October 4, 2023

How NIL and the transfer portal are powering Oklahoma, college softball’s most dominant team

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 9: Pitcher Jordy Bahl #98 of the Oklahoma Sooners lands for a pitch against the Texas Longhorns in the second inning during the NCAA Women's College World Series finals at USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex on June 9, 2022 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Oklahoma won the NCAA Championship with a 10-5 win.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Jordy Bahl’s pitching dominance earned her the Most Outstanding Player of the Women’s College World Series award. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Oklahoma softball made history Thursday night, clinching its third consecutive national title and becoming only the second team in NCAA softball history to do so. The Sooners finished the 2023 season with an overall record of 61-1, and they begin the 2024 season on a 53-game win streak.

While the Sooners have been a staple of the Women’s College World Series since the early 2000s, they make full use of the naming, image, and likeness rules and transfer portal to preserve their existing talent while acquiring new assets.

“Oklahoma is doing very well. They are doing a great job in all cylinders from recruiting to development to meeting the NIL, program and team development,” Florida State Head Coach Lonni Alameda said after her team’s second loss to Oklahoma in the WCWS of 2023.

According to On3’s Jeremy Crabtree, three of the top five highest NIL ratings in NCAA softball at the start of the 2023 season were from Oklahoma players. Catcher Kinzie Hansen, infielder Grace Lyons and pitcher Jordy Bahl have NIL valuations ranging from $46,000 to $62,000, according to On3.

Bahl has a partnership with the Crimson and Cream, an NIL collective that focuses on OU’s student-athletes. Another NIL collective for Oklahoma athletes is 1Oklahoma, which highlights Lyons and infielder Tiare Jennings on the front page of its website. Both Crimson and Cream and 1Oklahoma allow fans to donate directly to OU softball players on their respective web pages.

Aside from NIL collectives, some Sooners use their NIL in other ways. Multiple Oklahoma softball players can be found on Cameo, a website where fans can purchase customized video shoutouts from athletes and celebrities.

“They get opportunities to be entrepreneurs while being student-athletes,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. “It’s unreal. I am still learning how to best arrange it for them.”

Gasso may still be figuring out how to best use NIL for her team, but she seems to have figured out the transfer portal.

Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso, right, talks with Alyssa Brito during the sixth inning of the team's NCAA softball Women's College World Series game against Stanford on Thursday, June 1, 2023 in Oklahoma City.  (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso, right, talks with Alyssa Brito during the sixth inning of the team’s NCAA Women’s College World Series softball on June 1. Brito transferred to the program from Oregon. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

Sooners also seem to dominate the transfer portal

Many of Oklahoma’s role players who helped complete the three-peat were not on the roster at the end of the 2022 season.

Former Michigan pitcher Alex Storako finished her lone season in Oklahoma with a 1.15 ERA in 29 appearances, 18 of them starts. Storako pitched most of Thursday night’s victory over Florida State that sealed the national title for the Sooners.

Transferring to Oregon, Alyssa Brito had a .412 batting average, the second highest on the Oklahoma roster. Brito also tied Jennings and Jayda Coleman for most home runs on the season, with each athlete hitting 17 apiece. Texas A&M transfer Haley Lee had the second most home runs with 14 of his own, respectfully.

Transfers have impacted Oklahoma even ahead of the 2023 season. Taylon Snow, who spent two years at Auburn before ending her collegiate career at Oklahoma, had a .333 batting average, four RBIs, and one home run in the 2022 WCWS Jana Johns was Oklahoma’s third base starter for the 2021 and 2022 seasons after three years in South Carolina.

With outstanding records in the regular season and postseason, plus NIL, it’s easy to see how Norman is a prime destination for softball players to use their skills to the fullest.

“I wanted to do something big and be a part of something big,” Lee, the transfer from Aggie, told Softball America. “So I decided OU was going to do that for me.”

While the Sooners have yet to announce any new additions to their roster, they already have plenty of talented players in the portal to choose from. Infielder Taryn Kern, the 2023 Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Year, announced this week that she will be switching from Indiana. Auburn’s Bri Ellis, 2022 SEC Freshman of the Year, also hit the portal.

While Gasso’s next moves are still unclear, there’s no question that the Sooners can really boast about reloading, not rebuilding. Oklahoma shows that in the NIL era there is a way to not only win but dominate while engaging the transfer portal while developing young talent.

“I think the one thing Oklahoma is doing, and we’re all trying to do that, is get better every year,” Alameda said. “What they were in championships a few years ago, they are now a better version of themselves. We should all do that.”

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