In Oklahoma, Life May Not Be Fair, but Football Should Be

I came to Oklahoma City to participate in a conference about the differences between the Russian and American justice systems organized by the Federal Bar Association. I also came to learn more about bio-fuels, at a different conference ( organized by Oklahoma Secretary of Energy David Fleischaker.

Surely one of these topics, I figured, would provide more than enough fodder for my column.

And then there was the hot primary contest for an open congressional seat here that one judge attending the Russian-American conference disgustedly described only slightly sarcastically as a rhetorical competition to "kill a Mexican for Jesus." Could I make that up?

But almost no one (except that one judge) was discussing any of these things when I arrived in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. It was three days since the incident in question had occurred, but it hardly mattered. My friends had saved me the papers. There is only one story in this state. There is only one thing everyone is talking about. When in Rome, do as the Romans. Can there be any other subject for this column, given that I am writing it from Sooner country?

The Sooners Were Robbed

"Fuming Sooners" was the headline that greeted me three days later. Fuming because the final calls in the game three days before between the football team from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oregon were quite simply wrong, and resulted in a victory for Oregon by 34-33, when Oklahoma should have won.

Admitting that the errors, which followed an Oregon touchdown that had closed the gap to 34-27 with 1:12 to go, "altered the outcome," the Pac-10 issued single game suspensions for the referees and the instant replay officials involved in the controversial, erroneous decisions. The Pac 10 also issued an apology.

In Oklahoma, the suspension and apology brought absolutely no satisfaction to the university, the fans, the newspaper or anyone else. The president of the university, former Sen. David Boren, respected in Washington for his expertise on matters of the federal budget and foreign policy, demanded that the Oregon game be "struck from the records" of Oklahoma's season.

OU football coach Bob Stoops also questioned the adequacy of the Pac 10's remedy: "At least they have reacted to it and tried. Truly, there can be no amends to it and it can't be corrected."

Don't get me wrong. I'm a major USC Trojans fan. But for an out-of-towner, the first reaction to three straight days of headlines is: What about, "It's not who wins, but how you play the game?"

Or: "Have you people lost your minds? Doesn't anyone here care about anything but football?"

People laugh at me when I ask. I'm told about a former OU president who famously said, "We're going to build a university that our football team can be proud of."

At a time when our sons and daughters are dying abroad, with a midterm election only weeks away, with important races to be decided, a showdown at the United Nations, crises around the world, is it crazy to care so much about who wins a football game?

Explain it to me, I asked one of the town's most distinguished civic leaders, the owner of the local independent book store where I am sitting writing this column.

It is a point of pride, he said, for a state that has often suffered something of an inferiority complex.

It is something we can control in a world that is increasingly beyond our control. It is within our intellectual grasp. The world has become a very complicated place. There isn't much most of us can do about it, to it, with it.

What can we control? What can we affect? What can we expect? On Saturday, we can expect that down the road, the game will be played according to the rules, and the best team will win. We can expect that the team with the most points is the one that deserves to win, that the rules are followed and the calls are fair.

We may not be able to expect that in life, but we at least expect it in sport. And when it doesn't happen, we call foul.

In Oklahoma, this week, they're calling foul, and it hurts. Badly. Particularly in light of everything else. The rest, no one expects to control. But this was just down the road. This should be fair. And then we'll think about the Russians and bio-fuels.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

Respond to the Writer