OCU has won a national championship for 25 straight years
BY BERRY TRAMEL
Sep. 03, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City University's men's golf team was in ninth place after the first round of the NAIA Championships last May in Silvis, Illinois.
Then the Stars got hot. Robert Kaminski shot 72-66-74 over the last three days. Garrison Mendoza shot 68-72-69. Gaston Romero shot 71-70-70. David Meyers shot 73-68-69.
The Stars won going away, and OCU athletic director Jim Abbott sent out a group text to the 21 other varsity coaches on campus. The streak remained alive.
OCU has won at least one national team championship for 25 straight years.
"Best-kept secret in Oklahoma City," said OCU baseball coach Denney Crabaugh.
So when OCU athletic director Jim Abbott was preparing for student-athlete orientation, he made sure there was a reminder of the standard established. A table with the two most recent Learfield Director's Cup trophies, emblematic of the NAIA's most successful athletic program across all sports, greeted the athletes.
"Everybody in the department really strives for excellence," soccer coach Brian Harvey told The Oklahoman . "There's a tradition. Everybody wants to have the ability to hang a banner in the gymnasium, and it does foster a culture of wanting to win."
OCU athletics have a notable past, mostly tied to men's basketball. Abe Lemons coached the then-Chiefs to great glory in the NCAA. Between Henry Iba's glory years in Stillwater and Billy Tubbs' great teams in Norman, Lemons' Chiefs carried the Oklahoma banner in the NCAA Tournament. OCU made 11 trips to the NCAAs from 1952 to 1973. The Chiefs played against Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Don Haskins' Glory Road team at Texas Western beat OCU in the Midwest Regional en route to the 1966 NCAA title.
But the basketball fortunes eventually waned, and finances prompted OCU to drop to the NAIA in 1985, where the Chiefs joined the Sooner Athletic Conference and forged spirited rivalries with nearby basketball schools Southern Nazarene, Oklahoma Christian and Oklahoma Baptist. All three have recently joined the NCAA Division II.
OCU has not and doesn't plan to.
"Many people have come to me to say, 'when are we going?'" Abbott said. "It has just never made sense to me.
"We have the advantage of learning in 1985 that the national organization we were affiliated with does not impact who we were as a university as much as we do. We played in the same division as Stanford, Duke, Princeton, Harvard. It didn't impact us. So why would it impact us now?"
Abbott said, sure, he thinks OCU and SNU, OBU and Oklahoma Christian belong together. But those schools believe it should be in the NCAA. OCU believes it should be in the NAIA, where administration costs are less, interaction with student-athletes is more and private schools are most likely to compete against private schools.
So OCU is in a conference with Southwestern Christian, Langston and Mid-America Christian, fine schools all, but not capable of providing the rivalries that once permeated through the SAC. Some OCU old-timers long for the good old days of NCAA Division I, when OCU played OU and OSU and hosted the famed All-College Tournament.
"There was a time here, we enjoyed a great brand," Abbott said. "But the recognition was entirely attached to men's basketball. We played one sport and were good at it." These days, OCU sponsors many more sports. "We probably don't enjoy the broad recognition, but we still do what we do very well."
OCU has won 57 national championships since joining the NAIA, and that's not counting multiple titles in spirit squad. The last time the Stars didn't win at least one title, the school year was 1992-93. Over the years, OCU has won 11 men's golf titles, 10 in softball, nine in women's basketball, nine in women's golf, six in men's basketball, four in men's tennis, four in women's wrestling, three in men's cross country and once in baseball.
The Stars sell recruits on a great education, a winning culture and an athletic department that is invested. Abbott came aboard as athletic director in 2002. Phil McSpadden has been the softball coach for 31 years. Crabaugh has been the baseball coach for 30 years. Harvey has been the men's soccer for 33 years and established the women's program in 1994. Men's golf coach Kyle Blaser is about to start his 22nd season.
OCU is a place with roots, despite the financial obstacles. By most metrics, OCU is the second-most expensive university in the state, behind only the University of Tulsa. Scholarships are expensive.
Abbott is in constant fundraising mode, while also doing the duties of a small-college athletic director, like, replenishing the hot dog stash at the concession stand and carrying stray dogs off the baseball diamond. Coaches, too, constantly are raising funds for their programs, in addition to teaching the intricacies of the pick-and-roll and the pivot at second base.
"Our private aircraft looks like a van," Abbott said. "It's about doing what we love to do."
OCU has approximately 375 varsity athletes among its 2,400 students (1,800 undergrads).
"We've added to the diversity of Oklahoma City University," Abbott said. "We have some really niche programs that are nationally prominent. Dance, musical theater. The campus does not revolve around athletics. I don't think that's an entirely bad thing. Our alums take a lot of pride in what we do."
What OCU does is win. Its rivals have changed. Its mission has not.
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com