How the Texas Longhorns Diminished College Football in Texas

Dave DeBlasioCorrespondent IApril 14, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 5:  Texas Longhorn mascot Bevo stands on the sidelines before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Cowboys Stadium on December 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Butler's run to the NCAA championship game must terrify the Texas Longhorns.  After all, the tightly constructed autocracy UT has established in Texas and its extrapolation across the USA to the other fiefdoms of college sports only allows the upstarts to hurl  a few darts at the monoliths.  All ended well with Duke's victory. A close call, but money, power, prestige, and position prevailed again.

The Texas Longhorns enjoy the adoration of many fans across the Lone Star State. The number has been growing steadily as a new generation of athletes and fans, oblivious to the separate programs but equal status days of the Southwest Conference, have no reference point for the glory days of TCU, SMU, and the University of Houston.

Even  boomers have a hard time remembering Rice's glory days. There is documentation that they did indeed occur.

So how did UT accomplish its air-tight take over of major college sports in Texas? UT's encouragement of Arkansas to flee the nine-team SWC is well-documented by Tobi Writes on Bleacher Report.  Its hyper focus on the bottom line guided the process of every step of the way.

All all, the University of Texas is now the wealthiest athletic program in US history.

The Longhorns have always had braggadocio fueled by a massive dose of self-esteem. They easily identified flaws in six of its SWC brothers in the back room deals and golf course liaisons that characterize the hedge fund tactics of college football's power brokers.

As has been well-documented, the Horns viewed the Aggies as non-negotiable baggage they needed to take with them. Once Arkansas bolted to the SEC, Texas saw an escape route paved with dollar bills.

Just who were the six programs the Longhorns wanted to chug from the back of the bus?

Texas Tech way out in Lubbock was only admitted to the SWC in 1970 and had just two shared SWC titles to their name. Small stadium in a mid-size city, the Raiders were about to be road kill. Texas politics saved them.

Then there was the Baylor problem. Located in conservative, teetotaler-heaven Waco far from the liberal, party city of Austin, the Bears played in Floyd Casey Stadium, a nice mid-major venue which rarely sold out. Baylor had never been capable of generating the revenue streams the Horns were looking for. Texas politics reared its head again and gave a chance of re-birth to the Bears.

TCU had established a competitive program in Fort Worth. But the Horned Frogs, like Baylor, had a small stadium that rarely sold out, making them a financial liability to carry forward to a new conference.

The Horned Frogs were members of the probation trio. Bans from TV appearances and bowl games hurt the bottom line for everyone.

Two other programs reeked of NCAA probation–SMU and Houston. The Death Penalty did its job on the Mustang program and contributed its fair share to the demise of the SWC. The Ponies' influential backers, who might have stopped Texas' dismantling of the SWC, were muted by allegations of financial payoffs dating back to 1971.

Although the Houston Cougars did not join the SWC until 1977 and only lasted in the conference 21 years, the Longhorns learned to despise the upstarts from mud city, the demeaning label applied to the Bayou City for much of the early 20th century.

After all, UH administered beatings on the Horns four of five times between between 1987 and 1991 outscoring them 220-123. The Cougars did not have their own stadium and, like SMU at the time, depended on a municipal site for home games.

UT claims UH did not play fair. Although alleged to have begun paying players as early as 1971, UH received NCAA probation in 1988 forbidding TV appearances and bowl games. The conference image was again tarnished and money lost. The Cougars represented a huge financial risk to the Horns as well as being a renegade program.

What to do with small, honest Rice, perennial bottom feeders in the SWC? Texas has maintained its football series with Rice using the imbalanced two-for-one format.

Rice provides UT with cover by demonstrating the Longhorns are willing to engage the group of schools it deserted. The Horns gain a venue for its many fans in Houston at Reliant Stadium every third year. With just 21 victories and 91 losses in the series, Rice gains a much needed payday and UT adds another patsy to its already light as a feather non-conference schedule.

In short, Texas played its hand like a colonial empire builder.  Pushing three of the SWC's four private schools out of the way, abandoning Houston, and accommodating the inevitability of having to take Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor with it, Texas set its sites on commandeering the new Big Twelve Conference and turning it into the  kingdom of Texas.

Fans at Nebraska and Missouri seethe at the unfair advantages the Longhorns have built into their Big 12 contract.

Texas claims it has no interest in the Big Ten; Nebraska and Missouri appear ready to jump at the first offer.

Empire building always has its downside. Texas' power grab has had a deleterious effect on college football in the Lone Star State.

The three programs the Horns were forced to take with them have failed to achieve any long-lasting success in the Big Twelve. Texas Tech almost made it in 2008 with Coach Leach, but the Tuberville tenure, based on his pattern at Auburn and changes to the Red Raider offense, does not look promising. Texas A&M is in a free-for-all and Art Briles is yet to work his magic on the Bears as he did on the Houston Cougars.

A far worse fate as evolved for the four institutions left behind. TCU has had two great seasons in a row. Had the Frogs been in the Big Twelve, wouldn't they have played for BCS title in 2009?

SMU and UH are stuck in the muck which is Conference USA. No matter what strides they make to move forward, Conference USA traps them in a dosey-doe that catapults them to the line behind the six BCS conferences.

Rice has had two bowl seasons since joining Conference USA, landing in the Texas Bowl in 2008 but falling in typical fashion to 2-10 in 2009.

One program is exalted as the others are diminished.  Are there fans yearning for a return to the SWC.


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