The University of Houston, The SWC, and The Big 12
(A Condensed History in Response to Questions of a Young Student)
April 8, 2006
UH has always been the little engine – that could! We first started athletics shortly after WWII when the school exploded with GI’s enrolling after the war, and many of those new students started demanding that we field athletic teams (imagine that! – students demanding athletics!).
When we first started, we had no equipment; our first basketball team actually started with hand-me-downs from the old Ellington Air Force Base. And we had no place to play; so we played in high school stadiums.
Our first really “big-time” opponents were people like Sam Houston State. And, then I remember when we got a game with William and Mary – man, we thought we were really in the big time then!
Of course, none of the SWC teams would play us; they all publicly declared that we were nowhere near ready to play on their level. And Rice – at that time under Coach Jess Neely – fought us every way they could; they simply wanted no competition in the city. In time that changed, and we seem to have good relations with them now – well, up to a point!
So, we just plugged along, always with little or no money. We quietly recruited the players left over after the SWC teams and others had picked the field over pretty well. But, we had great, hard-working coaches, who had an uncanny ability to take little-regarded players out of high school and turn them into monsters!
Since the SWC just would not play us, we kept to ourselves, always complaining of course, and played the best teams we could sign from other areas. And then we started beating some of those teams. As we did so, the SWC became more and more wary of us.
Eventually, Daryl Royal, the famous coach of Texas, became convinced that what they needed to do was invite us into the SWC, where they could better control our recruiting. So, Texas used their dominating influence to persuade the SWC to invite us into the league. And they made us wait 5 years before we could be eligible to compete for the championships – to give time for that “influence” to take hold.
So, the year before we could compete for the championship, that wily old genius, Coach Bill Yeoman, red shirted everybody in sight, and we went 2-8; the rest of the SWC licked their chops in anticipation of devouring the Coogs the next year.
So, the next year, we promptly won the championship – then went on to beat Maryland in the Cotton Bowl. We were promptly investigated by the NCAA, thanks to the influence and charges from our friends in Austin. So, the next year, we were not eligible for the championship again, being on probation.
The next year we won the championship again – then lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on the very last play of the game (literally), on a pass which was caught out of bounds – but allowed to stand by the blind refs; no way were they going to call that play against Notre Dame on national television!
The next year we won the championship again – then beat Nebraska on a pass play with about 12 seconds left on the clock. I have always thought that God felt a little guilty about that Notre Dame loss – and made up for it that day! Well, I know others might think that is a bit much, but that is my explanation; others can dispute it if they wish.
Now, mind you, I have only been talking about football; our exploits in basketball were even more spectacular. There was a time when we were really the only serious basketball school in Texas. So much so, that by the time we were admitted into the SWC, the other members were scrambling to catch up – in the quality of their teams, and their facilities. Believe me, if it were not for their fear of the Coogs, those other schools would still be playing basketball on the high school level and in ugly boxes of gyms!
And a huge reason for all the success outlined above was because we decided to integrate our teams. Our black players have been absolutely spectacular. Before we decided to integrate, all the major teams in Texas were playing only white players (I know that seems ridiculous now – and it was!), but it is the truth. And, believe me, many alumni of those other schools have never forgiven us – even though they have all integrated on a major scale by now. I don’t know how many years we endured their racial taunts. We just smiled and continued to kick their tails!
And we integrated far more than our sports teams. Our school has one of the most diverse student bodies in the entire country. And we have achieved this by simply opening our doors and welcoming all comers. Meanwhile, uta and atm – and others – loudly proclaim in public their increasing efforts to recruit minorities in order to meet federal guidelines – and to qualify for federal grants; but somehow their goals always seem to come up short. Just bad luck, I am sure! Right.
Now, let me explain something to you in a very simple way. You wondered why we were not invited into the Big 12, while Baylor was; I’m sure you also wondered about Texas Tech. It is really very simple. Uta and atm were the ones who arranged to have only 4 schools from the old SWC invited to join the old Big 8 to form the new Big 12. Actually, they tried to limit the expansion to only themselves. But, they were told, in no uncertain terms, by Governor Ann Richards, who was from Waco, that they were going nowhere unless they included Baylor.* That is the reason Baylor was included – the only reason!
And, then there was Lt. Governor Bob Bullock, from Lubbock; he told the two mavericks the same thing - unless they also included Texas Tech. That is the only reason Tech was invited.
And uta and atm made very sure we were left out. I’m sure they would have killed the whole thing if others had demanded our inclusion.
And in addition to all those accomplishments, we haven’t even mentioned one of the greatest of all. We are responsible for all the money being made today by universities all over the country on televised basketball games! It was our idea – well, to be fair, it was the idea of Coach Guy V. Lewis, that great coach who can’t seem to find his way into the basketball Hall of Fame (no, make that “Hall of Shame”).
And then there are the various end zone celebrations - so popular that some of them have now been outlawed. That, too, happened first at the University of Houston. Remember the inimitable Elmo Wright? He was the first!
And we used to dunk the basketball so much and so effectively that the NCAA outlawed the shot for awhile – just to stop Coach Lewis’ best shot; no one else could stop it!
So we have set all kinds of national records, won numerous Olympic gold medals and many championships, excelled in every sport – all the while with less money than any of the other big schools in the state, while fighting off the bigger schools and all their money and political influence.
Quite an accomplishment – by any standards!
• Footnote, added on 2-17-2013: Many have disputed that Ann Richards was to blame for Baylor’s inclusion; they say that the primary mover for that was David Sibley, state senator from the Waco area, aided by Bob Bullock, who had degrees from both Texas Tech and Baylor. That might well be true, but it is a fact that Ann Richards was widely blamed, and she almost certainly had a hand in the matter.