CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER
With guys winning $50,000 at the rodeo in Salt Lake City this summer, there’s a controversial conversation going on about whether or not big money like that should count toward the world standings. No matter where you stand on this subject, I think we can all agree that you have to be in favor of rodeo committees creating opportunities at huge payoffs for cowboys.
The first rodeo (that includes team roping) to offer a big-money payoff years ago was Houston, and for a number of years money won there counted toward the world standings. That meant that at the beginning of the year, one team hit the jackpot. They beat everyone at that one rodeo and basically punched their ticket to the NFR. People on one side said it shouldn’t count because a team can just get lucky at one rodeo and make the Finals. Others were in favor of it counting, because they were willing to take that chance at making their whole year in one shot and not having to grind it out all season with the rest of us.
There are always going to be two sides to every issue, and I could argue both on this one. I’ve been in the position where I’m on a strong team, we’re prepared and the writing’s on the wall that we’re going to do good. So to see a team that’s not as strong get in like that doesn’t seem quite right. I’ve also been the guy who wanted to stay home more. When I’ve been in that boat, an opportunity like that gave me the chance to win that one event and not have to travel as much.
I won Houston several times before it paid $50,000. The time I won it when it did pay $50,000 (in 2013 with Justin Davis), Houston had left the PRCA. It was still all PRCA—PRCA judges, PRCA stock contractors and the top contestants in the PRCA—but it was no longer a PRCA rodeo, so it didn’t count. That didn’t quite make sense to me, so was sort of tough to take.
All things considered, I say why not count a huge payoff like Houston or Salt Lake? Everybody has the same opportunity to get there and win. All the big rodeos are limited (entries) now, so that’s not particular to any one rodeo. The (Wrangler) Champions Challenges only include a few teams. The days of everybody being able to enter all the big rodeos seem to be over. There’s a price to pay to play at the highest level.
Junior Dees and Tyler McKnight won $50,000 a man at Salt Lake in July, so they’ve both got their first Finals made. The Salt Lake committee stepped up, created a huge payoff for the cowboys and I applaud them for putting on a rodeo of that magnitude. I’ve been going to that rodeo for 35 years, and understand them wanting that kind of money to count so it’s a big part of the NFR conversation. They set up a system for who got to compete there, and we all had the chance to qualify. It was a combination of the top 10 teams from this year, the committee’s selections from teams ranked 11th-35th in the world and circuit leaders. I didn’t qualify, because I didn’t rope well enough to be in the top 35 at the cutoff date. My only frustration is with myself.
What a great opportunity for a couple of young guys like Junior and Tyler. This is their big break. They capitalized on an opportunity. So the way I see it, we should celebrate their efforts in fulfilling a dream.