Voice of the Sooners Toby Rowland is no different than his listeners who see Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee on the horizon.
“I am incredibly excited about going to the SEC,” he said, “and what that’s going to mean for all of our sports…”
In basketball, it’s going to mean no more games at Kansas. Which means no more 31-year winless drought for the Sooners in Lawrence.
If you think you know where this is going, stop and listen to the rest of Rowland’s statement.
“… But I would say the number one thing I will miss most about the Big 12 is Allen Fieldhouse.”
Rowland called OU’s 24th straight loss inside The Phog Saturday afternoon. He was somber when he signed off because of something deeper than the 78-66 result.
“I said at the end of the broadcast that it’s been 31 years since Oklahoma has won in that building,” he said, “and it might be another 31 before they get a chance to play there again.”
“Yesterday I was looking around saying, ‘Dadgummit, who knows if we’re ever gonna get back to this place?’” Rowland said. “It’s such a special environment. The sense of history just hangs heavy in the air. There’s a mystique, you know?”
Joe Castiglione knows.
OU’s athletic director is more vested than all of us put together in the Sooners’ SEC transition. He was more vested in OU’s 78-66 loss Saturday than anyone outside the basketball program.
And yet he, too, takes a nostalgic turn on us.
“I’ve been to Cameron Indoor Stadium for Duke-North Carolina. There are some great, great rivalries in buildings that bring out the best in everybody,” said Castiglione, whose courtside seat Saturday was a free-throw lane from coach Porter Moser. “But Allen Fieldhouse at its peak is something that will never be beaten. It just won’t.
“So yeah, I looked around.”
SEC schedules appear and SEC coaching legends retire and the SEC’s place in a 12-team Playoff is considered, and now OU is part of that discussion. Now a two-year-old fantasy is coming into focus and it can be intoxicating.
But do as Rowland and Castiglione did in Lawrence. Just for a moment. Look around.
We don’t do it enough because college sports move and change at warp speed. We might want to stop and reflect on what’s happening here, and some of the collateral damage, but then we’re not keeping up with the starting quarterback who just entered the transfer portal, or with the university so bent on conference realignment that it is taking its current league to court.
We haven’t stopped and reflected since Bedlam football. That’s a pity.
OU-KU basketball doesn’t measure up to Bedlam, but it does have Allen Fieldhouse. The Sooners won’t have Allen Fieldhouse in the SEC. They’ll have Bud Walton Arena at Arkansas and Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt. That’s something. They’ll have trips to Kentucky.
“Rupp Arena is gonna be cool and I think it seats six or seven thousand more people,” Rowland said, “but I don’t think it has the atmosphere of Allen Fieldhouse.”
The Sooners will encounter banners at Rupp like they do at The Phog, but not history. Not to them.
There’s no Wayman Tisdale and the Sooners cutting the nets down at Kentucky like they did at Kansas to celebrate their 1984 Big Eight championship-clinching win.
No Terry Evans and the Sooners upsetting a Final Four team like they did in 1993.
No Joe King and the Sooners taking Wilt Chamberlain to the brink before losing by 1 in overtime like they did in 1958.
No Buddy Hield and the second-ranked Sooners taking No. 1 Kansas to triple overtime before losing by 3 like they did in 2016.
“As great a basketball game as anybody ever experienced,” Castiglione said. “When the home fans give the opponent a standing ovation, they recognize that they have witnessed greatness.”
Lon Kruger coached OU that museum-piece night. He remains one of Kansas State’s basketball treasures.
Let Joe C. tell you how it was for Kruger whenever he coached the Sooners at Allen Fieldhouse:
“The tunnel down by the visitors’ locker room, 50 to 80 to 100 people would all wait in the grandstand for him to come out before the game. And Lon would go up and just sit there. With the Kansas fans. He’s been in that building countless times as a marquee player and obviously a head coach at two conference rivals — who’s had success in that building — and here he is walking out and there’s a huge fan club. I’m not talking about family or close friends, just people that have familiarity.”
Castiglione reminisced about that with some of his own KU acquaintances Saturday. He reminisced about old KU pals like Bob Frederick, the late Kansas athletic director, and Larry Keating, the late KU basketball scheduling wiz, and Max Falkenstien, the late KU broadcasting legend.
These were folks who made Castiglione feel welcome when he was hired into Missouri’s athletic department in 1981, folks with whom Castiglione built relationships despite the blood feud between KU and Mizzou fans, players and coaches.
There are KU folks glad to see Castiglione today. Bill Self, for one, and assistants Kurtis Townsend and Doc Sadler. KU AD Travis Goff.
ESPN’s cameras caught Castiglione and Goff in conversation during Saturday’s game.
“As crazy and tumultuous that our world is right now, there will still be opportunities for paths to cross in some way,” Castiglione said. “Maybe not as often, but we hope there is an opportunity to have a series with them again. It would seem to be more natural than others.”
That we’re left to wonder if or when, same as we did about Bedlam football, is sad.
There’s hardly any time for “sad” in the world Castiglione referenced. Last fall we got over “sad” the week after Bedlam. We’ll do so again this week, likely before OU’s next game Wednesday night against West Virginia.
There certainly won’t be any room for “sad” when Tennessee rolls into Norman for OU’s SEC football debut next September. It will be too late by then.
But now? We ought to stop and think and make some room.
“People were coming out of the stands to say hello,” Castiglione said of Saturday. “They’re all dressed for the game and the big, mythical bird is plastered all over the front of their shirts.”
Where is Joe C or the Sooners gonna get that in the SEC?
“It’s like moving to a new city or a new job or a new house. You’re excited about the pay raise or the new opportunity or whatever it may be, but you’re also gonna miss your friends,” Rowland said. “You’re gonna miss the house you grew up in and your neighborhood and your school and all that stuff.
“So I think it would be inappropriate on our way out if we didn’t take some time to look around and appreciate the times and the places and the arenas and the stadiums we saw so many great memories in.”
They’ll never come any better than Allen Fieldhouse, something a couple of OU dignitaries already know and legions of their fans are, sadly, sure to discover.