Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Mystique of the Southwest Conference, Part 3

The Mystique of the Southwest Conference, Part 3

By Enju Aihara
The Daily Magi
September 23, 2071

The 1980s saw many of the conference's athletic programs hit by recruiting scandals and NCAA probations. The only programs to escape probation in the 1980s were Arkansas, Baylor, and Rice. Because of repeated major violations, in 1985, the SMU Mustangs football program became only the third in NCAA history to receive the so-called "Death Penalty" (after Kentucky basketball in 1952-53 and Southwestern Louisiana basketball from 1973 to 1975). The NCAA canceled SMU's 1987 season, and limited it to seven road games for 1988. However, nearly all of the school's lettermen transferred elsewhere, forcing SMU to keep its football program shuttered for 1988 as well. SMU also remained on probation until 1990. At that time, NCAA rules prohibited schools on probation from appearing on live television. As a result, the conference's market share in television coverage dwindled. The SWC's performance in football declined precipitously. The final eight SWC champions lost in their bowl games. After SMU's second-place finish in most polls in 1982, SWC programs usually were not serious contenders for the national title. Texas had strong teams in 1981, 1983 and 1990, Arkansas had strong teams in 1988 and 1989, and Texas A&M was strong in 1992, but by the end of their respective seasons none were able to remain in the national championship hunt.

On June 27, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma that the NCAA could not punish its membership for selling their media content. As a result, individual schools and athletic conferences were freed to negotiate contracts on their own behalf. The Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences sold their rights to ABC. Most of the rest of the Division I-A football programs (what is now called the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision) chose to sell their rights together through an organization called the College Football Association to ABC and CBS. The primary function of the CFA was to negotiate television broadcast rights for its member conferences and independent colleges.

By 1990, the television landscape had changed and a number of the stronger programs saw opportunities for better deals outside of the CFA. Notre Dame left the CFA and sold their home game broadcast rights to NBC. When the Southeastern Conference invited the University of Arkansas and the University of South Carolina to join the conference in 1990, it created shockwaves across the CFA. The other conferences in the CFA correctly assumed the SEC made these additions to create a better TV product with the idea of leaving the CFA.

The SEC represented one of the more valuable assets in the CFA. It seemed likely if the SEC departed, the other conferences could have quite a difficult time securing good TV deals. In February 1994, the Southeastern Conference announced that they would be leaving the CFA and negotiate independently for a television deal that covered SEC schools only. This led The Dallas Morning News to proclaim that "the College Football Association as a television entity is dead". In 1995, the SEC and the Big East broke from the CFA, signing a national deal with CBS. The SEC would earn a staggering $95 million from the deal. More significantly, this change in television contracts ultimately would lead to significant realignment of college conferences.

In 1990, Arkansas announced it would leave for the Southeastern Conference, marking the beginning of the end for the conference. In March 1994, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech accepted invitations to join with the members of the Big Eight Conference to form the Big 12 Conference. Soon afterward, SMU, TCU, and Rice accepted invitations to join the Western Athletic Conference, while Houston became a charter member of Conference USA. In May 1996, after the completion of championship matches in baseball and track & field, the Southwest Conference was officially dissolved.

Over the course of its 82-year history, teams of the Southwest Conference garnered 64 recognized national championships in collegiate sports. In 1997, the official records of the conference from 1914 to 1996 were moved from Dallas to the campus of Texas Tech University, becoming part of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library. The archive also contains an extensive assortment of images and memorabilia from each member university.

On July 1, 2071, at a special Big 12 meeting at SMU's Collins Center, where the Mustang football team's 1987 death penalty was announced, the greatest news to hit Texas in decades was broadcast by all the major networks. "I would like to finally announce," said Big XII commissioner H. Jacob "Jake" Crawford, a former Mitakihara Magi right end and Houston Texan from Keller, Tex., "that after more than seven decades, in 2072, the Southwest Conference will return!" The reborn Southwest Conference will begin play in 2072 and replace the Big 12. Current members of the Big XII that were not members of the old Southwest Conference have applied for membership in other conferences in Division I FBS. The headquarters of the Southwest Conference will be in the same place as the soon-to-be-defunct Big 12: Irving, Tex.

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