Opinion: State Fair of Texas cancellation casts an ominous feeling for 2020 college football season
When Iowa canceled its State Fair a month ago, we figured the worst. The State Fair of Texas was shaky.
Texans are serious about their state fair, but so are our friends in Iowa. The Iowa State Fair is 165 years old, annually ranks among the best in the nation and was the reason Meryl Streep hooked up with Clint Eastwood in “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota. All had canceled their state fairs, but Iowa was holding on. Until it wasn’t.
Oklahoma followed suit soon after, and now Texas has done the same, with the announcement Tuesday that Big Tex’s big party is off for 2020.
Feels ominous for college football.
You don’t have to have the fair to play OU-Texas. We proved that 19 months ago in the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington. You don’t have to have the fair to play football in the Cotton Bowl, the ancient stadium that has housed Sooners-Longhorns since 1930, a year after the rivalry moved to Dallas’ Fair Park. We’ve proved that with bowl games for 85 years, including OU-Arkansas, OSU-Ole Miss and OSU-Purdue.
But the cancellation of the fair seems like the first of what surely will be many crashing dominoes this autumn. The college football season seems shakier than ever, now that we know the barns will not smell, the Midway lights will not grow and the corny dogs will not fry.
Both athletic directors — OU’s Joe Castiglione and Texas’ Chris Del Conte — were quick to remind fans that the game could go on.
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“We fully anticipate that our annual Red River Showdown with Oklahoma will be played in the Cotton Bowl and are continuing to prepare for that,” Del Conte said.
But Del Conte described the situation as “fluid,” and that’s a description Castiglione has been using for weeks.
The pandemic’s effect on college sports is “constantly moving,” Joe C. said, and of course, in recent weeks, it’s been moving in the wrong direction. Southern Cal canceling on-campus classes for the fall semester, various games scrapped and steady news of teams with double-digit positive cases of the virus.
"We said from the onset of this pandemic that circumstances around the virus would guide our decision-making,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement provided to ESPN on Monday, “and it is clear recent developments related to COVID-19 have not been trending in the right direction.”
The good news from Tuesday is that if OU-Texas avoids the chopping block, the game will be played in the Cotton Bowl, the State Fair of Texas announced.
That’s good news for history sake, and it’s the only logical decision. Playing the game at a campus site would disrupt the series for years and the tradition possibly forever.
Play in Norman this year, and Texas justifiably would want to host the Sooners in 2021. But any game this year likely will be played with diminished capacity for fans, and the host of such a game would not be thrilled about returning the game in 2021 in front of a full house.
Best to keep the neutral-site arrangement going, so the schools might as well keep the history going, too.
“Our hope remains that we can play the OU-Texas game at the Cotton Bowl, but obviously every aspect of our season requires constant monitoring and planning,” Castiglione said.
We are serious about football in this part of the country. But we’re serious about state fairs, too, and that goes triple for Texas, which stages 24 days of fairdom every autumn.
OU-Texas without the revelry of the fair would have a Twilight Zone feel. Heck, OU-Texas with more silver than crimson or burnt orange shining from empty seats would be stranger than fiction.
But such an OU-Texas game now is a best-case scenario after a Big Tex announcement that feels oh so gloomy.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.