SEC Conference

The dying days of the SWC


SWC tombstoneBy Brad Townsend | Staff Writer

Published September 4, 2015

Both were head coaches, Dykes at Texas Tech and Rossley at SMU, when the SWC’s eight remaining schools opened the league’s final football season 20 years ago this week.

Dykes, 77, sloshes tobacco juice in the golf cart while amusing Rossley, 69, with anecdotes from the SWC’s better days. Dykes, though, sounds somber when thoughts turn to the league’s demise.

“It’s like a good friend dying,” he says. “You hate it and there’s not anything you can do about it, but you darn sure can have great memories.”

Formed in 1914, the SWC was Division I college football’s fifth-oldest league. For most of its 81 seasons, it was formidable.

It limped and wheezed, however, through its waning years — weakened by some schools’ woeful records and fan apathy; impaired by limited TV exposure and revenue; mortally wounded by scandals and probations.

Sonny Dykes

Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes (1993 File Photo/The Associated Press)

Death was so inevitable, especially after Arkansas’ 1992 escape to the Southeastern Conference, that the SWC actually planned its 1995-96 athletic-year cremation. That is, if a politically-charged, back-stabbing family feud can be defined as planning.

In March of 1994, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor accepted invitations to merge with Big Eight Conference members and form the Big 12, starting in 1996.

Discarded SMU, TCU and Rice found refuge with the Western Athletic Conference. Houston latched on to a new league, Conference USA.

“I’d been a Southwest Conference person since I arrived in 1953,” says Frank Windegger, who spent 45 years at TCU as student-athlete, baseball coach (1959-75) and athletic director (1975-1997). “That tore me up pretty good when that happened.”

The SWC’s final football season began with six nonconference games on Saturday, September 2, 1995 with nostalgia, animosity and awkwardness — feelings that would magnify when conference play commenced four weeks later.

Texas A&M carried into the season a record 29 straight conference games without a loss, a No. 3 national ranking and potential to become the SWC’s first unbeaten national champion since Texas in 1969.

Not that SWC brethren felt collegial about the Aggies’ prospects.

“I don’t see how A&M winning is going to help us,” Houston coach Kim Helton said. “If they win all their games, I could see it being a value to our conference. But since there is no conference, I can’t see A&M’s winning a championship being of any value whatsoever.”

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During its first 100 years, college football’s landscape largely was regionalized, but that changed with the advent of cable television and a 1984 lawsuit brought by the universities of Oklahoma and Georgia, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA could no longer limit teams’ TV appearances.

Charter member Arkansas’ departure left the SWC with an eight-school, one-state league. Its 6.7-percent sliver of the national television market seems absurd by today’s expectations.

Fred Jacoby, SWC commissioner from 1982 to 1993, told The News in 1995 that he’d urged expansion in the early ‘90s, adding, “Even though Texas is a big, wonderful state, in the eyes of the nation, it is still parochial.”

Also, a league long known for producing legends like Doak Walker, Earl Campbell and Bob Lilly had incurred this permanent stain: From 1985 to 1994, it had seven seasons when at least one school was banned from title consideration due to NCAA sanctions.

Most notoriously, SMU had to cancel its 1987 season and also chose not to field a team in 1988.

“I hated to see the Southwest Conference end,” says Rossley, SMU’s quarterbacks coach in 1989 and head coach from 1991 through 1996. “And I really couldn’t help but think that the death penalty at SMU was kind of the beginning of the death penalty of the Southwest Conference.”

Twenty Septembers ago, coaches, players, media and fans saw a new college football era dawn, but no one could have fathomed a 2015 regular season in which Texas A&M will not play any Texas schools. That’s a first in the Aggie program’s 122-year history.

For Lubbock native Dykes, Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator from 1984 to 1986 and head coach from 1986 to 1999, the initial breakup of longstanding state rivalries was really sad.

“And I think it’s sad today,” he adds. “One of the great experiences of being able to play football at Texas Tech was to take a trip to College Station. See the Cadets march in. The great tradition. And they don’t get to do it anymore.

“Why would you ever ruin that deal?”

Dykes, Rossley and R.C. Slocum entered the SWC as assistants in 1972 — Dykes at Texas under Darrell Royal, Rossley at Arkansas under Frank Broyles; Slocum at A&M under Emory Bellard.

Rossley also was Rice’s quarterbacks coach from 1978 to 1981 and finished his career as Texas A&M’s quarterbacks coach from 2008 to 2011, most notably tutoring Jerrod Johnson and convincing Mike Sherman to recruit Johnny Manziel.

Dykes and Rossley each coached in 19 of the SWC’s 81 seasons. Slocum, 70, topped them with 30 SWC seasons, all at A&M as a head coach and assistant.

R.C. Slocum

Coach R.C. Slocum leads the Aggies onto Kyle Field gefore a game during the team’s final Southwest Conference season. (1995 File Photo)

“I was excited about the Big 12, but being someone who had grown up in Texas and coached in the SWC for a long time, it was a sad thing,” Slocum says of the 1995 season.

Slocum, though, saw the breakup coming. The potential fallout alarmed him. He recalls attending the 1993 coaches convention in Orlando and hearing rampant rumors about Texas bolting to the Pac-10.

Back in College Station, Slocum met with A&M athletic director John David Crow, president Bill Mobley, regents chairman Ross Margraves and board member Billy Clayton — former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives — to discuss the school’s options.

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Slocum told them that if the SWC folded, the best cultural fit for A&M would be the SEC. The administrators authorized Slocum to reach out to SEC commissioner Roy Kramer.

“I called Roy and said, ‘This is just an exploratory deal, hypothetical: If the Southwest Conference were to break up, would there be any interest from the SEC in Texas A&M?’ ” Slocum recalls. Kramer replied that he would need to informally poll SEC school presidents.

“Within a couple of days, he called back and said, ‘Yeah, there would be strong interest,’ ” Slocum says.

Slocum says he considered the SEC as A&M’s fallback until he learned of a meeting in Austin with the presidents of Texas and A&M summoned on short notice. Slocum’s understanding was the meeting was initiated by Texas Governor Ann Richards and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, both Baylor graduates.

“In that meeting it was discussed that it looked like the Southwest Conference was going to break up, but that Texas and A&M were not going anywhere without taking Tech and Baylor with them,” Slocum says. “That was the end of our discussions with the SEC and the end of Texas going to the Pac-10.

“For a while, anyway.”

Recalling the episode more than two decades later, 81-year-old Windegger’s tone drips with disgust.

“It wasn’t happy times,” he says. “For those being left out — us being one of them — it was very traumatic. And I still feel it was a very big political deal, without a doubt in my mind.

“I think Baylor and Tech lucked out because they had some key people in state positions.”

For its final 1995-96 athletic season, the SWC unveiled a commemorative “Celebrating Excellence” logo.

Anniversary logo

Commemorative SWC logo

The league’s lame-duck commissioner, 37-year-old Kyle Kallander, was elevated from assistant commissioner on June 7, replacing Steve Hatchell, who had become Big 12 commissioner-in-waiting and set up temporary offices in Dallas.

“We didn’t want it to be a dirge,” Kallander says of that final year. “We wanted it to be a celebration of the great history of the Southwest Conference and our institutions.

“I thought we were pretty successful in doing that.”

In most respects, 1995 was an image improvement from the previous year — when A&M finished 10-0-1 (its only blemish being a tie with 1-9-1 SMU in San Antonio), but was ineligible for the title and bowl consideration due to NCAA sanctions.

Instead, Tech, Texas, Baylor, TCU and Rice were declared co-champions with 4-3 conference records, with the Red Raiders advancing to the Cotton Bowl on the “last appearance” rule. They hadn’t been since 1939. Rice hadn’t been since ’57, TCU since ’58.

The 1995 season saw Houston’s Chuck Clements lead the league in passing, Tech’s Byron Hanspard of DeSoto lead in rushing and the emergence of freshmen Ricky Williams at Texas and Dat Nguyen at A&M.

Still . . .

“It was awkward, no doubt about it,” Dykes says. “It was good news, bad news. The bad news is that the conference was dissolving. The good news is we got to go to a different level.”

A&M fell at No. 7 Colorado in its third game and two weeks later saw its 29-game SWC unbeaten streak end in Lubbock, 14-7.

Yet entering the final regular-season Saturday in SWC football history, Dec. 2, No. 16 A&M hosted No. 9 Texas with a chance to seize the league title.

Behind quarterback James Brown and a touchdown by Williams, coach John Mackovic’s Longhorns prevailed, 16-6. Young commissioner Kallander took the title trophy to the Texas locker room.

“You are the undisputed conference champions,” he told them, pausing several seconds to jubilant shouts, “and you are the final Southwest Conference champions!” Mackovic beamed. The locker room erupted.

That, however, was not the final SWC regular-season game or poignant moment.

Rice had lost to Baylor in the first SWC game, on Oct. 15, 1915, so for symmetry the Owls scheduled their 1995 finale against Houston 90 minutes after the Texas-A&M kickoff.

The Cougars pulled out an 18-17 victory. Afterward, a fan was escorted to midfield to turn off Rice Stadium’s lights, symbolically closing the curtain on SWC football — though Texas, A&M and Tech went on the Sugar, Alamo and Copper Bowls, respectively.

Of course, final SWC seasons in other sports were still to be played, culminating with May’s conference baseball and tennis tournaments and track meet in Lubbock.

“We really had a great year,” says Kallander, who for the past 19 years has been commissioner of the North Carolina-based Big South Conference. “But the last three months was a little like overseeing a funeral. You’re meeting with a lot of attorneys, trying to decide what to do with the estate.”

Longtime SWC assistant commissioner of media relations Bo Carter recalls helping to pack the 333 boxes of records and memorabilia that were shipped to the Southwest Collection Library in Lubbock. Included were 343 sound recordings, 854 video tapes, 10 reels of microfilm and 538 oversized items, including Carter’s desk.

Other items were sent to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco. The rest was sold at auction on June 29, 1996, the day before the SWC offices closed for good. By then, the league’s 10 full-time employees had dwindled by about half.

“We were pretty much the last of the Mohicans,” Carter says.

An upside to the shuttering of a league is that the brightest moments remain, frozen in time, never to be eclipsed.

Among men who coached in the SWC for at least five seasons, Slocum’s overall and conference winning percentages of .812 and .865, respectively, topped legendary Royal’s .774 and .797.

“That’s something I’m proud of because I grew up watching that league,” Slocum says. “Twenty years ago. That flew by. It’s been remarkable, the changes that have happened since then.

“And without having any idea of what those changes would be, I would bet that it’s not over.”

Windegger, too, has a permanent place in SWC lore. In 1963, he coached TCU’s baseball team to a 21-4 record and the SWC co-championship. He was 27. No coach in any sport ever won a league title at that young of age.

“All these years,” Windegger chuckles. “It will never go away.”

Windegger

(Left to right) SMU athletic director Jim Copeland, SMU football coach Tom Rossley, TCU football coach Pat Sullivan and TCU athletic director Frank Windegger have fun before Battle for the Iron Skillet. (1996 File Photo)

That factoid, though, is trivial to Windegger compared to TCU’s rise from 1995’s ashes.

“It’s just a wondrous thing to be looking out,” he says. “Right now, everything is peaches and cream.”

Windegger credits athletic director Chris Del Conte for raising funds for the $164 million reconstruction of Amon Carter Stadium, the nearly complete $45 million renovation of Daniel-Meyer Coliseum and the 5,000 seats being added to Lupton Baseball Stadium.

Mostly, though, Windegger is grateful to football coach Gary Patterson for instilling a winning culture that’s permeated the TCU campus, which 20 years ago hardly seemed possible.

“They can have [Nick] Saban and those guys with the huge dollars, but I’ll take Gary Patterson,” Windegger says, pausing to add quite a proclamation. “And I’m going to take him strong this year because I think they we will the national championship.”

SWC, then and now:

                 <p><h5>Baylor</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: Independent (1898-1914); SWC (1915-1995); Big 12 (1996-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: Five, two of those (1980, 1995) during SWC’s final 20 seasons

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: Two (2013, 2014)

Pre-1996 record: 481-414-44

Record 1975-1995: 129-95-4

Record from 1996 to 2014: 90-134

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 8-8/2-3

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 11/3

Baylor picture

Baylor players celebrate their Big XII Championship after they defeated Kansas State in the regular season finale. (2014 File Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Synopsis

Based on win-loss totals before and after the SWC’s breakup, life was better for the Bears in the old league.

Thanks, though, to the wonders Art Briles has performed along the Brazos since arriving in 2008, no one could possibly conclude that being in the Big 12 has been anything but a godsend for the Bears.

First, Baylor got in while fellow private SWC institutions Rice, SMU and TCU did not. Second, posting losing records in its first 14 Big 12 seasons forced Baylor to steel up to stop the bludgeoning.

Under Briles, the Bears have appeared in five straight bowl games. Before this run, Baylor had never played in bowls more than two straight years. Last year’s No. 7 Associated Press finish was Baylor’s first top 10 since the 1951 team finished No. 9.

After just missing out on last season’s College Football Playoff, the Bears, in their second season at $266 million McLane Stadium, have legitimate CFP hopes this year.

                                        <p><h5>Houston</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: Lone Star (1946-48); Gulf Coast (1949-50); Missouri Valley (1951-59); Independent (1960-75); SWC (1976-95); C-USA (1996-2012); American (2013-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 8 (four Missouri Valley, 4 SWC); four during the SWC’s final 20 seasons (1978, ’78, ’79, ’84)

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: 2 (1996, ’06), both in C-USA

Pre-1996 record: 285-237-15

Record 1975-1995: 115-108-4

Record from 1996 to 2014: 119-114

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 6-6-1/3-7

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 12/1

Jake Ebner (38), Michael Bloesch (64) and Cody Pree (56) show off the Armed Forces Bowl trophy after Houston beat Air Force. (2008 File Photo/MCT)

Synopsis

How should success be quantified these days in Houston?

The post-SWC Cougars haven’t come close to rivaling their early years in the league under coach Bill Yeoman. His teams won the league title in three of its first four SWC seasons and finished 4th, 10th and 5th in the AP ranking.

Although they were on probation in 1989 and 1990, the Cougars as recently as ’90 finished 10th in the AP, under John Jenkins. In the 24 seasons since, Houston has one top 25 finish — No. 18 in 2011, coach Kevin Sumlin’s final season.

On the other hand, Houston played in no bowls during the SWC’s final seven seasons, in part because of probation. In the past 12 seasons, they have played in nine bowl games. The 2008 Armed Forces Bowl win was Houston’s first bowl victory since 1980.

                                  <p><h5>Rice</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: SWC (1915-1995); WAC (1996-2004); C-USA (2005-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 7, one (1994) during SWC’s final 20 seasons

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: 1 (2013)

Pre-1996 record: 358-456-32

Record 1975-1995: 57-161-2

Record from 1996 to 2014: 104-124

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 4-3/3-2

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 8/0 (none since 1961)

Rice quarterback Chase Clement lunges for a touchdown in the 2008 Texas Bowl. Rice beat Western Michigan. (2008 File Photo/The Conroe Courier)

Synopsis

Perhaps more than any school besides SMU, Rice was ready for a step down in competition, though Owls fans certainly had hoped for a spot in the Big 12.

In its last 20 SWC seasons, Rice on six occasions won one game or fewer. During that two-decade span, the Owls were 104 games below .500. In the 19 years since the SWC’s breakup, the Owls are a more competitive 20 games below .500.

Aside from the five-way SWC title it shared in 1994 because A&M was on probation, the Owls hadn’t won a conference championship since 1957. When the Owls played in the 2006 New Orleans Bowl, it was the school’s first bowl appearance since the 1961 Bluebonnet.

The Owls’ 38-14 victory over Western Michigan in the 2008 Texas Bowl was their first bowl win since the 1954 Cotton Bowl victory over Alabama.

                                  <p><h5>SMU</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: SWC (1916-1995); WAC (1996-2004); C-USA (2005-2012); American (2013-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 10, two (1981, ’82) during SWC’s final 20 seasons

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: None, though Mustangs did win C-USA West Division titles in 2009 and 2010

Pre-1996 record: 393-374-54.

Record 1975-1995: 90-107-5 (did not play in 1987 or 1988 due to NCAA death penalty)

Record from 1996 to 2014: 75-138

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 4-6-1/3-1

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 11/0

SMU players celebrate after their win over Nevada in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl. (2009 File Photo/Louis DeLuca)

Synopsis

Post-Death Penalty, SMU was going to struggle regardless of league.

In seven SWC seasons following the Death Penalty, the Mustangs were 13-61-3. In their first four seasons in the WAC, they were 20-24.

Playing in the WAC, then C-USA and more recently the American Conference helped the Mustangs regain respectability, especially when June Jones coached them to four straight bowl appearances, but it’s hard to be nationally relevant if you aren’t in a power five conference.

Conference affiliation is less of an issue in basketball, but perhaps first-year SMU football coach Chad Morris can follow Hall of Famer Larry Brown’s lead and return the Mustangs to top 25 status for the first time since 1986.

                                 <p><h5>Texas</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: Independent (1893-1913); SWC (1915-1995); Big 12 (1996-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 27; 5 during SWC’s final 20 seasons

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: 3

Pre-1996 record: 705-279-33

Record 1975-1995: 152-78-5

Record from 1996 to 2014: 176-67

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 17-17-2/10-7

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 32/14

Quarterback Vince Young kisses the national trophy after the No. 1 Longhorns beat Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. (2006 File Photo)

Synopsis

Despite its summer 2010 flirtation with the Pac-10, Texas certainly has profited from being in the Big 12 — financially and in national visibility.

The Longhorns jumped from a probation-scarred conference of eight Texas schools to one that now spans five states and has a national TV contract. And of course the Longhorns now have their own TV network.

Oklahoma has won or shared eight of the 19 Big 12 titles, but the Sooners’ presence actually helped Texas in the years it had exceptional teams, in terms of BCS rankings, en route to the 2005 national title and 2009 runner-up finish.

Despite a 23-21 Big 12 record the past four seasons, Texas’ overall record since joining the Big 12 is 109 games above .500, compared to 152-78-5 in the last two decades of the SWC.

                                                   <p><h5>Texas A&M</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: Independent (1894-1902 and 1903-05)), South Intercollegiate (1903-08 and 1912-14), SWC (1915-1995), Big 12 (1996-2011); SEC (2012-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 17, seven during SWC’s final 20 seasons

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: 1 (Big 12 in 1998)

Pre-1996 record: 561-357-47

Record 1975-1995: 163-71-3

Record from 1996 to 2014: 141-97

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 12-10/5-9

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 20/6

Quarterback Johnny Manziel and linebacker Jonathan Stewart (11) celebrates the Aggies win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. (2013 File Photo/Vernon Bryant)

Synopsis

The Aggies were the SWC’s most dominant team of the last two decades, winning or sharing 7 of the 20 league titles.

That’s not counting coach R.C. Slocum’s 10-0-1 team of 1994, which was ineligible for the league title but finished No. 8 in the AP ranking.

The only top 10 finish A&M has had since was in 2012, when Johnny Manziel led the 11-2 Aggies to a Cotton Bowl victory and No. 5 final ranking.

That was A&M’s first season in the SEC. The move has boosted the Aggies’ national visibility and coincided with longtime rival Texas’ struggles. A&M has won four straight bowl games under Kevin Sumlin.

The problem with moving to the SEC, though, is that for all their accomplishments the Aggies are 13-11 in league play in three seasons.

                                                 <p><h5>TCU</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: Independent (1896-1922), SWC (1923-95), WAC (1996-2000), C-USA (2001-04), Mountain West (2005-11), Big 12 (2012-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 9, one (1994) during SWC’s final 20 seasons

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: 8

Pre-1996 record: 453-458-57

Record 1975-1995: 71-145-6

Record from 1996 to 2014: 163-72

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 4-10-1/10-5

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 8/10

James McFarland (defensive player of the game) and Trevone Boykin (offensive player ofthe game) hoist their trophies after TCU beat Mississippi in the Peach Bowl. (2014 File Photo)

Synopsis

It could be argued that no school has more benefitted from the SWC’s breakup than TCU, even though the Horned Frogs had to wait 16 long years to gain entry into the Big 12.

Instead of wallowing in self pity, TCU under coach Gary Patterson became of formidable program, albeit initially against non-power-five conference competition.

Since the SWC breakup, TCU has won or shared eight of a possible 19 conference titles, one fewer than the number of titles the Frogs won or shared during 73 SWC seasons.

From 1896 to 1999, TCU had three double-digit-victory seasons, the last coming in 1938. Since 2000, the year Patterson took over for over for Dennis Franchione before the Mobile Bowl, TCU has posted 10 double-digit-victory seasons.

In its last 11 bowl games as a member of the SWC, TCU was 1-9-1 and hadn’t won since the 1957 Cotton Bowl. Under Patterson, TCU has won 7 of its last 9 bowl games. And this season, for the second straight year, the Frogs appear to be CFP contenders.

                                               <p><h5>Texas Tech</h5><i></i>

Conference affiliations: Independent (1925-31, 1939-40 and 1957-59), Border Conference (1932-38 and 1941-56), SWC (1960-95), Big 12 (1996-present)

Pre-1996 conference titles and co-titles: 11 (9 Border Conference titles), 2 titles (1976, 1994) during SWC’s final 20 seasons.

Conference titles and co-titles since 1996: None. (Big 12 South co-champion in 2008, but Oklahoma went to title game due to higher BCS ranking)

Pre-1996 record: 400-326-32

Record 1975-1995: 111-111-5

Record from 1996 to 2014: 144-93

Pre/post 1996 bowl records: 3-10-1/9-6

Pre/post 1996 AP Top 25 finishes: 6/5

Red Raiders celebrate after defeating Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. (2012 File Photo/Vernon Bryant)

Synopsis

Although not to same extent as Baylor, Texas Tech initially was overmatched in the Big 12.

In the first eight years after the SWC’s breakup, the Red Raiders lost five or six games each season, never won more than nine and failed to make a bowl appearance.

Under coach Mike Leach, Tech starting in 2004 posted five top 25 finishes in a six-year span, rising as high as No. 2 during the 2008 season.

The Red Raiders have won four straight bowl games and 9 of 11 since 2002, but they haven’t finished among the top 25 since 2009.

           <p>Author: <a href="http://interactives.dallasnews.com/2015/btownsend@dallasnews.com">Brad Townsend</a>

Editor: Mark Konradi

Copy Editor: Dave Renbarger

Designer/Graphics: Kim Kaufman

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