Oklahoma Caravan

OU football coach Lincoln Riley (left) laughs as Mysherl Hilliard (right) of Tulsa reacts to a happy birthday autograph from Riley at the Sooner Caravan last year. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World file

The Sooner Caravan — which had become an annual staple for Tulsa — will not return to the city in 2019.

Over the past 51 years, Oklahoma football coaches from Chuck Fairbanks to Lincoln Riley have met with area fans to share thoughts about the state of the Sooners’ program. Recently, coaches from other sports like men’s and women’s basketball also would attend.

“Since 1999, we have always had a major outreach program to connect with our fans and definitely expect that to continue,” OU director of athletics Joe Castiglione said. “However, like many programs around the country, we have experienced smaller attendance with the caravan concept in the past few years. Perhaps it’s because fans have more access to information and staff than ever before.

“Therefore, we’ve tried to ‘reimagine’ ways we can connect with fans.”

Attendance figures aren’t released, but it was evident that the numbers were down for the event held on the OU-Tulsa campus. An estimated 350-400 fans attended in 2018.

In 1967, Fairbanks asked the OU Club of Tulsa to host a luncheon. It became an annual event and was held at many local restaurants. In the mid-1980s, the event turned into dinners and became scholarship fundraisers for the OU Club of Tulsa. In 1999, coinciding with Castiglione’s hiring as director of athletics, the OU athletic department became involved and began the Sooner Caravan.

There were Sooner Caravan stops in Tulsa, Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City in 2008. Last year, Tulsa and Dallas were the only events.

In 2016, OU didn’t have a traditional caravan stop in Oklahoma City. The school did test an interactive “Sooner Sports Experience” that allowed fans to meet student-athletes and participate in different sports.

Castiglione said the university is focused on maintaining its link with the Tulsa fan base.

“Of course, we will continue to schedule games or events to have a more robust presence in Tulsa,” he said, adding that there have been several meetings about future plans, including partnering with the OU Club of Tulsa on a new fall event highlighting the life-cycle of an OU student from admission to post-graduation.

According to the Sooner Club, there is an October event tentatively planned for Tulsa, with details coming at a later date. Similar events may be held in Dallas and Houston this fall.

“And, of course, we want to continue supporting events that local clubs organize by available athletics department staff,” Castiglione said.

In December, Castiglione spoke with the Tulsa World about increasing the OU presence in Tulsa. Before a Sooner men’s basketball game against Southern Cal at the BOK Center, he said, “This is a fabulous arena that we should be using whenever we can” and mentioned that conversations had started on how OU could do it again.

Castiglione also said at the time that OU was in talks with Tulsa about future football games, which could bring the Sooners to Chapman Stadium for the first time since 2014.

“We want to continue to have a presence here, not only saying it but physically with these games,” he said at the time.

The past two Sooner Caravan stops in Tulsa were highlights during the 51-year run.

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Tulsa World sports columnist

Guerin Emig contributed to this report.

Sports Writer

Eric covers the University of Oklahoma football and men’s basketball teams. A Haskell Indian Nations University graduate, he has been a member of the Tulsa World sports staff for 12 years. Phone: 918-581-8391