If OU basketball leaves Norman, where should the Sooners go?

If OU basketball leaves Norman, where should the Sooners go?

Sooner basketball could be on the move. So let’s look at every corner of the state.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Apr 10, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Apr 10, 2024, 6:00am CDT

(Berry Tramel produces two newsletters every week. To receive his newsletters, go here.)

NORMAN — OU president Joe Harroz says the Sooner basketball teams could be hitting the road. Every game.

Harroz suggested to the OU Daily that if the city of Norman won’t play ball with the university’s desire for a school/city/private funds/county partnership on a new arena, the proposed coliseum and entertainment district could be built in some other municipality.

And there you have it. The bag’s out of the cat. The latest sign college sports have become professional sports. Complete with the threat of a franchise move.

The Raiders to Vegas? The Athletics to Sacramento until they can join the Raiders? The Chargers moving back to Los Angeles from San Diego? The Rams moving back to LA from St. Louis?  The Pistons moving from Fort Wayne to Detroit? The Hawks moving from Moline to Milwaukee to St. Louis to Atlanta? 

Doesn’t it seem natural that the next move is the Crimson Tide moving to Gulf Shores or the Nittany Lions to the Main Line in the Philly suburbs?

So why shouldn’t the Sooners leave Norman? There are plenty of places to go.

And not just Moore, which got the southside Costco away from Norman and I assume wants Sooner basketball, too. Of course, Moore is the root of the traffic morass that makes it difficult to get from Oklahoma City to south Norman for those beloved 6 p.m. weekday tipoffs.

So OU might look beyond its Cleveland County neighbor for a new home. 

College basketball loves itself some games in resorts. Orlando, Vegas, Hawaii, the Bahamas. So play the hits. 

Take Jennie Baranczyk’s team and Porter Moser’s team to Hochatown in McCurtain County. It’s a vacation boomtown — did you see the eclipse crowd that swarmed Broken Bow? — and should be ripe for an arena. Who cares that Hochatown is closer to Nacogdoches, Texas, than it is to Norman?

Or bring the Native Nations in the game. Get them to compete for the right to build an arena adjacent to WinStar in Thackerville or the Grand Casino in Shawnee or the Hard Rock in Tulsa or Choctaw Casino in Durant or, be still my heart, the Riverwind south of Norman. Of course, good luck getting visitors to leave the blackjack tables to go watch some basketball.

OU has a Tulsa campus. Keep it in the family and move Sooner hopes to the Schusterman Center in the middle of T-Town. Tulsa’s always in for a new entertainment district.

Heck, build it next to the Gathering Place, Tulsa’s fabulous downtown park. Maybe visitors will think the basketball is part of the estate.

Or split the difference between OKC and Tulsa. Move to Stroud. The Tanger Outlet Mall in Lincoln County feasted on Turner Turnpike shoppers until wiped out by the 1999 tornado. As far back as 40 years ago, speculators fawned over the halfway point of the turnpike, including talk of a massive amusement park that never got past the conception stage.

Here’s an idea. Build the arena in OKC, in the Plaza District or Midtown or The Paseo, where all the cool 26-year-olds want to live. Maybe they’ll walk to Sooner games.

Build the arena around iconic eateries. Eischen’s in Okarche. Pete’s Place in Krebs. Baker’s Pizza in Maysville. Meers, in the shadow of Medicine Park. Maybe Oklahomans seeking fried chicken or meatballs will stumble into basketball.

Go out West. Build an entertainment district in Burns Flat, next to the Spaceport. Find out if the Martians like basketball. Or Little Sahara; people can dig for crystals by day, watch hoops by night. Better yet, Black Mesa, the highest point in the state. Land is cheap in the Panhandle. No Tax Increment Financing District necessary.

Go north. Build the arena in Pawhuska; draw off the Pioneer Woman crowd. Build the arena in Coffeyville, on the border with Kansas, a state that really cares about basketball. Build the arena on Grand Lake, which is halfway to Mizzou and three-quarters of the way to Fayetteville, both now SEC brothers.

Of course, my suggestions were limited to in-state moves. That’s not the major league way. The Dodgers and Giants went from New York to California. We got the Thunder from Seattle. Those Rams on the St. Louis/LA treadmill? They came from Cleveland.

The Sooners are more valuable in Dallas than they are Durant. If you’d move to Tulsa, why not move to Texas? If you’d move to Midtown, why not Midtown Manhattan?

Silly, I know. Exactly when has that stopped the decision-makers before?

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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