Putting Oklahoma Football on the Map: An Atlas of University of Oklahoma Football from 1947-1963

I’m in the process of developing a mapping project based on some of my dissertation research. I have a lot of raw football data that is somewhat useless by itself, but I think has the potential to show some interesting trends. The idea is to use information found in media guides and game programs, which are in ample supply in University Archives, but often contain little data of interest or use to historians. I am hoping to change that by mapping much of this data to reveal larger trends and highlight turning points in the history of college football.

I am starting small by mapping information related to the University of Oklahoma during the 17 year period I cover in my dissertation. Ultimately, however, the project could become much bigger incorporating data from peer conference schools and eventually the entire NCAA.

University of Oklahoma Football Opponents, 1947-1963

The first part of the mapping project that I have started working on is a visual representation of the changes in Oklahoma’s football schedule. One of Bud Wilkinson’s goals to help boost the profile of the team and the university was to develop a national schedule. As Oklahoma publisher, Milt Phillips explained, “The ability to win football games has, of course, brought attention to Oklahoma throughout all of the United States. The schedules of the teams have been of advantage because they have included games from Boston to the West Coast, and from Indiana to Florida.” The slideshow below shows maps of the locations of each of Oklahoma’s opponents from 1947-1963. You can see the how the schedule spreads out, beginning as a mostly “great plains” based schedule to one that moves into the upper midwest and touches the coasts. Future additions could extend the timeframe earlier to more fully explore the evolution of Oklahoma football and its imprint on the country.

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University of Oklahoma Football Rosters, 1947-1963

The next series of maps I am working on plots the hometowns of each Oklahoma football player from each season. Looking at maps of player hometowns can help reveal who makes up the team, from a geographic standpoint, highlighting the reach of a program and its recruiting base. At Oklahoma during this period, for example, Wilkinson and his assistants claim that they focused on a 150 mile radius of the campus to recruit. I’m interested to see if my maps confirm this. The coaches also suggested that the team consisted of athletes predominately from Oklahoma and Texas. Will this ring true? Compiling and geocoding this data can help uncover the veracity of these claims as well as provide more insight into make up and reach of a program where the claims are absent.

The Potentials of College Football Data

More broadly, however, I am interested in seeing how recruiting, team composition, scheduling, etc. changed over time. Expanding the scope of the maps may reveal Oklahoma branching out into other states as the Big 8 became the Big 12, the role of NCAA enforcement or restrictions (e.g. did the roster change during probation years), or perhaps the influence of Television and national media. These trends likely wont make it into my dissertation, but because I have the information, it’s worth starting small and building my dataset. Oklahoma is my sample, with the potential of mapping more schools to explore regional and conference questions.

Long term and with additional data, similar arguments can be made at the conference  or the state level. My hypothesis is that these maps will make the contours of things like desegregation, media contracts, recruiting territories, etc. more apparent. Like the famous maps on Emancipation, there could be a map on integration, which may help us better understand the shift in power between conferences in terms of Top 25 rankings and National Championship winners.