Southwest Conference Revisionists History Beware

I’m seeing a lot of comments about the schedule reminding some here about the good ol’ SWC days when we played some of these schools on a yearly basis.

People are excited as they should be. Hell, I’m excited. So much so that I’m looking to add to my season ticket count from 4 to 8 seats per game.

But let’s look at things a little closer and see if this whole SWC nostalgic rhetoric is even close to what we’re going to experience in 2023 and possibly 2024.

Houston Cougars Football joined the SWC in 1976. They retained a membership until the SWC dissolved in 1996.

That makes 20 years as a member of this illustrious (I use that term lightly) conference. Members during our tenure in the SWC:

Arkansas (joined SEC in 1991)
Texas Tech
Texas A&M

So let me break this down. We played 3 former SWC schools the last two seasons (Tech, Rice, and SMU) and we stand to play 5 schools this season (Rice OOC, Baylor, Tech, Texas, TCU IC).

That is pretty exciting stuff as far as taking a trip down memory lane with all these old matchups. However, for some who were introduced to football in the 80s as kids, the SWC was mired in scandal. This led to tv blackouts, reduced scholarships, probation, bowl ineligibility, and a death penalty.

1988 was the last victory the SWC Champion had in a bowl game. Yes, that’s right. Not one bowl victory or even a sniff of National Championship contention was is the SWC’s cards for the final 8 seasons. The highest ranking received for a school from the SWC for the final ten seasons was 7th (Texas A&M 1992). The most excited I could get about the Cougars was a tv blackout, bowl ineligible year in 1990. For me, the SWC was a diseased ridden league that only 3 out of its 9 members escaped without sanctions levied by the NCAA (Rice, Baylor, and Arkansas).

For those who are a generation ahead of me, you were a witness to the glory days of Houston, Arkansas, SMU, and a couple of Texas and Aggie teams that knocked on the door for that coveted title as SWC members… Better times and worth remembering.

Revisionist history seems to have a hold on some people here. I know it’s going to be the theme for us going into the Big XII this year. Old footage from the archives is going to be pulled up when we play Texas, TCU, Baylor, and Tech. There are going to be a lot of references to the SWC in opening monologues from commentators on game day. And what I’ll be thinking about when that old footage from the 80s and 90s is pulled up and talked about is a corrupt conference dying a slow painful death from 1986-1996.

Again, loving the matchups we haven’t witnessed in nearly 3 decades, but can do without the SWC talk.

The Big 12 is much better than anything that conference ever had to offer.

Revisionists history be damned.


What’s past is prologue.


Yes, you are correct.

When we joined the SWC it was the best football conference in America. Texas, Houston, Arkansas, Baylor, A&M and Tech were all very good. You could have argued that the Big 8 was just as good but for my money the SWC was the best.

Everyone focuses on the cheating that did the SWC in. That was the reason given but what really did us in was the oil bust and the subsequent economic depression in Texas. That depression rivaled the Great Depression but it was centered in Texas and not the whole nation.

Paying players didn’t bother anybody. Heck a common phrase in recruiting was “come on its the SWC, you know we pay top dollar”. What happened is that the oil depression drastically reduced our ability to pay top dollar. So kids started going elsewhere. It used to be a kid never left Texas unless it was to OU or occasionally Notre Dame.

The other major dumb decision is that we didn’t embrace ESPN. Instead of going all in and partnering with ESPN (which ESPN really wanted) we went with Raycom. The leadership at the time didn’t think an all sports channel had any chance.

The SWC was great. The oil bust and its decision with ESPN drove a dagger into its heart.


Excellent point. I never did tie the economic downturn to the conference being a complete sh*thole for the last 10 years.

Like I said, it was 1988 when I started watching college football regularly. I remember some news highlights of the Coogs in ‘89 and my dad talking about how good they were that season, but we couldn’t watch them on TV. I didn’t understand it until I was a little older.

I remember we would literally drive down to Rice stadium an hour before kick off, walk up and buy end zone seats 3 rows deep for the Texas game. And we would go down to the field afterwards and talk to the players.

In ‘94 as a sophomore in high school, I attended every Houston game except for Texas Tech. It was such a sad site. Those 20 extra scholarships being pulled from us for a couple years finally did us in as a program. I hated the SWC for what it turned us into.


Yes in my opinion if we had not had the Texas depression and we had embraced ESPN when we had the chance, the SWC would still be alive. Inevitably the SWC would have merged with the Big 8 and it would have been the SWC or the Big 16.

Texas had a legitimate gripe that TCU, Houston, and Rice were not investing in their programs and were living off the backs of Texas, Arkansas and A&M. Ok that was true about TCU and Rice for a long time but it was only true about Houston after about 1983. Our donor base was hit hard by the Texas depression. At our zenith, we were “recruiting” with the best of them. The reason the NCAA (ie Texas) went after SMU was because SMU’s donor base was still very wealthy in the 80s because their money was old money. The old saying was “there is money and then there is SMU money”. Texas was legitimately worried that they couldn’t keep up with SMU. Austin was hit very hard by the Texas depression.

So the convenient story that cheating killed the SWC is not really that accurate. Lack of disposable income by the donor bases because of the Texas depression was closer to accurate. But even that was more nuanced because it didn’t hit all the schools the same. The Texas depression hit the University of Houston the hardest in my opinion. That coupled with Jackie Sherill and Ron Meyers heavily recruiting black athletes, destroyed us.


You omit one point, maybe the biggest point. They were multiple power conferences in the 80’s the SWC was one of them. Look at the National Champions list from 1996 to 1970.

1996 Florida AP, FWAA, NFF,USA/CNN
1995 Nebraska AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1994 Nebraska AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1993 Florida St. AP, FWAA,NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1992 Alabama AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1991 Washington, Miami (Fla.) FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI,AP
1990 Colorado, Georgia Tech FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, AP, UPI
1989 Miami (Fla.) AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1988 Notre Dame AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1987 Miami (Fla.) AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1986 Penn St. AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1985 Oklahoma AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1984 Brigham Young AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1983 Miami (Fla.) AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1982 Penn St. AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/CNN, UPI
1981 Clemson AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1980 Georgia AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1979 Alabama AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1978 Alabama, Southern California AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1977 Notre Dame AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1976 Pittsburgh AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1975 Oklahoma AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1974 Southern California, Oklahoma FWAA, NFF, UPI, AP
1973 Notre Dame, Alabama AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1972 Southern California AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1971 Nebraska AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
1970 Nebraska, Texas, Ohio St. AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI, NFF

The SWC was extremely competitive and maybe too competitive. Every powerhouse in those days cheated to get the best players. Some schools got sanctioned (madcowsu and the ncaa in bed together)and some did not. Do you think Alabama or USC were not cheating in those days? Off course they were. They just did not get caught. The NIL today is making cheating legal. This is what it is. Today we have two mega conferences with the sec and big10. That is highly dangerous for the future of the sport. The bigger they get the more pressure they will put on the cfp.

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The SWC was a top-shelf conference that slid into hard times (much of it self-imposed) at the wrong time.

Ultimately, though, I do not believe team with 8 of its 9 teams in Texas – half of them private schools with limited student populations - was going to remain viable (as a top-shelf conference) in the TV era. I’m honestly skeptical that even a 16 team conference with eight of the teams in Texas would have been stable.

The failure was not being ready for the tidal wave, and for taking so long to get serious about things.

Where I respectfully disagree with you is Texas isn’t like any other state. Yes it is one state but it is so big and so football crazy that it could support 8 major teams.

TCU and Houston have proven that it can support 6 major programs. It is only a matter of time that SMU and probably UTSA are added somewhere.

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This is why our geographical location is paramount. Some remember what Barry Switzer said.

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I would point out a couple of things:

  1. Texas’s population in 1995 was barely more than half of what it is today. How many P5 schools the state can support today should be higher. Now, it’s possible that if the SWC had stuck together or a Big 16 had formulated the state would have grown into being able to support the eight schools, but…

  2. It’s not just an issue of the number of schools from a recruiting and even fan standpoint, it’s a question of market duplication and regionality. You can have six P5 programs (possibly more) but it would be an issue for any conference to have all six of them under their roof in a 12-team conference. How many is the optimal amount is going to vary from situation to situation, but I have difficulty seeing it as more than four for a P5 conference (and I think it took specific circumstances – namely the conference’s need of a foothold in the city of Houston specifically) to justify going back up to four in '21.

So going back to 1995 and a state population under 20m and the Big 8 and so on, having UT and A&M probably meant the optimal number of Texas schools was actually two before you start hitting diminishing returns. (According to some reports – though contradicted by others – the Big 8 really did just want the two.)

If that had happened, the SWC would have been down to six schools and potentially in a place to survive. You could have taken the remaining six plus six schools from the WAC (BYU, Utah, SDSU, Colorado State, Air Force, and UNM say) and you’d have something potentially pretty good… but even then if I were consulting I would advise to start a new conference taking four or maybe even just three SWC schools, depending on other options and how much you wanted to get to 12. (Without UT or A&M you do want more than two, I think.)

In any event, I’ve looked at it from 100 angles and in almost none of the scenarios do I think it makes sense to stock so many schools in Texas. the closest I can get is the above scenario (six SWC and six WAC) and keeping all six just so that you can keep the SWC brand. That might be worth bringing SMU and Rice as #5 and #6.

All sectors were hit hard in the 80s yet somehow the Big 8, SEC, PAC, and Big10 were able to escape it without much damage. And this came during a time when the TV landscape was changing and, as you stated, the SWC didn’t embrace the change and get out in front of it.

It’s not all on the oil crunch. It was poor decision making, people stabbing each other in the back, and putting all their eggs in one basket.

The SWC would have survived if anyone was forward thinking enough and loyal to one another.

If your whole financial model for building successful football programs was dependent on oil money, then you deserved to fail.

Good riddance to that sh*t show of a conference.


The SWC wasn’t the best football conference in America. It wasn’t even close. When we got our invite in 1971, yes, UT had just won back-to-back titles, but the Big Ten (which actually had 10 members back then!) had won titles 4 of the last 6 years (note that split titles were relatively common at the time). The league’s bottom-feeders were already dreadful by then. The conference was Texas, Arkansas, and the 6 dwarves until SMU and A&M decided to try and get it together in the 80s.

You are as wrong as you can be. In 1976 the other big conferences were the Pac 8, Big 8, Big 10 and the SEC. The Big10, Pac 8 and SEC has two schools that were any good. The Big 8 and the SWC had numerous schools that were great.

Anything is better than watching NC State beat us on that last second shot for the championship every freaking time we play on CBS. :roll_eyes:


By 1976, the SWC’s last National Championship that they’d ever win was 5 years in the past. The SEC and Big 8 had better non-conference records every single year from 1971 to 1975, and the SWC had a Bowl record of 4-7-1, which is certainly whelming.

Back in the day, I didn’t give a damn about anything but the SWC as far as sports was concerned.


The SWC was a wonderful time but was ridden by scandal. Lots of factors so no need to rehash. But growing up in the 80s, the rivalries were so much fun. SWC game of the week and radio or driving to games. Amazing college football times. People forget the world was very different than today. ESPN only started in 79 and was still trying to gain traction as was cable. There were national games with ND Michigan USC etc but the world wasn’t connected then like it is now. That time and what it was won’t be replicated even with us joining the Big 12 with some former rivals. But you cannot take away the magic of living through that period.


These are littered on YouTube from all years and I remember being at most of them.


They did.

Bob Bullock forced them to take his two alma maters, Tech and Baylor.

UH got left high and dry.