This Week In History (1994): A new conference is born

(Graphic by Catherine Eldridge)

As the Big 12 Conference adds four teams for the 2023 season and the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas plan to join the SEC for the 2024 season, there are concerns about how the new Big 12 will look.

Nearly 30 years ago, the combination of the old Big 8 Conference and the Southwestern Conference caused comparable worries. Nevertheless, the resulting conference evolved into one of the country’s most competitive in the Power 5.

In 1994, Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska left the Big 8 Conference to join Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas A&M from the Southwestern Conference to form the new conference. The driving reason behind this formation was the collapse of the College Football Association. 

Ten years earlier in 1984, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision when they ruled that the NCAA’s television policy violated the federal 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. This ruling allowed programs to sell their media content and negotiate media contracts on their own behalf.

In response, the Big Ten and the Pac-10 conferences negotiated a successful deal with ABC. In the early 1990s, Notre Dame followed suit, negotiating a successful deal with NBC.

The Southwestern Conference was on the verge of collapse, another major issue needing addressed. Revenue and popularity of the conference collapsed as the University of Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991 along with the two year absence of SMU because of the “death penalty.” This created the perfect storm for the creation of a new conference.

On Feb. 25, 1994, an agreement was reached with the eight Big 8 conference teams and the four remaining Texas teams from the SWC to form the Big 12 Conference.

Two years later, the first Big 12 sporting event was held on Aug. 31, 1996 in Manhattan, as K-State defeated Texas Tech in football, 21-14, in front of 43,143 fans at KSU Stadium. 

From that day forward, the new conference would go on to become one of the most popular and most competitive in college athletics.