What's wrong with the Southwest Conference?
Things are so bad, in fact, that about all conference commissioner Fred Jacoby can say is, "Problems give opportunities, and you grow from problems." If that's true, the league will soon be 90 feet tall.
In blunt terms, Southwest Conference football isn't very good—even at long-swaggering Texas, which after outlasting TCU Saturday is 4-5 overall, 2-3 in league play. "We're not very competitive as a conference," says Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes. "It's just a downer era."
November 21, 1988
The year started poorly when BYU annihilated Texas 47-6 on national television. Worse, Texas A&M, which in the preseason had talked of winning the national championship, opened with three straight losses, to Nebraska, LSU and Oklahoma State, by a combined score of 102-29. Arkansas emerged as the class of the conference, but that has earned the Razorbacks little respect. And the Rice syndrome endures; the Owls are 20-77 in the 1980s.
The Southwest Conference has been drifting toward ineptitude for a decade. Since 1984 only Texas A&M has made the final Top 10; the Aggies finished sixth in 1985 and 10th last season. And TV got the message: Only three games involving SWC teams have been nationally telecast, by the major networks or on cable, so far this season.
There are three big reasons for the lean times:
•NCAA violations. Robert Sweazy, the conference president, says, "Unfortunately the public perception is 'Gosh, that's a conference full of cheaters.' " In the last three years, six of the nine Southwest Conference football programs have been either on probation or under NCAA investigation. (Arkansas, Baylor and Rice are the exceptions.) In September, Texas A&M was nailed for 25 recruiting and other violations. "I never told you we were pure," A&M coach Jackie Sherrill said afterward. Houston is under investigation for making payments to players and seems headed for the NCAA jailhouse. Major violator SMU is finishing its second straight season without fielding a team; it will get out on work-release next fall.
In short, the Southwest has become an outlaw conference. But Jacoby swears the league has had "a complete catharsis and cleansing, and soon we will be the model of compliance."
•Texas exodus. Eight of the nine Southwest Conference schools are in Texas, yet Texas-bred players are leaving the state in droves. In large measure that's because so many league schools have been on probation, which often means no television appearances and no bowls; it also frequently means a reduction in the number of scholarships that can be offered.
Of the Top 100 high school players in Texas last season, as listed by The Houston Post, 46 signed with out-of-state schools. The defectors included Kevin Williams, from Spring, whom many regarded as the nation's best schoolboy running back and who enrolled at UCLA. Earlier emigrants: wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes, from Bay City, now a star at Oklahoma State, and linebacker Broderick Thomas, also of Houston, who's an All-America at Nebraska. "I wanted to play in Texas, but everybody was either being investigated or on probation," says Thomas. "I didn't want any part of that, so I bailed out."
•Negative recruiting. The widespread cheating gives conference members lots of ammunition to use against one another when recruiting, and the trashing can get vicious. A player who decides not to go to one SWC school may have heard so many horrible things about the others that he won't want to play for them either.
"We made our bed, we have to sleep in it," says Sweazy. And sleeping they are.