Omaha in 2020, the season was cut short due to the world shutting down, and 2021 was mostly a disaster for Oklahoma.
Unable to capitalize on 2020, OU is now 112-80 (.583) under Johnson, and fell to 36-36 (.500) in Big 12 play during his tenure, losing any momentum they carried out of 2020.
The Sooners have to contend with programs who play elite baseball in Texas Tech, Texas and TCU, but the middle to bottom end of the Big 12 is no match for what the SEC brings to the table. Drop Oklahoma into that environment, and it’s hard to envision success in the future of the baseball program.
Pair that with the reality that OU’s baseball facilities are far behind the standard in the SEC, and the Sooners could be in danger of falling all the way off the map.
Maybe the influx in revenue that comes along with an SEC move will allow OU to reinvest in its facilities on a grander scale. L. Dale Mitchell Park pales in comparison to the venues throughout the SEC, and the Sooners will need at least a major renovation if they stand a chance of gaining any kind of momentum on the recruiting trail in the SEC.
With programs trending in the opposite direction, direct investments back into the softball and baseball facilities would go a long way to getting each program where they want to be as signs point to a change of scenery for Oklahoma athletics.