In 1990, fearing that Arkansas's departure for the SEC would spur the Long-horns and the Aggies to follow suit, the legislature's state affairs committee considered calling a special hearing on Texas football. At the time, Speaker of the House Gib Lewis, a TCU alumnus, said, "If they want to leave the Southwest Conference, we can cut their funds with one vote. One simple vote."
Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a Texas Tech graduate, added, "Those who consider moving ought to take a course called Common Sense 101. They'd be making a big mistake with the decision-makers of Texas."
Sentiments have not changed. State Senator David Sibley of Waco, a Baylor grad (as is Governor Richards), says, "If A&M and Texas want to leave the SWC, the next time they want to talk about appropriations for new physics professors, they'd have to come through me."
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds says only that the long-range future of college football is the superconference—perhaps 40 of the biggest, wealthiest schools forming a handful of alliances, with the rest dropping down or dropping the sport. "The world is going to dictate where Texas goes," he says. "The marketplace will dictate it."
Indeed, the Southwest Conference's council of presidents believes that the Big Ten and the Pac-10 will follow the SEC in expanding to 12 teams, and a growing sense of urgency about losing Texas and Texas A&M prompted the presidents to vote last Thursday to approach the Big Eight, which is worried about losing Colorado to the Pac-10, about a merger. The lure of such an alliance is the money that would be earned from a playoff game between the champions of the two divisions of a conference—the members of the SEC will divvy up $6 million from the league's first playoff, on Dec. 5 in Birmingham—and from TV-rights fees. After all, 16% of the TV sets in the country are located in the Big Eight and Southwest Conference regions.
An association with the marquee schools of the Big Light—Nebraska. Oklahoma and Colorado—would add luster to the Southwest Conference, and the Big Eight would enjoy the profits and the exposure generated in the big Dallas and Houston TV markets. Above all, a strong alliance could survive if some of its members decided to drop football, de-emphasize it or move to another league.
If the Southwest Conference does unravel, it will most likely do so from the bottom. At Rice the debate over whether the university can afford to continue playing Division I-A football was a factor in the abrupt resignation last month of president George Rupp. Rupp was said to have grown weary of trying to mediate the endless tug-of-war between a board of trustees wedded to big-time football and a faculty that recently voted to toughen academic standards for the school's athletes, even if that meant having to drop out of the Southwest Conference.
In 1987 SMU brought in a new president, Kenneth Pye, from Duke, to try to restore credibility to the school after the scandals. Now he, too, is under intense pressure from football-feverish alumni for raising academic standards and commissioning a task force to study a projected $4.9 million athletic-department deficit. The task force's report, which is due next month, will most likely determine whether SMU stays in Division I-A, drops down to Division II or even III, or gives up football. The battle lines have been drawn. "We are not Harvard," declares Craig James, now a commentator with ESPN. "Let's get off this high throne, and all the academics can go work at Harvard."
When Erwin died in 1980, his funeral was held in a campus arena in Austin that now bears his name. As the pallbearers carried in his coffin, all 2,000 mourners rose, singing The Eyes of Texas. No one since has had the kind of power that Erwin wielded.
Akers, Erwin's handpicked coach, had two 11-1 seasons, in 1977 and '83, and a Heisman Trophy winner in Earl Campbell in '77, but he never won hearts, which remained firmly in Royal's possession. In '86, when Akers presided over Texas's first losing season since '56, there was no one to save him. He was fired, then replaced by a favorite son of Royal's, David McWilliams, a defensive tackle on the 1963 national-championship team who wore jeans and boots and said ma'am.