How the Southwest Conference Dominated and Died
In 1914, a football conference that was to become one of the most scandal-plagued in the nation was formed in Dallas, Texas.
The Southwest Conference dominated the competition in its early years, but 82 years later, it was gone.
The league was a three-state championship factory for years. But by 1996, the dream had fallen apart, and a leading conference in college football was defunct.
This league churned out great coaches and players, leaving a lasting mark on history. But its fall was the most embarrassing in college sports.
The SWC began with a membership consisting of Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Rice, Southwestern, Texas and Texas A&M.
It was a Texas-heavy league and became more so in 1918 when SMU joined the conference. TCU followed in 1923.
There were a few departures as well, as Southwestern, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all left, but the league remained strong.
This was a powerful conference destined for dominance.
Completing the Roster
What was a popular regional league that occasionally danced in the national spotlight took a huge leap in 1941. That was the first year the Cotton Bowl featured the Southwest Conference champion in a game that received national exposure and helped to put the conference on the map.
In 1958, Texas Tech joined the conference, and by 1976, Houston had as well.
This was a loaded lineup, and there was nothing that opposing conferences could do to keep up. Coaches like "Bear" Bryant, Dana X. Bible, Darrell Royal, Frank Broyles, Hayden Fry and Gene Stallings, to name a few, walked the conference sidelines.
Doak Walker and Davey O’Brien played in the league. Yes, the same guys who had trophies named after them.
This league was dominant for years because it had the best coaches and players. The teams consistently faced top talent in conference games, which prepared them for success against teams on the national stage.
The rosters were always full of playmakers, the best that the state of Texas and the surrounding states had to offer. Players from other parts of the country were also drawn to the success of the SWC schools.
Football was becoming truly a national sport, and the SWC was the best that could be offered.
But after an 82-year run that produced 10 national titles, non one was prepared for how hard and fast it all came to an end.
The Fall at the Hands of the Death Penalty
The SWC was full of top talent. Four programs had won national titles. It seemed that every school in the conference could attract any recruit it wanted anywhere in the country.
But something was awry.
There was too much talent being funnelled into the conference, and there started to be accusations about recruiting irregularities at a number of schools. In the 1980s, nearly every SWC program received some type of NCAA sanction.
Television bans were in effect, and revenue was being lost. The SWC was hurting, but the problem was about to get worse.
The one program being blasted the most was SMU. It's fall led to the death of the conference.
The SMU Link
From 1974 to 1985, the SMU football program was sanctioned five times. A once bottom feeder had become an explosive powerhouse in the 1980s, and it soon became clear why.
After receiving much scrutiny from the NCAA, the Mustang program came crashing down in 1986.
Will SMU be the last school to get the Death Penalty?
An investigation by John Sparks with WFAA-TV in Dallas led to the fall. He interviewed a former SMU player named David Stanley who had been kicked out of the program in 1984. He alleged payments to himself and other players during their time with the Mustangs.
The NCAA investigated after Sparks' report and in 1987 shut down the SMU program, handing out the first death penalty in college football history.
The SMU program was now done, and the conference was headed for insolvency. Already struggling for revenue, with the demise of the SMU program, things spiralled out of control.
By 1991, Arkansas jumped to the SEC, and the end was in sight. The SEC and Big Ten were taking over the landscape and leaving the SWC in the dust.
In 1996, the conference dissolved, as its remaining teams fled to other conferences.
And college football was forever changed by the fall of this once powerful league.
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