Why criticism of OU softball isn’t a bad thing for the Sooners or the sport

Why criticism of OU softball isn’t a bad thing for the Sooners or the sport

Critiques of the Sooners’ performance rankles many, but it’s a sign of college softball’s legitimacy.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 11, 2024, 1:00pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 11, 2024, 1:00pm CDT

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About a month and a half ago, Justin McLeod from D1Softball.com joined my podcast show to talk about the first few weeks of the college softball season.

(Shameless plug: please check out the show if you haven’t already.)

Among the things we discussed was OU’s performance. The Sooners hadn’t been bad — they were undefeated at the time — but there weren’t as many blowouts as years past. There were no 22-0 wins. Or 14-0 wins. Or 15-1 wins.

Those were actual scores of a couple early-season games the past two years.

“I don’t think OU is as dominant as they have been,” McLeod said. “I mean, it sounds crazy to say it, but … they haven’t run-ruled teams that they ‘should be’ run-ruling.”

The Sooners had six run-rule victories at that point, but they’d also gone the full seven innings with the likes of Utah Valley State, Long Beach State and McNeese State (twice). Put truth serum in Sooners anywhere, and they’d agree that those are teams they’d expect the Sooners to run rule.

But when that show aired, you’d have thought McLeod and I had graffitied the Sooner Schooner with orange paint, bright or burnt take your pick

OU fans were outraged.

In comments, emails, replies and no uncertain terms, they let their anger be known. Some had points of disagreement, but most just seemed angry at the mere notion of any criticism.

Almost like “How dare you critique our Sooners?”

The thing is, criticism is a sign of credibility.

And OU softball in particular and college softball in general is well beyond the just-happy-to-be-here stage.

Even though the sport has seen explosive growth across the country — TV viewership of the Women’s College World Series sets new records every year — nowhere is college softball bigger than right here in Oklahoma. OU has created not only a dynasty on the field but also a crimson wave of support. That high tide has, in turn, raised other boats. OSU has become a sustained national power. The high school ranks are cranking out more high-level recruits. 

The softball scene is booming.

As the sport has grown, expectations have been created. Winning remains paramount, but now, how the game is played is important, too. How are players performing? How are situations coached? How are teams managed?

In truth, those details have always been important to those on the inside. Back when the Sooners were playing at Reaves Park and drawing fans by the dozen, for instance, I have no doubt Patty Gasso cared just as much about how her defense handled a bunt down the third-base line as she does today.

But now, thousands at Love’s Field and thousands more watching on TV care about it, too.

People outside the locker room are obsessed with the Sooners, and when you are obsessed with something, you obsess over the details, too.

That’s why people went looking for answers when OU lost to Louisiana (too many errors, actual and mental), ending the Sooners’ 71-game winning streak back in early March. Why they did the same after back-to-back losses to Texas this past weekend (not enough baserunners or clutch hitting.)

Against the Longhorns, the Sooner hitters struggled with attacking pitchers. Texas decided to go at OU, and while it didn’t always work — the Sooners smacked two home runs during the series — the strategy of not nibbling at the corners of the plate but rather throwing their best stuff worked well for the Horns.

OU managed just 19 hits in the three-game series, only five of which were for extra bases, and the team that leads the nation in walks drew just six over the entire weekend. 

On a weekend Texas scored only six total runs, it was OU’s hitting that cost it.

Pointing out such on-field struggles isn’t personal. It’s looking at tactics and performance, statistics and adjustments. It’s the kind of thing that happens in every big-time sport.

College football. College basketball. Pro sports.

That college softball has reached the point where people now seek answers about what is happening on the field, that they now ask questions not only of the heart but also of the head, is a sign of how far the sport has come. 

Critique comes with credibility.

Credibility comes with critique.

The two go hand in hand.

Interestingly, the program that helped push hardest for credibility is the one that receives the most critique. OU’s excellence has been the single biggest factor in raising the sport to where it is today. Other things have been important, including TV coverage of games and increased funding from schools, but Gasso and her Sooners have captured interest and driven growth like nothing else.

They have raised the credibility of the entire sport.

It’s ironic: OU has itself to blame for the increased scrutiny that has come along with that.

But really, OU has itself to thank, too. It made people care about college softball.

If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t criticize.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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