If Mike Gundy had his choice, the original Big 12 Conference with two divisions would have stayed intact.
Gundy, who played quarterback for Oklahoma State in the Big 8 before coaching the Cowboys in the Big 12, describes himself as a traditionalist in terms of conference structure. When teams such as Nebraska and Missouri trickled out of the Big 12, Gundy wasn’t a fan of the changes, he said.
About a decade later, the departures continue, and this time, it means the Cowboys’ biggest rivalry might come to an end.
OSU caps its regular season with a home matchup against Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium, and Gundy said he expects it to be the last edition of Bedlam in Stillwater for a while. Gundy has doubts about the possibility of scheduling a nonconference game against the Sooners after they leave for the SEC.
“I don’t think it’s a realistic thing that is going to happen based on the business side of Power 5 conference football, the Big 12, or the SEC,” Gundy said. “That’s just my opinion.”
Gundy said no one has told him that the Bedlam series will stop, but he made this prediction based on his analysis of business-related factors. Over the next few years, the Big 12 will experience a massive shakeup. OU and Texas are planning to head to the SEC, while the conference will expand to include Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and UCF.
Gundy welcomed the new members, describing their addition as a “home run." It's a way for the conference to return to its old ways with a two-division structure. In this case, the Cowboys would face five division opponents every year. Add four non-division games and three nonconference games, and that would make it a 12-game season, Gundy theorized.
Many of those nonconference matchups are already set. The Cowboys build their schedules far in advance – for example, they’ve already established a series against Alabama for 2028 and 2029, as well as one against Nebraska in 2034 and 2035. This would make it tricky to throw Bedlam into the mix, especially because teams don’t usually want to play most of their nonconference matchups against tough Power 5 opponents.
“If you’re going to go back into this game, you would be willing to play 11 (Power 5 opponents) out of a 12-game season, which would be extremely difficult,” Gundy said. “And from a business standpoint, we all know this: the more success and games you win in football is a huge revenue avenue for your athletic department and your university because the more you win in football, the wallet goes up. That’s a fact. Marketing money goes up.
“There’s a huge amount of money involved in that. … If we were running a company, and you’re in a business standpoint, somebody would have to make a decision if you want to risk some of that.”
This choice will have to become a reality in the near future. The Sooners’ media rights contract expires in 2025, but they could exit the conference before then.
On one hand, as Gundy said, there could be business risks connected to a nonconference Bedlam series. On the other hand, there’s the theme of tradition – which Gundy likes – running through the rivalry. The Cowboys and Sooners first faced off in 1904, and since then, their showdowns have existed at the center of college football in Oklahoma.
OSU could have a chance to face the Sooners twice this season. If OU wins Saturday and/or Baylor loses to Texas Tech, then the Cowboys will have a rematch with the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game.
After that, the future of Bedlam is unclear. Gundy said he hasn’t been involved in discussions about what will happen next, but if his forecast is correct, then a 117-year rivalry will dissolve.
“That would be my guess,” Gundy said. “But I’m gonna do what (President) Dr. Shrum tells me to do, and I’m gonna do what (athletic director) Chad Weiberg tells me to do if I go on down the road.”