What if.......Arkansas stayed in the SWC 26 years ago?

Somebody wrote a column on this topic, I do not recall whom, but I read it today. I think they got it wrong.

All those who assume Arkansas would have been left out in the cold and exiled to Conference USA, etc, are wrong. They don’t have the understanding, the insight nor the knowledge of Arkansas athletics history to back up such a ridiculous conclusion.

Going back to the Spring of 1990 when all this chatter started, Arkansas was on top of the SWC and one of the top football-basketball-baseball athletic programs in the U.S. Hognation could not wait to join the SEC, and we all had a lot of hate for that old Texas Conference, and there were so many tales of questionable calls that actually affected the outcomes of contests. Remember that 1982 SMU game? The bumper sticker – “Arkansas 17 SMU 10 SWC refs 7”. That remains one of the most unjust calls of all time, costing Arkansas an SWC title and Cotton Bowl berth. Despite the final record of 9-2-1, I think that may have been the greatest Arkansas team in the post-Broyles era. And that was when the SWC was the power conference in football.

But I digress. All that had changed significantly by 1990. In fact a questionable call – though the right call — went the other way in favor of the Hogs and propelled Arkansas to its second straight SWC title in football in 1989, the call being made at Kyle Field, deep in the heart of Texas Aggieland.

So the SWC would have definitely done anything possible to keep Arkansas and in fact offered to do so. You should have been in Dallas that summer after Arkansas announced its departure for the SEC. Everyone knew the proud old SWC was a dead man walking, and it was all the fault of little ole Arkansas. The Texas hate of Arkansas was seething, and Hog fans took it as a compliment.

The SWC fell apart because Arkansas left. When a program’s departure sends a 75 year old conference steeped in tradition into a death spiral, that’s not the byproduct of an irrelevant and second-tier college athletic program. Arkansas was in fact a storied program that was highly desired and an asset to any conference.

Had the Hogs stayed in the SWC, we would today be part of a Super Conference that would be comprised of the old SWC and Big 8 – it’s now known as the Big 12. The merger would have been a slower process starting with SWC-Big 8 challenge games, etc. And the initial merger probably would have been one where both conferences retained separate identities and control. But eventually, Arkansas, Texas and Texas A&M would have joined with Oklahoma and Nebraska to form this super conference. It most likely would have been a super conference of 14 with Texas Tech, Baylor and Houston joining as well. Rice, TCU and SMU would have been left behind. The Big 8 had no interest in those private schools, and Houston was a state school and not that far removed from a winning football and basketball tradition. In fact, Houston’s Andre Ware had just won the Heisman. What TCU has become was not on anyone’s radar back in those days. TCU was a consistent loser with an empty stadium. The demise of the old SWC has turned out to be the greatest thing to ever happen to TCU football.

The power and influence of Frank Broyles was so significant and at its zenith in the early 1990s. Coach Broyles being a part of the formation of the Big 14 Conference would have ensured that things were done in an equitable manner so that Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri would have never left. Broyles was always the check that kept the Texas insane abuse of power and bullying from getting out of hand. There would have never been a Longhorn Network, but a Big 14 network that would have preceded the SEC Network.

I believe the Big 14 would have actually rivaled the SEC in football.

So had Arkansas stayed back in 1990, the Hogs would have been just fine and would have prospered – but all roads would have continued Southwest to Texas and Northwest to Lincoln and Boulder. I remember the great Al Witte sharing the scoop with me when the move was imminent by telling me we had better start improving our highways to the East. Well, those highway improvements would have been to the North and West had history taken a different turn.

I have to disagree with you on this, and I believe JFB has been quoted in agreement with me (he was there, he would know).

You can argue whether our departure doomed the SWC. I think it was already doomed; we just accelerated the process. An all-Texas league was not going to look very good to ESPN or any other network. In fact, an all-Texas/Arkansas league was not going to attract many network dollars either.

So look what happened when the SWC finally imploded. Texas and A&M were going to land on their feet; you knew that. Who else landed on their feet? Baylor, who had a grad as governor of Texas at the time, and Tech, which benefitted from West Texas control of the Legislature at the time. A whole lot of Texas politics, in other words, got BU and TT into the Big 12. Everybody else – UH, SMU which has a ton of prestige/rich alums in the Dallas area, Rice and TCU – was left out. Which group do you think we would have been in, on our feet or left out due to our lack of political influence in Texas? I have zero doubt we would have been on the outside looking in. Could we have played our way back in, as TCU did and Houston hopes to do? Maybe. But it would have taken years.

I heard JFB on Bo’s show a couple of years ago. He said just what Jeff indicated. He knew that the SWC was about to fall apart and he was proactive in finding a home for the Hogs before that happened.

IIRC, Texas and A&M were planning on leaving the SEC when we did but the Texas General Assembly passed laws that forced them to stay in the SWC. The SWC was on its last legs anyway and only lived a short time after we left before it collapsed. The SEC wanted the three SWC teams plus FSU but the guy at Auburn killed the FSU deal and the Texas teams were forced to pass. I feel if we had not left the SEC when we did, it is doubtful if we would have been the most sought after team and we may or may not have gotten into the SEC or the new Big 12/14 league.

Texas and the other Texas schools would have cut Arkansas’s throat and thought nothing of it, if we hadn’t bailed first. Arkansas would have been left out in the cold.


I agree with Marty, the Hogs made the SWC, even though it was considered to be the Texas conference. But, when the Hogs bolted to the SEC, Texas and A&M were also considering joining the Hogs exit. They got scared, to the great benefit of the Hogs…expecially so if HDN did not end up as the coach.

I agree with Marty, the Hogs made the SWC, even though it was considered to be the Texas conference. But, when the Hogs bolted to the SEC, Texas and A&M were also considering joining the Hogs exit. They got scared, to the great benefit of the Hogs…expecially so if HDN did not end up as the coach.

That’s where the Baylor and Tech-friendly politicians came into play. They let it be known that if UT and TAM left Baylor and TT high and dry, the PTB would not look kindly upon it at appropriation time in the Ledge. Money talks, and it talked UT and TAM into making sure Baylor and TT came along for the ride. They had no such incentive to take care of those hillbillies in the Ozarks.

I concur with Jeff and Marty. BTW, I WAS living in DFW at the time as well. It’s true we were blamed, but Arkansas was the stepchild of that conference as long as I can remember, being the only non-Texas school. The REAL reason for the demise of the conference was a combination of Texas arrogance/greed and the unwillingness of the “have-nots” to step up to the plate and make a commitment to college football in the NFL era (ironically, all but Rice have now done so and the results on the field and in attendance reflect that).

None of us will know how it might have turned out had we stayed. But I believe the risk side of the “risk/reward” proposition was too great to take a chance on. I will say IF we had stayed and IF the ultimate end of the SWC came and ended up with us being a part of the original Big 12 (as it was composed when the SWC remnants joined the Big 8), that might have been a good place for us to have been the last 20+ years.


But the “if not” is something I don’t want to contemplate.

Doesn’t matter, anyways. We are where we are and I’m happy with it.

Texas Greed, pure and simple was the downfall. JFB knew was fed up with it and knew what the future held.
But he had the insight to stick it to them 1st. One the greatest moves in college athletics at the time and set the tone for others across the USA,

Impossible to know what would’ve happened. It’s all speculation. I doubt we’d have been relegated to a second tier conference, but I supposed it’s possible. I, too, tend to think we’d have more likely ended up in some configuration of the Big 8, but just no way to know. Fortunately, we never had to find out. We landed on our feet & in the strongest conference in the country. The only thing I hate is we went in when our football program was at its weakest point in 40 years. On top of that our football facilities weren’t up to most SEC standards. Add that start-from-behind to the fact that the SEC is just stronger from top to bottom than the old SEC, and we’ve not really caught up. Of course, we’ve had some other issues along the way that hurt us, too.

Sorry but cannot resist pointing out that – although I think it was idiotic by ESPN – they actually did an all-Texas network before they did the SEC Network!! And it wasn’t even all the Texas schools in one conference – it was just one!!! And like all Hog fans, I’m so sad it did not work out for the burnt orange nation.

But back to my editorial…the Conference that would have emerged had Arkansas stayed in the SWC would have stretched from Austin through Fayetteveille and Norman and as far North as Nebraska and West as Boulder – including not just those TV markets in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio but St Louis and Kansas City and the entire Midwest.

The point of my column was simple.

  1. Arkansas left the SWC because the SWC would not take the necessary steps to move the Conference into the Brave New World of Super conferences that College Football has become. Arkansas actually worked hard to get the SWC to do so.

  2. That solution involved working with the Big 8 to what would be an eventual merger. In the 1970s, the Big 8 and Arkansas had actually talked about Arkansas leaving the SWC for the Big 8.

  3. For a variety of reasons, the SWC brushed off Coach Broyles. But the bottom line is there was no way Texas was ever going to join an “Oklahoma” conference. And as one poster pointed out, greed – and pride. The SWC just could not accept that it’s best days were behind it and not coming back without taking some bold and creative steps that would involve serious change.

  4. And so Arkansas left for the SEC.

  5. Had Arkansas stayed in the SWC – it would have been because the SWC actually listened to Coach Broyles and his forward thinking – see points 1, 2 and 3. And that would have led to the super-conference – Big 14 – of which Arkansas would absolutely have been a driving force.

  6. Conclusion – the only way Arkansas would have stayed in the SWC is if the merger with the Big 8 and creation of a super conference was on the horizon. And that is why I say if Arkansas stayed in the SWC, Arkansas would have prospered after all.

I don’t think Ark left the SWC because it foresaw the formation of super conferences. I do think we left because we (Frank) foresaw that the SWC was gong downhill & that Bevo was always going to run the SWC show. Our leaving the SWC began the rounds of conference realignment that occurred soon after. IIRC Penn St joined the BIG a year or two after we joined the SEC. Of course, PSU & So Carolina were independents before they joined the conferences they joined. It was almost immediately after we joined the SEC that the ACC expanded, too, taking FSU & Miami, et al.

Arkansas is in the SE US (certainly the NW SE, but still SE), not the SW US. We have more in common with the states in the SE than Texas. Not sure that has anything to do with football. MO has more in common with Mid-West, but they are in SEC and SEC east noless. Oh well, where we are is very tough, but I like it.

When I mention SEC to folks out here, you can see the awe and envey. I have some HS football boys work for me from time to time. They slobered all over themselves when I asked if they would like to see an SEC game.

Good point. Nobody foresaw exactly what was to eventually transpire. But Arkansas (Coach Broyles) did foresee the coming of significant change, and he put us not only ahead of the power curve but as a bold trendsetter.

Coach Broyles knew the SWC had to make some significant changes, and those changes involved working some sort of a deal with the Big 8. Arkansas could get nowhere with the SWC which was not willing to change anything. As stated the thoughts back then conceived of a very informal alliance where both conferences retained separate identities and control. Hindsight tells us that would have evolved into a super conference.

The SWC would not consider changing a thing, so Arkansas left for greener pastures to the East.

I much prefer the SEC to the old SWC/new Big 8. Culturally we are a better fit with the old Confederacy and not the Midwest. But had we gone North and West, I do think we would have won more football games. And I do not think those dark ages of Razorback football in the early and mid-90s would have come to pass.

I don’t talk about this much, but I was in A&M administration when all this came down. I know more about this than I have ever posted.

Let me simply say this, it is useful myth to blame A&M not following us on legislators. The reality is neither A&M nor Texas was concerned about the legislature. They own the legislature. They both have a gigantic presence all over the state with other campuses, research facilities, alums and extension employees. Texas wrote the book on how to manage difficult legislators-- when all else fails, hire them. The legislature was not the issue, though they have allowed that myth to circulate.

At A&M you had one primary issue that was fed by a secondary issue. The secondary issue was the opposition of lots of A&M fans, both powerful and non powerful. Texas pride and lack of vision was driving the fan opposition. The real problem was the weakness of AD John David Crow. He was fearful of his fan base. And as one extremely well informed administrator told me at lunch one day, “John David is not start enough to pull this off.”

Now UT had its own reasons, but we at A&M were led to believe if we pulled the trigger to leave,Texas was likely to follow. That said for their own reasons UT was discouraging A&M and playing John David like a fiddle. Also I need to be clear there were some Aggie admins fighting internally against it. But in the end Crow was not powerful enough, smart enough, confident enough to make it happen.

One other point, the Aggie Ath Dept knew they should leave. When the fan base figured it out in large enough numbers, the Aggies were free to go to the SEC, whether or not they had a strong AD.

Very Interesting, finetimeswine

excellent insight, finetime. I have a question that I’ve never know the answer to. Did the SEC make initial overtures/offers to TAMU & UT and then only accepted us because those two wouldn’t leave the SWC?