What gives OKC the best chance of keeping the WCWS? Keep doing what it has been doing
By Jenni Carlson and Berry Tramel, Oklahoman,2023-06-08
The end of the Women's College World Series is in sight.
But we've enjoyed another great week of softball in Oklahoma City. We've had spectacular games, exciting players, amazing plays and packed stands. It would be hard to argue how grand the whole thing has been.
Except that some people are saying the WCWS could be better if it was somewhere other than OKC.
Some argue that the advantage of being in Oklahoma City is too great for OU. Others say the event needs to move around if the sport is going to grow.
OKC's contract with the NCAA for the WCWS runs through 2035, but is there a chance the event could leave after that?
What gives Oklahoma City the best chance to keep the WCWS beyond the current contract? Columnists Berry Tramel and Jenni Carlson discuss.
Berry: OKC's best chance to keep the tournament is OKC's solitary commitment to the sport. I don't know the combined price tags of the construction and renovations to USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium over the years. But it's got to be somewhere between $60 million and $70 million, in today's dollars. If another city wants to make that investment and build a stadium that can seat 12,000, with all the necessary amenities, and accept the challenge of running the tournament, making sure all the trains run on time in regards to transportation, maintenance, technology, etc., fine. Rotate it around.
Jenni: I know Hall of Fame Stadium isn't perfect. Neither is Oklahoma City. But what you said is right, BT: if there's another city that can offer what the venue and city here offer, then the WCWS should be rotated. But I'm skeptical this set-up exists anywhere else right now. In 10 years? Maybe. But it seems doubtful. Any talk now about there being an honest-to-goodness threat of the tournament leaving is kooky. Anywhere else would be a step down. A big step down. But OKC needs to continue to be proactive.
Berry: Here's another thing. OKC's stranglehold is not just about the stadium. I mean, yes, we've got the only softball stadium in America that can handle this event. But this grand old land has tons of baseball stadiums that could host the Men's College World Series. Dozens and dozens. And yet, the MCWS has stayed in Omaha since 1950. First at Rosenblatt Stadium and now Charles Schwab Field. The NCAA has stayed with Omaha not because of the venue(s) only, but because Omaha organizers have turned it into a well-run, major enterprise. And OKC has done the same with softball. I remember in the early 1990s, being smitten with the WCWS and writing about how Oklahoma City could become another Omaha. That has happened. The NCAA will not be automatically turned by a shiny new stadium somewhere else, unless it has absolute assurance that some city is ready to run the event. And even then, it's squishy, because Omaha and OKC have become virtual partners with the NCAA.
Jenni: The major renovations that happened during the last decade are evidence of that. The NCAA said major upgrades were needed, and the city and USA Softball made them happen. And I suspect that will continue to be the case. Indoor batting cages. Suites or some kind of premium seating. Those are the types of things that are likely on the upgrades docket next. But you're right about the behind-the-scenes infrastructure. The NCAA knows that OKC knows how to run this event. The teams have a top-notch experience as do the fans. The WCWS is as big a deal to OKC as the MCWS is to Omaha. That's no small thing.
Berry: And I get the problems with homefield advantage. I don't know how big of an edge it is for the Sooners, but it's clearly an edge. However, you have to play somewhere. And as former UCLA star and current ESPN analyst Jen Schroeder tweeted, "OU isn't good because there's 10,000 fans there cheering for them; there's 10,000 fans there cheering for them because OU is good."
Jenni: Keeping the stands packed when OU isn't playing is another important component for OKC. Non-OU games don't have to be packed houses ― every MCWS game in Omaha isn't; every WCWS doesn't have to be either ― but the better all the crowds are, the better the atmosphere. And frankly, with the exception of Monday night's Florida State-Tennessee game and the restart of Oklahoma State's rain-delayed game with Florida State last Thursday, the crowds have been off-the-charts spectacular. And obviously, that includes lots of games that didn't include the Sooners.
In case you missed it ...
● The OU-Florida State success in the WCWS provided a reunion for athletic directors Joe Castiglione of OU and Michael Alford of Florida State. Alford was Castiglione's deputy AD at OU from 2012-17. They had a long chat Saturday after OU beat Tennessee and before Florida State played Washington.
● Several times during the WCWS, the "Boomer Sooner" chant has started with former Sooners leading the cheer. They even have BOOMER and SOONER signs. Spotted leading the way: Keilani Ricketts, Jocelyn Alo, Lynnsie Elam and Caleigh Clifton. Super cool stuff.
● Several members of OU's first national championship softball team from 2000 have been spied at the WCWS, including ace Jennifer Stewart, shortstop Kelli Braitsch and slugger Mandy Fulton.
● The NCAA softball rules committee meets next week, and an NCAA source indicates pace-of-play concerns are likely to lead to change. A 20-second pitch clock seems possible, but the source said the most likely add would be allowing communications systems that would allow coaches in the dugout to give pitches via earpiece. That would eliminate time spent with coaches signaling in a number, then players having to find it on detailed wristbands.