OU and Texas softball could be SEC’s biggest gain, regardless of sport
When the SEC agreed to invite Oklahoma and Texas into the conference, football was the biggest concern, at least initially. How would the programs enhance what is already the greatest football conference in the country?
Well, on paper it would seem like a no-brainer that the best football programs in the Big 12, traditionally speaking, would be a net plus. Sure, the Longhorns have seen better days and the Sooners, while maybe not as dominant in years past, are still a top-10 team for nearly a decade.
From a competitive standpoint, it’s true OU and Texas will be stepping up in class when the move is made to the SEC. But while it will be a big leap in football, the move to the SEC might not be as dramatic for another sport.
Softball benefits most
That sport, which could very easily prove to be the SEC’s biggest gain by adding Oklahoma and Texas, is softball. That’s certainly the case if this year is any indication.
Both Oklahoma and Texas earned their way to the Women’s College World Series, which begins Thursday in Oklahoma City, while the SEC placed only one team, Florida, in the 8-team double-elimination tournament field that will decide the national champion.
Oklahoma is the defending national champion. The Sooners are playing for a 6th national title and 4th in the past 6 years. They are, in every way, the Alabama football of college softball.
Texas hasn’t enjoyed quite that level of success but still could be considered among the top programs in the country. The Longhorns are about to embark on their 6th trip to the WCWS, seeking a 1st national title.
The Sooners have been the nation’s No. 1 softball team since the beginning of the season and carry a most impressive 54-2 record with them to OKC. Some are calling it the greatest softball team of all time. We’ll know more about that in about a week.
They have the greatest college softball home run hitter of all-time in super senior Jocelyn Alo, whose 117 career homers stand alone. That includes 29 blasts this season heading into the WCWS.
This year’s squad set the NCAA record for best start to a season, racing to a 38-0 record. They’ve carried that over to the postseason as well, outscoring the opposition, 52-3 in 5 regional and Super Regional games.
While favorites to win their 6th national championship, the Sooners are hoping to become just the 9th team in NCAA history to win back-to-back titles. If they do so, it would be the 2nd time in program history. Oklahoma won consecutive titles in 2016 and 2017 (after Florida won back-to-back titles in 2014-15).
Patty Gasso, now in her 28th season as head coach at Oklahoma, has certainly built a powerhouse in the sport. The NFCA Hall of Famer has taken the Sooners to the postseason in every single year she’s been there.
While not as successful as the Sooners, historically speaking, the Longhorns have their own tradition of softball excellence. They’ll carry a 43-19-1 record into the WCWS. Among those victories is a 4-2 win over Oklahoma in April, handing the Sooners 1 of their only 2 losses this season.
Texas defeated a favored SEC opponent and No. 4 ranked Arkansas at the Fayetteville Super Regional to advance to this year’s WCWS, its first since 2013. But Texas has been a staple in the postseason, having earned 22 overall bids, including the past 17 consecutive (no tournament in 2020).
Head coach Mike White has continued the tradition over the 4 years he’s been head coach, averaging 44 wins over the 3 full seasons. The Longhorns were 24-3 before the 2020 season was canceled.
When are they coming to the SEC?
The current plan is to have Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC in 2025. It could happen sooner if they are able to buy their way out of Big 12 contracts.
It will be interesting to see what happens if Big 12 newcomers Cincinnati, Houston and UCF can buy their way out of the American Athletic Conference next season, as is being reported. It may or may not nudge OU and Texas out the door, that remains to be seen.
Either way, when Oklahoma and Texas do join the SEC their softball teams will have the biggest impact on athletics in the SEC.