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Southwest Conference

 

The Southwest Conference (SWC) was an NCAA Division I college athletic conference in the United States that existed from 1914 to 1996. Composed primarily of schools from Texas, at various times the conference included schools from Oklahoma and Arkansas as well.

The first organizational meeting of the conference was set to be held on April 30, 1914. The date was changed because representatives from every school could not make it then. It was ultimately held on May 5 and 7, 1914 at the Oriental Hotel in Dallas, Texas. It was chaired by Bellmont, who originally wanted Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi to join the conference as well, but they declined to do so. The Southwest Intercollegiate Athletic Conference became an official body on December 8, 1914, at a formal meeting at the Rice Hotel in Houston.

Phillips University was a conference member for one year (1920). Oklahoma left in 1919 to join the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association (later known as the Big Eight Conference), and was followed by Oklahoma A&M in 1925. However, the series between Texas and Oklahoma would continue as a non-conference matchup in the annual Red River Rivalry game held in Dallas. From 1925 until 1991, the University of Arkansas would be the only conference member not located within the state of Texas.

By 1925, the conference's name was shortened to simply Southwest Conference. After its organizational years, the conference settled into regularly scheduled meetings among its members, and began to gain stature nationwide. The SWC would be guided by seven commissioners, the first of whom, P. W. St. Clair, was appointed in 1938. In 1940, the conference took control of the then five-year-old Cotton Bowl Classic, which further established the prestige of both the bowl and the conference. Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) joined the SWC in 1958, followed by the University of Houston for the 1976 season (Houston won the SWC football championship in its first season in the league).

Since its first Cotton Bowl Classic and lasting until 1995, the Southwest Conference Champion automatically received an invitation as the "host" team in the Cotton Bowl Classic game on New Year's Day in Dallas, Texas. Opponents usually were the runners-up from the Big 8 Conference or the Southeastern Conference, although independents Penn State and Notre Dame were also often featured. From the 1940s onward, the Cotton Bowl Classic was counted among the four major bowl games, and often had national championship implications. However, in the 1990s, the game declined in importance, largely because of the decline of SWC prominence. In 1977, Notre Dame became the last team to win a national championship in the Cotton Bowl Classic by beating Texas in the January 1978 game.

The Texas Longhorns baseball program under coach Cliff Gustafson won national titles in 1975 and 1983, as well as titles under Bibb Falk in 1949 and 1950. The Arkansas Razorbacks also fielded fine teams that advanced to the College World Series. The Hogs finished 2nd in 1979, 3rd in 1985 and 5th in both the 1987 and 1989 seasons. The Hogs have continued this tradition since moving to the SEC, reaching the CWS four times under Arkansas alumnus Dave Van Horn, and were the 2018 national runners-up. Texas A&M rose to power in the late 1980s, going 58-5 in 1989 before losing twice in the regional championship round on its home field to LSU. The Aggies reached the College World Series in 1993. Rice began its ascent to college baseball's elite in the conference's final years under coach Wayne Graham, reaching the CWS in 1997, the year after the conference disbanded.

The SWC's performance in football declined precipitously. The last SWC Football Champion to win a bowl game was Texas A&M, who beat Notre Dame in the 1988 Cotton Bowl Classic by a score of 35-10. Since then, the final eight SWC champions lost in their bowl games. After SMU's second-place finish in most polls in 1982, SWC programs usually were not serious contenders for the national title. Texas had strong teams in 1981, 1983, 1990, and 1995. Arkansas had strong teams in 1988 and 1989, and Texas A&M was strong from 1985 to 1995, but by the end of their respective seasons none were able to remain in the national championship hunt.

The Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences sold their rights to ABC. Most of the rest of the Division I-A football programs (what is now called the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision) chose to sell their rights together through an organization called the College Football Association to ABC and CBS. The primary function of the CFA was to negotiate television broadcast rights for its member conferences and independent colleges.

In 1990, Arkansas announced its departure for the Southeastern Conference, marking the beginning of the end for the Southwest Conference. In March 1994, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech accepted invitations to join with the members of the Big Eight Conference to form the Big 12 Conference. Soon afterward, SMU, TCU, and Rice accepted invitations to join the Western Athletic Conference, while Houston became a charter member of Conference USA. In May 1996, after the completion of championship matches in baseball and track & field, the Southwest Conference was officially dissolved.


 



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