It used to be located at this link, but isn't anymore. Now you can find this series copied into various forums around the net. It is one of the finest bits of investigative reporting I have seen on realignment and tells about 80% of the story of the last days of the SWC---from a texan's perspective.
Prepare to be amazed by Mr. Wagrin's brillance.
"THE DEMISE OF THE SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE
TIMELINE OF EVENTS: 1914-1956
--1914: Spurred on by Texas athletic director Theo Bellmont, UT, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Baylor, LSU, Oklahoma A&M and Southwestern officials meet in Dallas to draw up a constitution providing for ethical guidelines. The meeting leads to the formation of the Southwest Intercollegiate Athletic Conference ... Rice and Oklahoma join the group that year, but LSU withdraws.
--1915: OU wins the new league's first football title. Baylor loses its claim to a co-championship for using an ineligible player.
--1916: The league shortens its name to Southwest Conference ... Southwestern withdraws.
--1918: SMU joins the SWC.
--1919: OU withdraws from the SWC and a year later joins the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MVIAA), from which the Big Eight evolves.
--1920: Phillips University of Oklahoma joins the SWC but stays only one year.
--1923: TCU joins the SWC.
--1925: Oklahoma A&M leaves the SWC and joins the MVIAA.
--1928: Six of the seven schools in the MVIAA form the Missouri Valley Conference, known informally as the Big Six. That title eventually balloons to Seven, to Eight and then to 12.
--1956: Texas Tech officials pull out all stops to gain admission to the SWC. Former regent Dr. Clifford Jones promises a $50,000 contribution to the Methodist Church if SMU votes for Tech. A movement is started to have all Tech fans cut up their Neiman-Marcus credit cards and send them back to the Dallas-based store to protest SMU's opposition. Finally, the SWC relents and admits the Red Raiders, who begin football competition in 1960.
The DEMISE of the New Old SWC 1960 forward.
Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles had more than birdies on his mind that summer day in 1987 before he teed off at the Shoal Creek Golf Club in Birmingham, Ala.
His playing partners were two old pals: Doug Dickey, Tennessee's AD, and Harvey Schiller, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. The golf outing promised to be about long drives and longer stories, all sandwiched inside a friendly skins game.
“We've always got a little something working somewhere,” Dickey recalls with a laugh.
Just what the stakes were that day, none of the principals remember. Maybe a buck a hole. Maybe five. History has no record of the transaction.
Except for what that round of golf meant for the future of college athletics. And how it decided the fate of college football in Texas.
Broyles had a surprise club in his bag -- a pitching wedge, you might say -- and in a private room off the clubhouse before the match he found the perfect opportunity to swing it. For anyone who ever attached his emotions to the Southwest Conference, his words amounted to a declaration of independence, of rebellion, turmoil and strife.
“Hey, if you ever want to expand,” Broyles said, “just ask us.”
No more speculation. No more whispers. Arkansas, a charter member of the otherwise all-Texas-stocked SWC, agreed to jump to the SEC if asked to do so .
“There won't be any hedging,” Broyles told his two golf companions. “We're going to come.”
With that statement, the tradition-rich SWC climbed onto its deathbed. Cast into deep antiquity were eight decades of Texas football history:
--The quarterback heroics of Sammy Baugh, Davey O'Brien, Bobby Layne and Andre Ware. Sacked and forsaken.
--The Heisman Trophy romps of John David Crow and Earl Campbell. Rolled aside.
--Football dynasties built by coaching legends like D.X. Bible, Homer Norton, Matty Bell, Dutch Meyer, Jess Neely, Darrell Royal and, yes, Frank Broyles. Swept away.
--A near-century of monumental clashes, frozen in time, played out in the Cotton Bowl and in football cathedrals across the state. Trashed, almost as though the whole experience had been a bad idea from the start.
The conference -- as well as the historical context for all that had made those household names and benchmark events in Texas -- was doomed.
For SWC football, the end came 10 years ago this fall.
On Dec. 2, 1995, on a clear night in Houston, the Rice Owls and Houston Cougars played the final football game in the 81st and final year of the SWC.
The decision to disband, although probably inevitable, had been triggered by the defection of Arkansas and, subsequently, by the determination of Texas and Texas A&M to seek their own greener pastures and take full advantage of the rapidly changing financial dynamics in college athletics.
The Big 12, set to begin its 10th season next month, was born out of the mutual need of the old Big Eight and the rebellious upper echelon of the SWC to unite for what was then seen as super-conference status.
Clearly, Arkansas's departure for the SEC in 1990 was the event that brought a litany of SWC failings to critical mass.
“What had to happen,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds says, “there had to be a crisis for change.”
Cheats and checkbooks
One of the charms of the SWC was that it was difficult to tell what was crisis and what was chaos. The SWC that Arkansas left behind was like the venerable elder -- long on bravado but short on recent accomplishments.
When people spoke of the league, they waxed rhapsodic about the exploits of the legends and the legendary teams: the 1935 SMU Mustangs, beaten only in the Rose Bowl; the 1953 Rice Owls, Cotton Bowl conquerors of Alabama; and especially the 1938 TCU, 1939 A&M, 1963 and 1969 Texas teams, national champions all.
They recalled the melodious tones of Kern Tips calling the game of the week on the Humble radio network. They reminisced warmly about the good old days. And they plumb ignored what was going on right in front of them.
By the late 1980s, attendance was down. Revenues were down. And the SWC's reputation for honesty and competitiveness had hit bottom.
Seven of the league's nine schools were placed on probation for rules violations in the decade. In 1989, four of the state's consensus top five football prospects signed with out-of-state schools. Other forces were gnawing at the SWC's fragile fabric.
Title IX, the federal statute that guaranteed equal opportunity for women in athletics, was about to mandate a massive budgetary expansion for women's sports.
The SWC, shackled by a base market consisting of only two states and 6.7 percent of the nation's TV sets, found itself holding a horrible hand in what was about to become a high-stakes game of TV rights contracts.
By 1989, nostalgia was about the only thing the SWC had going for it.
Up in the Ozarks, Arkansas officials were especially displeased. Little of what had roused SWC jealousies or ignited NCAA scrutiny could be traced to the Razorbacks. Arkansas and Rice were the only two SWC schools not to feel the sting of NCAA probation in the 1980s. Broyles was deeply concerned about the bottom line of an athletic program struggling to stay in the black.
Officials at UT and A&M, knowing they would face withering political heat if they stranded their in-state brethren in a mad dash to another conference, knew they couldn't make the first move. But Arkansas could.
“They'd say to me, 'you go first,'” Broyles recalled.
“So we went.”
On Aug. 1, 1990, the Arkansas board of trustees, acting on recommendations from Broyles and the school's chancellor, voted to switch to the SEC, beginning in the summer of 1991.
The move, Broyles recalls, was caused partly by the fallout of declining attendance -- 50 percent of capacity league wide in football and 40 percent in basketball -- and partly about guarding the Razorbacks' own interests.
“I personally was concerned that A&M and Texas would leave and not include us,” Broyles said.
For the first time in 65 years, the SWC had lost a member school. Crisis and chaos had finally taken up permanent residence.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and into the early 1980s, the SWC was on par with any of the glamour conferences in the nation.
Serious trouble began to surface in the late 1970s with allegations that SMU was seeking to reclaim lost glory by paying for the state's top recruits. The Mustangs nearly won the national title in 1982, but were twice hammered by the NCAA, resulting in a suspension of the football program for the 1987 and 1988 seasons.
A&M replaced UT as the league's dominant program in the mid 1980s, but the Aggies, too, received NCAA sanctions that led to the resignation of Jackie Sherrill. During his seven seasons as A&M's football coach and AD, Sherrill heightened the feeling of division within the league.
At one point, Sherrill's behavior prompted TCU coach Jim Wacker, whose own program was rocked by booster payoffs, to issue a plea to other league coaches to abide by the rules.
“It was like if you're not cheating, you're not trying to win,” former Arkansas coach Lou Holtz said later.
Reaching for the dial
Meanwhile, football attendance began to plunge. In 1989, the eight Texas schools in the SWC played before an average of 65 percent capacity at home, a byproduct of bad teams and competition for fans with NFL teams in Dallas and Houston.
Changes were made in the way football gate receipts and television revenue was distributed. Schools were now allowed to keep their entire home gate, which greatly favored teams that could sell out big stadiums. New rules also granted better TV revenue shares to teams making the most appearances.
“The reason the Southwest Conference fell apart was because the strong kept getting stronger and the weak were getting weaker,” former A&M AD Wally Groff said. “You're only as strong as your weakest school.”
With Arkansas out the door, UT and A&M began to float their own conference-jumping schemes. The Longhorns considered joining the Pac-10 or Big Ten, both of which had access to big TV markets and whose schools more closely resembled the Longhorns' own self-perceived academic profile. But the long travel distances and time differences limited the appeal of a move outside the middle plains.
A&M officials queried the SEC about joining that conference as yet another expansion member. But the SEC wanted the Aggies only if they came packaged with UT.
Even as media reports and rumors surfaced almost daily about a doomed SWC, the league tried to make it business as usual. When Steve Hatchell took over as SWC commissioner in the summer of 1993, he was ready to rebuild the league.
“When I left the Orange Bowl (as executive director), I had a strong feeling the league was really ready to make a change, to be aggressive,” said Hatchell, now president of the National Football Foundation. “I felt the nastiness was behind us.”
When the College Football Association's television deal fell apart and Notre Dame signed on with NBC, Hatchell's optimism disappeared.
“That was a whole new chapter,” he said. “(The SWC) didn't have enough TV sets. If you think in terms of a pie, if you keep taking slices out of it (with conference TV deals), you lose leverage. The economics of TV is leverage. It wasn't going to work.”
At about the same time, political realities began to set in. Not all state lawmakers, the overseers for appropriations for UT and A&M, were alumni of those two schools. Several influential politicians represented, by their college allegiances, either Texas Tech or Baylor, or by their constituencies, Lubbock or Waco.
Eventually, the life raft leaving the sinking SWC was expanded to include Tech and Baylor. At the same time, the raft began to drift north, toward the one conference that made geographic sense -- the Big Eight.
Unwilling to take on all eight SWC schools -- but keenly aware of the advantages of absorbing the SWC's upper echelon -- Big Eight officials eventually approved a partial merger.
Golf-course chats took on a more urgent tone as TV rights negotiations entered a new era.
In early 1994 the College Football Association, which represented the TV negotiating interests of all the major conferences except the Big Ten and Pac-10, announced an extension with ABC and ESPN.
But the SEC, certain it could do better on its own, shook up the college football world when it signed a five-year, $85 million deal with CBS, which had just lost the NFL to Fox.
Within days, the dam had broken. The Atlantic Coast Conference signed an $80 million deal with ABC and ESPN. CBS quickly added the Big East to its stable for $75 million, including basketball games.
Suddenly, it was time to kill or be killed.
“When you see that in front of you, you know the Southwest Conference couldn't live in that world,” Dodds says.
“Looking north, the Big Eight could do better, but it still had slim pickings. They thought they had strength, but they were pretty much like us. When you threw them up against the Big Ten or the SEC, they were last. And we were behind them.”
On Feb. 24, after much political maneuvering in the state Capitol over which schools should merge with the Big Eight, UT, A&M, Tech and Baylor were officially invited to form a new league.
Two weeks later, the new conference -- the Big 12 -- signed a $100 million deal with ABC and Liberty Sports to carry its football games to a market covering 14.2 percent of the nation's TV audience.
The final skin was collected.
And so it was that a decade ago, the SWC became a fond, fuzzy memory -- a pillar of sports glory in one century and a record-book relic for the next.
Power brokers: How tagalong Baylor, Tech crashed the revolt
It's hard to keep a secret around the state Capitol, especially when legislative talk turns from taxes to football.
So, in early 1994, when the buzz began that Texas and Texas A&M were preparing to leave the Southwest Conference, David Sibley went straight to a man he knew wouldn't deceive him.
Sibley, then a Republican state senator from Waco, buttonholed William Cunningham, the University of Texas chancellor, at a reception. He asked him point blank if the rumors that the Longhorns and Aggies were planning to desert the SWC were true.
Cunningham asked Sibley where he had heard that. He questioned the sources of the rumors. He tried to change the subject.
What he didn't do was deny it.
To Sibley, that was proof enough that something was up -- something that wasn't going to sit well with state politicos with allegiances to either the six soon-to-be snubbed SWC universities or the communities served by those schools. Or, as was the case with Baylor graduate Sibley, to both.
It was time, as one state politician with a vested interest in the matter later recalled, “...to turn loose the dogs of war.”
The pack included Dobermans, a veritable who's who of Baylor and Texas Tech alumni. Ann Richards, then governor, and Bob Bullock, then lieutenant governor, were Baylor grads. Sibley held a high-ranking position on the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
Tech unleashed its own influential alums: John Montford, president pro tempore of the Senate; Robert Junell, destined to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and Speaker of the House Pete Laney.
Sibley threatened a cut in funding for UT and A&M if they bolted on their own. Junell collared UT president Robert Berdahl and spelled out what was at stake.
“As I recall, it wasn't a very veiled threat to cut budgets if Tech was left behind,” Berdahl recalls.
Laney doesn't recall any hints of reprisal.
“We'd be a whole lot easier to get along with if our teams were in there, but I don't think there were any threats,” Laney said. “We (the legislators) are temporary. We'll be replaced sooner or later.”
Bullock, who died in 1999, took the lead in galvanizing the Tech and Baylor factions. He called Bernard Rappaport, a Waco businessman then serving on the UT Board of Regents. Rappaport confirmed that UT's absorption into the Big Eight was imminent.
Bullock went to work.
It was Monday, Feb. 20, 1994 -- Presidents' Day, a state holiday. Bullock began rounding up his troops. He called Cunningham and requested an immediate meeting. William Mobley, A&M's chancellor, and Dean Gage, A&M's interim president, were in Temple on a facilities tour when Bullock reached them by phone. Bullock wanted to talk -- now. Mobley and Gage replied that they couldn't fit it into their schedules.
“I would think that if the Lieutenant Governor requested a meeting you would show him the courtesy,” Bullock said angrily. Then he slammed down the phone. Minutes later, the phone rang.
Mobley and Gage had suddenly found time to talk.
The plot revealed
The group convened in Bullock's office in a state building next to the Capitol. On hand were Bullock, Cunningham, Sibley, Montford, Mobley, Gage and Bill Clayton, a former house speaker who now sat on A&M's board of regents.
Cunningham told Bullock that, indeed, UT was on the verge of joining the Big Eight. By then, Bullock and the others were prepared to act -- prepared to wield the monolithic clout that stems from rural politics and lengthy tenure -- to buy Baylor and Tech passage out of the doomed SWC.
The four other SWC schools -- SMU, TCU, Rice and Houston, all based in metropolitan communities -- found few advocates for their interests.
The fate of the three private schools in the group -- SMU, TCU and Rice -- was of little concern to the decision-makers in Austin.
Even among the four breakaway schools, unity was difficult to attain. One sticking point for a four-way exodus from the SWC was A&M, which still clung to aspirations of joining recently departed SWC member Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference.
According to witnesses -- and also Clayton's testimony in the 1996 misappropriation of funds trial of former A&M regents chairman Ross Margraves -- Clayton balked at the idea of the Aggies joining the Big Eight.
“No, you're wrong about that” Bullock told him. “You need to come with us to the Big Eight.”
It so happened that A&M needed two votes from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which governs construction projects at state colleges, to proceed with the construction of its $33.4 million basketball and convocation facility, which became Reed Arena.
“Don't worry about it,” Bullock told Clayton. “I'll get them for you tomorrow.”
On Feb. 24 -- just four days after Bullock's round of emergency phone calls -- the Big Eight officially absorbed UT, A&M, Baylor and Tech, and a new league was formed, using a name the Big Eight had curiously trademarked years earlier: The Big 12.
That Capitol intrigue ended a revolt that had been in the works since the late 1980s, when UT and A&M officials first considered leaving the SWC.
First, the Longhorns looked west, to the Pac-10. Berdahl found it appealing that seven of the 10 schools in the Pac-10 were members of the American Association of Universities, a group comprised of the nation's top 62 research universities.
Distance was the main drawback. The University of Arizona, located in Tucson, was the nearest Pac-10 school to Austin -- and still 788 miles away. Eight of the 10 schools were in the Pacific Time Zone, meaning a two-hour time gap with most of Texas.
“Texas wanted desperately the academic patina that the Pac 10 yielded,” recalls Berdahl, who went on to serve as chancellor at Pac-10 member California-Berkeley. “To be associated with UCLA, Stanford and Cal in academics was very desirable.”
Still, expansion in the Pac-10 depended on unanimous approval of the member schools. And Stanford, which had long battled UT in athletics as well as academics, objected. For UT, the way west never materialized.
The Longhorns next turned to the Big Ten.
Having added Penn State in 1990, the Big Ten was now made of universities that, in the view of UT officials, matched UT's profile -- large state schools with strong academic reputations. Berdahl liked the fact that 10 conference members belonged to the American Association of Universities.
Yet, distance remained a disadvantage. Iowa, the closest Big Ten school to Austin, was 856 miles away -- but the appeal of having 10 of 12 schools in the same time zone was seen as a plus.
But after adding Penn State in 1990, Big Ten officials had put a four-year moratorium on expansion. Although admitting interest, Big Ten bosses ultimately rejected UT's overtures.
That left the SEC as a possible relocation target for the Longhorns -- until Berdahl let it be known that UT wasn't interested because of the league's undistinguished academic profile. Only two of 12 schools in the SEC were American Association of Universities members and UT officials saw admissions standards to SEC schools as too lenient.
“We were quite interested in raising academic standards,” Berdahl says. “And the Southeastern Conference had absolutely no interest in that.”
A&M, meanwhile, had no qualms about flirting with the SEC. From the late 1980s on, administrators from A&M and LSU had several informal conversations about the Aggies joining the SEC. After talks with Miami broke down in 1990, the SEC's courtship with A&M grew more serious.
LSU athletic director Joe Dean telephoned his A&M counterpart John David Crow to discuss A&M's candidacy.
“Joe was going to sponsor us, do what was needed to be done,” Crow said. “They would have liked to have had us.”
At the NCAA Convention in Dallas in January 1993, Dean reportedly met with Dodds and Crow to discuss a possible two-school move. Dean later told reporters that he believed UT was “headed north” -- to the Big Eight or Big Ten -- while A&M was the “most logical addition to the SEC.”
In response to reports of the meeting, a representative of A&M president William Mobley told reporters there had been no offer and “Dr. Mobley is firmly committed to the Southwest Conference.”
But in August 1993, A&M regents chairman Margraves flew to LSU for his son's graduation, taking time to meet with LSU Chancellor William Davis to discuss the possible migration of A&M -- and Houston -- into the SEC. Margraves later said he came away from the trip favoring a move.
The right fit
Despite the repeated wooing from both sides, however, the relationship was never consummated. A&M administrators, apparently fearful of a backlash if the school made the first move solo, held back. UT wasn't interested and a suitable partner from the SWC couldn't be found. The SEC, meanwhile, backed off on expansion.
“I don't think the powers that be wanted us to move alone, leave the Southwest Conference and its tradition,” Crow said.
Mobley, now a professor of management at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, says A&M's actions resulted from a strategic analysis of the SWC's future commissioned by the league's presidents after Arkansas departed.
“It was a complex decision, a matrix of academic, economic and political factors for all schools and conferences,” Mobley said.
He added that those factors included academics and compliance, television money, scheduling and travel, existing natural rivalries and “support and political implications among various stakeholders including the Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature, Former Students, the Athletic Department, faculty, students, media, etc.”
Almost by default the attentions of UT and A&M turned to the one major football conference that was geographically nearest and competitively dearest -- the Big Eight.
It helped that UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Oklahoma athletic director Donnie Duncan were old friends. Dodds had once served as AD at Kansas State. And, of course, the Longhorns and Sooners were longtime rivals from annual October football showdowns in Dallas.
Acutely aware of how the fast-moving world of television negotiations was changing the face of conference affiliations, Dodds and Duncan had, since the late 1980s, chatted informally about the possibility of UT joining the Big Eight.
For a multitude of reasons, that move made the most sense. All of the Big Eight schools were in the Central Time Zone. The most distant school from Austin was Iowa State, 840 miles away. Like the SWC, the Big Eight was looking to improve revenues and in need of additional markets to increase its bargaining power for TV rights.
Still, the Big Eight wanted to expand to 10 teams, not nine, so each school could play a round-robin schedule in football and still have two non-conference games. UT needed an expansion partner and the obvious choice was A&M.
Both schools offered large alumni bases, rich tradition and solid academic reputations. Both excelled in a variety of sports other than football and basketball.
Within a week of the meeting of political heavyweights, the expansion twins became quadruplets with the forced acceptance of Baylor and Tech into what amounted to a merger deal. Almost immediately, the deal paid off.
On March 10, the Big 12 signed a five-year, $100 million deal with ABC and Liberty Sports to carry the league's football games.
Denial, then denied
Even as the fortunate four were cashing in, the forgotten four were reaching for their wallets -- and having that chill-bump sensation of finding nothing.
"It was a bomb," then TCU AD Frank Windegger said, "dropped square on top of us."
Even when the administrators at TCU, SMU, Rice and Houston received advance confirmation from those involved, some still refused to believe it.
In February 1994, days before the league dissolved, SMU AD Forrest Gregg privately asked Dodds if the move was imminent. Dodds said yes.
Gregg told SMU president A. Kenneth Pye of the conversation. Pye responded that it couldn't be happening, because the other league presidents hadn't said anything about it. Two days later, it came true.
“We were in Dallas, with a long and illustrious tradition, and we thought that would work,” Gregg said.
SMU wasn't alone in discovering that what it offered in positives was set off by what it promised in negatives.
SMU, TCU and Rice were private schools, and big conferences desire schools backed by state coffers. Houston, TCU and SMU still bore the stain of NCAA probation.
All thought they could deliver big television markets to a league in search of the same, but the Big 12 members felt that UT and A&M could deliver Dallas and Houston.
There were brief discussions about keeping the Southwest Conference alive, but nobody could agree on whom to invite. And the TV money was quickly drying up.
“There was a lot of indecision,” said Steve Hatchell, who served as the last SWC commissioner then assumed the same duties with the Big 12. “Those four were not in the habit of looking around to find a place for themselves. The picture changed totally.”
SMU, TCU and Rice headed to the Western Athletic Conference, a geographically widespread league that boasted one football national champion (BYU, in 1984) but modest accomplishments elsewhere.
Houston, believing its future was to the east -- the school had once coveted an invitation to the SEC -- cast its lot with a new league formed from the nucleus of the old Metro Conference, called Conference USA.
Baylor and Tech -- one a private school, one a school that had to pull out the stops just to be admitted into the SWC 26 years earlier and neither in major television markets -- were simply happy to be included in the Big 12.
“As luck and fate would have it, Texas Tech had some very powerful members of the legislature,” said former Tech AD Bob Bockrath. “Candidly, if not for the influence, it'd be the Big 10 -- that's taken, so some other name. I don't think Texas and A&M saw Tech and Baylor as equal partners.”
Former Baylor AD Dick Ellis said: “It was a battle of the haves and have-nots. Baylor, we kind of snuck in. I'm sure there's resentment from SMU, TCU and Rice.”
While the forgotten four stewed about being jilted, the honeymoon that followed the marriage of the fortunate four and the Big Eight was short.
Officials of the new league were quickly saddled with two contentious issues: initial eligibility for athletes and arrangements for a football championship game.
The SWC expatriates wanted entrance requirements that were stiffer than those mandated by the NCAA. Nebraska, sustained through the years by more lenient standards, objected.
Suddenly, the process of forming the Big 12 became a clash of priorities and a dispute over how priorities shape integrity.
Cornhuskers fans howled about UT arrogance. UT supporters saw Nebraska's reluctance as a cynical, self-serving way to keep the Cornhuskers on top.
“Nebraska and Texas were jockeying for position,” said Bill Byrne, the A&M AD who then held that position at Nebraska. “Nebraska was the 800-pound gorilla in the Big Eight. Texas was the 800-pound gorilla in the Southwest Conference.”
In December of 1995, 10 months before the first Big 12 football game, the league's school presidents agreed to allow each Big 12 school to admit two male and two female partial qualifiers each season. Still, Nebraska officials wanted to delay implementation. League presidents voted 11-1 to put the rules into immediate effect.
That was the second major defeat for Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers had dominated Big Eight football -- they won back-to-back national titles in that league's final two seasons -- and they opposed the idea of a title game, fearing one upset could ruin a season.
In the summer of 1995, league presidents, warmed by the prospect of a title game providing another $10 million in revenue, voted 11-1 to put in a championship game.
Nebraska officials also blamed UT for the league's choice of Dallas as the site for league headquarters, a decision that dislodged the conference from its old Big Eight base in Kansas City. Adding to the early acrimony was the league's choice of Hatchell as the Big 12's first commissioner, another decision driven by Texas schools, Nebraska officials charged.
It was fitting that the first Big 12 championship game, held in St. Louis on Dec. 7, 1996, matched No. 3 Nebraska against 20-point underdog UT.
Even the ticket offices got into it.
In a conference call to set up the will-call ticket windows, a Big 12 official asked Nebraska's representatives what they needed. “Two tables and three chairs,” came the reply.
He posed the same question to UT officials.
“Two tables and four chairs,” said UT's ticket manager, earning a round of high-fives from his staff.
The underdog Longhorns, using a bold pass play on fourth and inches at their own 28-yard line in the final minutes, had the final say on the field, too, winning 37-27.
Nearly a decade later, Berdahl, an academician not normally given to moods of vengeance, can't contain himself when he recalls those early growing pains of the Big 12.
“It was,” he says, “a real sweet victory.”
Box office barometer
A look at the home attendance trends for former SWC football teams
SCHOOL SWC FINAL 10 YEARS POST-SWC CHANGE DIFFERENCE
Texas 66,949 81,182 +14,233
Texas A&M 60,693 72,211 +11,518
Texas Tech 36,653 45,318 +8,665
Baylor 32,130 31,329 -801
SCHOOL SWC FINAL 10 YEARS POST-SWC CHANGE DIFFERENCE
TCU 28,206 28,998 +792
Rice 20,954 21,203 +249
SMU 22,234 19,121 -3113
Houston 22,493 18,650 -3843
The Fortunate Four: Baylor & Texas Tech
With the politicking over, much still to prove
Winning has always been considered a birthright at Texas, always vindication at Texas A&M.
At Baylor and Texas Tech, both of which made the Big 12 cut because of political clout, every victory the past nine seasons has brought validation.
Proof that they belong.
That inferiority complex has always lurked just below the surface, even in good times. In 1995, one season after both teams forged an improbable five-way tie for the next-to-last Southwest Conference championship, it bubbled up.
After a late field goal allowed Penn State to avoid an early season upset at the hands of the Red Raiders, discouraged Tech linebacker Zach Thomas muttered, “That's just Tech.”
Two weeks later, the Bears wasted a fourth-quarter lead over Mississippi State and Baylor wingback Kalief Muhammad told reporters, “We're still the same old damn Baylor.”
Both schools shouldered that stigma as the SWC imploded.
“When the rumors were flying, we were wondering, 'Is there a conference to go to? Will we end up (Division) I-AA?'” recalls Dick Ellis, then the Bears' athletic director.
“Former football players were calling, asking, 'Where's Baylor going? Make sure we stay with the big guys.' Yeah, there was pressure.”
Bob Bockrath, then Tech's AD, was in the same position.
“There was concern over what would happen if the Southwest Conference came apart, where we would go,” he said.
Even when the two earned invitations to the Big 12, mostly through the intervention of its legislative alumni and influential backers, there were doubts.
“Our main question at Baylor going into the Big 12 was, 'Can Baylor compete?'” Ellis said. “The feeling was that we could compete, at least be as competitive as Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State.”
Baylor, one of the SWC's five original members, rarely flexed any football muscle. The Bears won three outright football titles in the SWC's first 10 seasons but only two afterward. The Bears' men's basketball team won three outright titles -- the last in 1948 -- and the women never finished higher than fifth.
Tech, meanwhile, had to battle just to get into the SWC. Four times -- from 1927 through 1952 -- the Red Raiders were nominated for membership, only to be voted down. Finally, in 1958, Tech got in.
Since slipping into the Big 12, Baylor and Tech have used their elite-conference status as a mandate to upgrade facilities. Tech has made $180 million in improvements, including a new basketball arena and an $85 million upgrade to Jones Stadium. Baylor has built new tennis, baseball, soccer and softball facilities and is in the early stages of a $90 million facility upgrade.
The disparity in the two programs lies in the standings.
Though the Red Raiders haven't won even a divisional Big 12 football title, Tech is the only Big 12 school to be bowl eligible in each of the league's first nine seasons. Baylor, meanwhile, has never finished out of the South Division cellar.
Men's basketball has been a disaster for Baylor and a boon for Tech.
Only A&M has a worse Big 12 basketball winning percentage than the Bears, who this summer were hit with a devastating probation as a result of major rules violations that surfaced in the wake of Patrick Dennehy's murder.
Tech has become an NCAA tournament regular under Bob Knight, a tainted legend plucked off the Indiana Hoosiers' scrap heap.
Both schools have won NCAA women's basketball titles in the last 15 years -- Tech in 1993 and Baylor last season. Both have shown improvement in Olympic sports, too. Baylor won the NCAA men's tennis title in 2004 and Tech won it's first-ever conference title in men's track and field in May.
Both remain highly competitive in baseball. The Bears won the Big 12 title last spring and earned their first College World Series berth in 27 years.
The Forgotten Four: TCU & SMU
Two private schools beset by poor timing
Athletics is about timing -- hitting a fastball, throwing a fade route, knowing when to go for the steal. For all of their great sports tradition accrued in the 20th century, timing deserted SMU and TCU when they needed it most.
When the Southwest Conference disbanded a decade ago, the Mustangs and Horned Frogs found themselves off stride and out of position to catch a realignment life preserver.
TCU watched as Baylor and Texas Tech, two schools without the football tradition the Frogs once boasted, were absorbed into the Big 12, largely because of political connections.
In 1992, Gib Lewis, a former TCU student, was one of the most powerful men in Texas, the speaker of the Texas House. Lewis had, by most estimates, enough clout to ensure a tag-along spot for the Horned Frogs.
But by 1994, when the Big 12 cut was announced, Lewis was in retirement.
“If Gib Lewis is there,” says Frank Windegger, then TCU's athletic director, “it might not have happened.”
Windegger still envisioned his Frogs as Big 12 princes.
“I had hopes that at some point the Big 12 would expand to 14 teams for scheduling purposes,” Windegger says, “and the talk was it could be TCU and BYU.”
Two decades ago, SMU boasted one of the top athletic programs in the country -- a national title contender in football, an NCAA tournament-caliber team in basketball and some of the best tennis players and swimmers in college athletics. That prowess, coupled with a solid academic reputation, might have earned SMU an invite -- had the SWC split happened in 1985.
But in 1987, SMU was wracked with the most severe NCAA probation sanctions in history, sanctions that wiped out the school's football program for two years.
Says former SMU AD Forrest Gregg: “If (the SWC breakup) happens before the 'death penalty,' SMU is probably picked instead of Baylor -- because of the Dallas TV market.”
As the bell tolled for the SWC, SMU and TCU officials made self-preservation their top priority. The immediate answer was the Western Athletic Conference.
Eric Hyman, who spent eight years as the Frogs' AD before leaving for the same post at South Carolina this summer, says he received a simple directive.
“When I took over, one of the things the university wanted was a national program,” he says. “But wanting and doing are like blocking and tackling -- two different things. It went slowly, like going into a pool. You stick your toe in, say, 'It's not so bad.' Then you go in with the whole body.”
Of the four SWC orphans, TCU has come the closest to big-time success in football.
A victory by the Horned Frogs over Southern California in 1998 led to sponsorship from Bank One and fund-raising momentum that, just last year, brought in $9 million.
In 2000, led by 2,000-yard rusher and Doak Walker Award-winner LaDainian Tomlinson, the Horned Frogs finished 10-2. In 2003, the Frogs opened with 10-straight victories and moved to No. 6 in the BCS. But two late-season losses killed TCU's bid to crack a BCS bowl.
At TCU, paying the bills hasn't been as difficult as settling under a conference banner. The Horned Frogs bailed out of the WAC to join Conference USA. This fall, they will begin play in the Mountain West, the school's third league affiliation since leaving the SWC.
SMU's post-SWC existence has been far more minimal.
Gregg, hired in 1989 to revive the school's football program, left in 1994 to coach the Shreveport Pirates of the Canadian Football League.
“I wasn't abandoning ship,” Gregg says. “I just knew the chances of succeeding weren't very good.”
SMU finally got a break when alumnus Gerald J. Ford stepped forward in 1997 with a $20 million donation to build a football venue to replace obsolete Ownby Stadium.
Still, annual donations in expendable gifts have gone from $1.2 million in 1994 to only $2.4 million last year and that hasn't kept pace with scholarship costs, which have risen from $4.2 million to $8.6 million over the same span.
TCU's budget, although 50 percent larger than SMU's, would rank at or near the bottom of the Big 12.
As both schools try to increase revenues, the irony of the timing isn't lost on Windegger.
“If TCU, Rice and SMU had spent the money then that they're spending now,” he says, “there would still be a Southwest Conference.”
The Forgotten Four: Rice & Houston
With rejection comes reflection
Dick Ellis has seen both sides of the Southwest Conference divorce.
As Baylor's athletic director in 1996, he guided the Bears' transition into the high-rolling Big 12. As an assistant to the AD at Rice, Ellis sees what becomes of the broken-hearted.
“I feel the bind,” Ellis said. “It's really been a scramble at Rice. It's interesting. Ten years later, I'm at a school that they're taking the money away from.”
Not that the Owls don't own a life vest, in this case, a $3 billion general endowment that keeps the school's athletic dreams afloat. And Rice's academic reputation remains an attention-grabber for degree-minded recruits.
Three miles away, in a very different situation, sits the University of Houston, also left behind when the SWC broke apart, despite its status as a state university. The other three state schools in the old SWC fraternity -- Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech -- all jumped to the Big 12.
The last school to enter the SWC -- the Cougars joined in 1972 -- UH has struggled to sustain respect, even from its fan base.
Bill Carr, the Cougars' AD a decade ago, contends that the only reason the SWC invited UH into the fold in the first place was to put limitations on them, to prevent the school's success as an independent in football and basketball from overshadowing theirs.
That attitude prevailed in the formation of the Big 12, Carr said.
“It's an extraordinary move, when three state universities take that action and leave behind a fourth,” Carr said. “That did irreparable damage to the University of Houston.”
Much of the damage UH did to itself.
While Rice, with its small enrollment and micro-alumni base, was never a viable option to head to the Big 12, UH had been a candidate to go to the Southeastern Conference only five years before the SWC breakup.
The Cougars wasted the chance through their own NCAA probation woes and competitive failings.
Carr said the school's football probation problems -- four probations since the 1970s -- wasn't the biggest drawback.
“More damaging,” he said, “was the lack of market penetration by the University of Houston in that big city of four million.”
In 1993, just five months before the breakup, the Cougars hosted Tulsa at the Astrodome and drew only 9,000. Carr said Houston audiences are more social in nature and simply aren't driven to support college teams.
“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo takes the place of college football,” Carr said. “The rodeo is to Houston as University of Florida football is to Gainesville.”
Dave Maggard, the school's AD, said UH has taken positive steps to recapture its former glories in football and basketball. He points to smart coaching hires, including Tom Penders, the former UT basketball coach who now runs the Cougars' tradition-rich program.
The school has started a new fund-raising program that raised $700,000 in 2003 and $2 million last year. UH's athletic department budget of $25million still requires a $9 million subsidy from the university.
Often bitter cross-city rivals, Rice and UH went separate ways in landing new conference affiliations. Rice headed for the Western Athletic Conference, a poor fit, largely because of travel costs.
“The first year we took a revenue hit and then we took an expense hit of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Rice AD Bobby May. “The net difference was close to a million dollars.”
The Owls developed a showcase sport in baseball. Rice won the WAC title every year it competed in the league and advanced to back-to-back College World Series in 2002 and 2003, winning the national title the second time.
But that couldn't stop a push by the school's faculty council one year later to reexamine whether Rice, facing a $10 million dollar athletic department deficit, should even have intercollegiate athletics.
Unlike UH, which has made only one significant facility upgrade, the Owls have tried to keep pace with a revamped baseball stadium and a basketball and volleyball practice facility.
This season the Owls change conferences again, opting to join UH in Conference USA.
“It's about as good a conference affiliation we can come up with for Rice,” May said.
THE BREAKUP BY THE NUMBERS
A look at how two former Southwest Conference schools fared financially in the first year after the league's collapse:
Baylor (Big 12) - $3 MILLION
Rice (WAC) - $600,000
*$1.45 MILLION - Conference revenue earned by each Southwest Conference school during the final year of the league's existence.
QUOTEPAD ON THE DEMISE OF THE SWC
“Listen here, there will always be a Southwest Conference.”
Baylor football coach, 1989
“As far as I'm concerned, it's a dead issue.”
SWC commissioner, on rumors of defections, 1989
“I'll bet by the year 2000, there will be changes in the Southwest Conference structure.”
Texas AD, 1989
“We feel the SEC is the kind of conference we'd like to be associated with. We feel we would fit in well with the SEC schools in a number of ways. Of course, we'd like to stay in the Southwest Conference, but we have to be realistic about our future.”
Houston AD, 1990
“I expect a major upheaval.”
Arkansas AD, 1990
“The SEC is the Iraq of the college football scene.”
after Arkansas departed, 1990
“It's like we had this herd of cattle going toward the cliff. We tried to head them off, but none of us were able to do it.”
“The media bludgeoned us over the head for many years. It was kind of like Chicken Little yelling, 'The sky is falling!'”
“(Arkansas, UT and A&M) kept demanding more and more of the money. Their stick kept getting bigger and bigger and everyone else's stick kept getting smaller and smaller. It ultimately tore the conference apart.”
former TCU football coach, September 1994
“It's like the Soviet Union. The ultimate reason for change was not simply ideology. It was economics. When the numbers don't work, things change.”
Houston AD, September 1994
“I always said there were two things I thought I'd never see in my lifetime. One was the Berlin Wall come down. The other was the Southwest Conference come down.”
Former SMU AD, 2005
ON THE BIG 12'S FORMATION
“If you look at the football teams that have come out of here and the number of Final Four basketball teams, this could very well be the premier conference in the nation. It is certainly the equal of the Pac-10 and Big Ten and clearly the equal of the Southeastern Conference.”
Kansas State president, February 1994