The defined hierarchy in college football is nothing new, but with the new age of autonomy for the Power 5 conferences, that hierarchy has become as separated as it has ever been.
The state of Oklahoma boasts three different levels of the college football caste system—a national powerhouse in Oklahoma, a growing player on the national stage in Oklahoma State, and a small Division I program on the outside looking in.
Tulsa isn't in dire straits like other smaller programs outside the Power 5 conferences—and since it's a private institution, we're not likely to find out if it ever is—but it is a big boost for the Golden Hurricane's program when the Sooners and Cowboys come to play at Chapman Stadium.
Saturday will be Oklahoma's eighth game against Tulsa in the Bob Stoops era. Although it's been seven years since the Sooners' last trip up the turnpike, Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship knows it's not something the Sooners have to agree to do.
“I think anytime you can take a top-10 team or top-five team or in this case, at least as of yesterday, a No. 3 ranked team, and get them to come play, it's a big deal,” Blankenship said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “I think the fact that it's an in-state school adds to that dynamic.
“They have given us a couple of three-game contracts, where we go there twice and they come here once. And they're not afraid to do that. I think that says a lot about them, but it also gives us that opportunity to host those name opponents at home.”
It's good to see the bigger programs in the state taking care of the smaller one, but it also shows a level of respect for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane is no slouch and deserves to have bigger programs come to Tulsa to play them. Plus, it's a win-win for everyone involved.
“It's great for the state for our people, for Tulsa hopefully and you have a game that's close so the travel expenses for both teams (aren't bad) wherever you're playing,” OU coach Bob Stoops said on Monday. “It just works; it's close for fans in this area.”
It's also a unique situation when you look at the big picture of college football. It's rare for the big fish to take care of the little fish in the state. For example, Mississippi hasn't played Southern Mississippi since 1984, while Florida has played Central Florida, Florida International and Florida Atlantic a combined five times. Ever.
Then again, taking care of one another is just the Oklahoma (the state) way. It's something that's apparent in everyday life, but it's refreshing to see it take place on the gridiron as well.
“To have teams that come in and help us sell out the stadium and guarantee the buzz around town is a big deal,” Blankenship said. “This needs to be a venue of destination when we have those kind of opponents, and I think that's what we seek to do with it.”
The only downside for Tulsa hosting the Sooners and the Cowboys is a loss of home field advantage. When OU and OSU roll into Chapman Stadium, it's a guaranteed sellout, but it comes at the price of a 50-50 crowd split between blue and crimson or orange. The TU athletic department would rather have a pro-Tulsa crowd in the seats, but if it goes by the wayside in the process of selling 10,000 more tickets, they're probably not going to complain.
The state wants Tulsa to succeed. The Golden Hurricane isn't going to become more successful or more highly regarded than Oklahoma, so it's easy to wish TU well, even for Stoops.
“I know we're always rooting for them; I know I do whenever they're playing somebody else and I want to see them do well,” Stoops said. “I think there's a lot of respect that goes both ways with these two teams.”
The great relationship isn't going to end anytime soon, either. The Sooners take on Tulsa in Norman next year before Oklahoma State plays the Golden Hurricane four times between 2017 and 2021.
The Sooners are doing much more than just playing a game at Tulsa on Saturday. They're giving a smaller program a taste of what the big programs are used to dining on. But it's not out of pity or even kindness; it's out of respect.