Fans' perspective on realignment travel

NORMAN, Okla. -- The potential impact of conference realignment on Oklahoma and its fans cannot be understated.

The Sooners are exploring options outside of the Big 12 Conference, with eyes toward the Pac-12 Conference. And OU fans remain divided over what would be best, not only for the university and athletics programs but for themselves as loyal supporters of the school.

One thing seems to be clear, according to fans: The Big 12, where it stands today, is not as viable as OU supporters would like it to be.

"I've taken a lot of calls about it," said Rick Knapp, executive director of the Touchdown Club of Oklahoma, an independent organization that contributes money to support the Oklahoma football program. "Ninety percent of people wanted to stay a year ago. This year that's changed. I think people are seeing that the conference is unstable and getting fed up with the uncertainty."

If Oklahoma joins an expanded Pac-12, the impact on traveling for Sooners fans will be considerable.

Sooner Nation is used to to driving to Manhattan, Kan., or Waco, Texas, for a sporting event. But if the Pac-16 comes to fruition, those road trips will turn into flights to Tucson, Ariz., or Salt Lake City.

Apart from Oklahoma State in Stillwater -- or any Big 12 school in Texas that might follow Oklahoma to a possible Pac-16 -- the closest conference road trip would be to face former Big 12 member Colorado -- a 713-mile trek from Norman to Boulder, Colo.

Every other Pac-12 school is at least 1,000 miles away from Norman.

"When you have to fly, it makes it a lot more complicated," said Matt Gambill, a lifelong Sooners fan. "You have to make plans; you can't just hop into the car."

Gambill, 35, has been to every football stadium in the Big 12 Conference and sometimes follows the Sooners to non-conference games, including Oregon in 2006 and Alabama in 2003.

"It's fun to go to the games," he said. "It's a hobby. It's something you invest time and money in."

Constant travel to the West Coast would force Gambill and his family to make tough choices about which road games to attend.

"You plan it out, and you look forward to it every year," he said. "All of sudden you have to play at Utah, at Arizona State, one West Coast trip every year. You have to pick one, at most. You're looking at renting cars, plane tickets, hotels. And we're budget travelers who have no problem just hopping in the car."

Gambill said it's not realistic for fans to spontaneously travel to sporting events, as perhaps some have done in the past.

"It's not like, 'Oh, I have a couple hundred extra dollars laying around, let's go to the Washington game this week.' That's not going to happen," he said.

But OU's possible new conference road isn't completely filled with potholes.

For some OU fans, the thought of adding Los Angeles, Tempe, San Francisco and Seattle as regular road trips is appealing.

"If you're going to Manhattan, if you're going to Ames, [Iowa,] you aren't staying longer than you have to," said Jeff Goad, a Sooners fan from Oklahoma City. "If you're going to Seattle or the Bay Area, you might make a week out of it."

Members of the Touchdown Club of Oklahoma, who regularly attend Oklahoma football road games, also like the appeal of better conference locales.

"There are more destination cities," Knapp said. "That's why our people will like it."

Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation.

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