John E. Hoover: Conference USA title game is city's chance to prove Tulsa is a sports town
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, December 01, 2012
12/01/12 at 4:45 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.
For more TU stories.
Original Print Headline: City has chance to show Tulsa is a sports town
THIS IS AN opportunity for the city of Tulsa.
On the surface, Saturday's 11 a.m. Conference USA championship game between the University of Tulsa and the University of Central Florida looks more like an opportunity for TU, the small private school at 11th and Harvard, than for the city it calls home.
If the Golden Hurricane prevails, it will win the C-USA title, it will get the league's bid to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and it will have 10 wins in a largely successful season.
But if Tulsa wins and there are 10,000 empty seats, Saturday's game becomes an indictment on this city and its sports fans.
If television cameras show the rest of America that Tulsa the city really doesn't support Tulsa the school, then what hope is there for anything better?
"We have a very loyal fan base," TU coach Bill Blankenship said. "They're gonna be there. And I think we have a city that wants to support us if they know about us."
Want to know why it's really important to go to today's game?
Conference realignment in the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference has sent shock waves into C-USA. Two more C-USA schools, East Carolina and Tulane, left this week, filling holes in the Big East. In all, that's six C-USA schools - Houston, SMU, Memphis and UCF were the others - that will join the Big East in 2013 or 2014.
C-USA made its own grab, snatching up Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic this week. Commissioner Britton Banowski doesn't offer up details but says his league may not be finished. New Mexico State and Western Kentucky are the latest candidates, apparently.
Just last spring, C-USA countered its previous defections by adding Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio and Old Dominion.
The longest-tenured Division I football program in that group has major college football roots going all the way back to 1989.
This is not a direction Tulsa should want to go. The Golden Hurricane should be moving up, not down.
So if Chapman Stadium isn't full Saturday, with a nine-win team full of local players competing for a conference championship against a quality opponent, Tulsans can forget about the University of Tulsa ever being anything better than an amorphous C-USA school.
The Mountain West Conference would be a much better fit. By continuing its sustained success in football and other sports, Tulsa in that league would have a realistic chance of someday becoming the next Boise State or TCU - a quality program that wins its games, gets a break and scores a handful of high-profile upsets.
Look what that formula did for those schools.
If Tulsans turn out Saturday and Bill Blankenship's teams keep winning, who's to say that in 10 years or so, when the current television contracts come up for renewal, that the Big 12 Conference won't want to expand by grabbing up college football's next Boise State - especially if it already sits within the Big 12's existing footprint?
Sounds like a pipe dream, to be sure. But why not? Dream big, right? If excellence is a habit, it's best to start right away.
If you call yourself a sports fan, then get your butt, and maybe a few more, to the Tulsa campus this morning. The weather's perfect, there are no high school or youth games, and it'll be over by mid-afternoon.
It's a given that the truly die-hard Oklahoma and Oklahoma State fans would rather stay home and watch their teams' 11 a.m. contests. It's the last week of the season before the bowl games and both teams have something to play for.
But the non-OU and OSU fans - or maybe even the Sooner and Cowboy fans who aren't intimidated by the thought of programming their DVR - ought to come to the Tulsa game.
It's not as though Tulsa is putting a bad product on the field. For the fourth time in five years, TU has won at least eight games. Three of the five previous seasons, the Golden Hurricane had 10 wins or more (a victory Saturday would make it four out of six).
Tulsa's 70-34 mark since the 2005 season is the fourth-best record (.673) among private schools playing in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision behind TCU (.830), Southern Cal (.732) and BYU (.715). TU's 53 wins since 2007 ranks 20th nationally, ahead of Nebraska, Missouri, Florida State, Stanford, Texas Tech and Auburn, among others.
And it's not like you don't know these guys.
There are 36 players on the TU roster from the Tulsa metro area, and another 30 from elsewhere in Oklahoma.
"I think the biggest thing we're selling is the young men that we have out there are very easy to get to know, and a lot of them are from around here," Blankenship said. "I just think there's an untapped market in this city of folks that have not experienced college football."
And folks who may never experience big-time college football if the stadium isn't sold out.
"It'd put us on the map again, much the same way the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship have done, or year before last when we had the NCAA basketball tournament here," mayor Dewey Bartlett said. "That helps get people thinking about Tulsa, and it reinforces that Tulsa really is a sports town.
"There's a lot of significance to that, being a sports town and having a variety of sports activities. Then, when we as a city go out and try to encourage people to come to Tulsa to have tournaments - soccer tournaments, basketball, high school, whatever - we can show once again the variety of sporting events that we support and the numbers involved.
"We have something to sell. We can say, 'Hey look ... we just hosted the conference championship that our team played in and it attracted this number of viewers and ticket buyers and hotel rooms and so forth.' So it's a great marketing opportunity for us."
It's a great opportunity for us all.
Trey Watts loses the ball as SMU's Zach Line dives after him during the first half of the TU v SMU football game at Ford Stadium in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 24, 2012. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World