By JOHN SHINN
Expanding the Bedlam baseball series beyond the three-game Big 12 Conference series in May started four years ago. At the time, both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State wanted to bring the rivalry to their home ballparks.
Rain prevented last season’s non-conference meeting. At 6 p.m. tonight at L. Dale Mitchell Park, the Sooners (20-9) and the Cowboys (19-9) will try again.
However, this is the first of two non-conference meetings between the teams. OU will visit Allie Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater on April 15.
Enjoy the five regular-season meetings while they last. OU coach Pete Hughes admitted before the season began and reiterated on Monday that familiarity with a rival can breed apathy.
“I don’t know that we need to play them five times. I don’t like to play anyone five times, no one does,” he said, “but I do love the fact that one game out of the year we can bring it to each other’s campus to promote college baseball to the community, to promote college baseball to the specific campuses and in the state in general.”
The Sooners and Cowboys have always drawn sizable crowds for the neutral site series that will include two games at ONEOK Field in Tulsa and a single game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City in May.
Getting a big crowd at the home park was the original instigator for the midweek games. However, another reason emerged in the last two seasons.
There’s no doubt the Big 12 Conference has lost some stature in college baseball’s Rating Percentage Index since Texas A&M and Missouri departed for the SEC.
Last season, the league only had three teams — OU, OSU and Kansas State — in the NCAA baseball tournament field. The league’s teams could no longer bank on at-large bids based on an above .500 conference record alone.
Former OU coach Sunny Golloway believed elevating the non-conference schedule with nearby conference foes would provide an RPI escalation. He was an advocate of adding a second non-conference Bedlam game and OSU coach Josh Holiday agreed.
The contract was in place before Hughes was hired in July. He’s not sold on the potential for boosting the Sooners’ RPI.
“I don’t know that we’ll get a great benefit from it,” he said.
The Sooners and Cowboys could both use some RPI help. OU is currently No. 62. OSU is No. 152. Poor non-conference schedules are the reason for the low rankings. The Sooners are at No. 110 in that department. OSU: No. 239.
Both will rise as Big 12 play kicks in. Both teams still have six conference series remaining, including the Bedlam series May 15-17.
Perhaps Hughes’ opinion will change after he gets fully indoctrinated to Bedlam. He admitted he’d never heard of it until he left Virginia Tech to become OU’s head coach.
“I’ve certainly researched it, I’ve certainly been part of it in the different sports that have come through our campus with football and both basketballs and wrestling and I think it’s just an awesome rivalry,” he said. “I think it’s great for college athletics. I think it’s great for our school so I can’t wait to be a part of it. It starts tomorrow night. It’s a pretty historic event as far as the traditions that are at both campuses so that’s pretty neat.”