One of the bigger media storylines around the attempted move to the SEC by Oklahoma and Texas (they formally petitioned to join that conference Tuesday) has been how ESPN could gain from having two programs that draw very well on TV in a conference they have 100 percent rights to rather than a conference where they split those rights with Fox. The OU move to the SEC has now been endorsed by an unlikely figure; former Oklahoma coach and current Fox Sports analyst Bob Stoops. Here’s the key part of an op-ed Stoops wrote for The Oklahoman:
There’s been extensive discussion in the state of Oklahoma about OU and Texas moving from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference. I believe this is a good and necessary move for the future of our school and football program. I disagree with any claims asserted that OU’s decision is “to the detriment of the State of Oklahoma,” and that OU made it without “engagement and transparency.”
Let’s set the record straight: OU’s move to the SEC is what’s best for Oklahoma. The reality is that conferences are now more important than ever and, with limited spots, the strongest conferences would not accept OU if we were to require OSU to join as well. By joining the SEC, we ensure the state’s flagship university will be represented nationally while protecting our rich football history for many years to come. To move forward in any other manner would be to the detriment of OU and the state of Oklahoma.
On some levels, Stoops writing an op-ed here absolutely makes some sense. Of course people are going to ask him for his perspective on this (he was Oklahoma’s head coach from 1999-2016), and it’s much more logical for him to lay that perspective out the way he wants in an op-ed than to answer 50 requests for comment from 50 different media outlets that might not even use his full quotes on the situation. And if Stoops does think this is the best move for OU (and he makes some good points on that front), it’s of course good that he’s willing to say that. But it is funny that he’s advocating a move that’s directly against the business interests of his new employer.
This has long been an issue in college football, with many ESPN personalities in particular putting forward claims that support their network’s business interests on-air and defending that network against criticism from coaches. And contrary to claims once uttered by Chris Fowler, it is not “stupid” or “uninformed” to consider a network’s rights in discussions of its on-air coverage. In college football in particular, a sport where so much is about rankings, that’s an important thing to do. And that’s not just about ESPN; Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff pre-game show (which Stoops is now on) in particular has very much focused on the conferences that they have rights to and on the noon game they’re showing each week, to a degree where their approach has even been described as “presenting an alternative to ESPN’s perceived SEC favoritism.”
So with all that in mind, it’s quite refreshing to hear someone who works for a major college broadcaster not only saying what he thinks, but doing so when that’s specifically against the business interests of his employer. That’s a rarity. And even though Stoops hasn’t yet appeared on Big Noon Kickoff (he was hired in March following Urban Meyer’s departure for the Jacksonville Jaguars), comments like this seem promising for his ability to speak for himself rather than just follow a corporate line. But it’s also easy to imagine that there may be some in the Fox Sports headquarters wishing Stoops hadn’t chosen this particular Oklahoma move as one to support.
[The Oklahoman; photo from Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman, via USA Today Sports]