Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Mystique of the Southwest Conference, Part 1

The Mystique of the Southwest Conference, Part 1

By Enju Aihara
The Daily Magi
September 21, 2071

The Southwest Conference (SWC) was a college athletic conference in the United States from 1914 to 1996. It consisted of schools mostly in the state of Texas and one in Arkansas, with historical members in Oklahoma. The charter members of the conference were Baylor University, Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University), Rice University, Southwestern University, Texas A&M University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Texas.

L. Theo Bellmont, the University of Texas athletic director sent out questionnaires to schools in Texas and neighboring states to gauge their interest as to if they would be willing to be part of and organize an athletic conference. By March 1, 1914 a number of schools had responded favorably to the idea. The first organizational meeting of the conference was set to be held on April 30, 1914. The date was changed due to the fact that 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 L. Theo Bellmont. Originally, Bellmont 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. 

Its early years saw fluctuation in membership; Southwestern (a comparatively smaller school) dropped out of the conference in 1916, and Southern Methodist University (SMU) joined in 1918; Texas Christian University (TCU) became a member in 1923. Rice University left the conference in 1916, only to re-join in 1918. 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 an out-of-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).

The conference celebrated its glory football years in the 1960s. Texas won the 1963 National Championship, and Arkansas won a National Championship in 1964 in the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and Helms Athletic Foundation (HAF) polls. In 1969, Texas won another National Championship by beating #2-ranked Arkansas 15-14 in the regular season's final game (dubbed the "Big Shootout"). The 1969 Arkansas-Texas game in Fayetteville, Arkansas, attended by President Richard Nixon, is usually counted among the greatest college football games ever played. Texas also won the 1970 United Press International (UPI) National Championship (i.e., the coaches' poll), which until 1974 was awarded prior to the bowl games. Texas lost the Cotton Bowl Classic following the 1970 season to Notre Dame by a score of 24-11, giving the Associated Press (AP) Championship to Nebraska after they beat LSU by a score of 17-12 in the Orange Bowl.

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