If we've learned anything from the events of the last month in intercollegiate athletics, it's that there is no such thing as a bulletproof conference.
Fred Jacoby could have told us that.
Jacoby, now the commissioner of the Lone Star Conference, watched with empathy and sadness as a nasty monthlong battle ended with Miami and Virginia Tech leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. He knows how Mike Tranghese, the Big East commissioner, feels.
As commissioner of the Southwest Conference, Jacoby watched Arkansas leave for the Southeastern Conference in 1992. Tranghese is lucky; he still has his conference.
From 1982 to 1993, Jacoby presided over the SWC, the nation's second oldest intercollegiate conference. Formed in 1914, its charter members were Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Southwestern, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma A&M and Rice. Southern Methodist University joined in 1918 and won the national football championship in 1935; Texas Christian joined in 1923 and won the 1938 national championship. Texas A&M won the national championship in 1939.
The SWC had become an indestructible national power.
In 1996 the conference vanished, despite Jacoby's efforts.
For three years -- from 1990 until his retirement in 1993 -- Jacoby attempted to put together a merger with the Big Eight conference. Hopes for the merger were built on trying to negotiate a joint TV contract.
"If we could merge the South-west and the Big Eight conference, we could take our 8 percent of the market, then with the Big Eight's 7 percent, we could have 15 percent of the nation's television sets," Jacoby said, "and we could literally control the whole central time zone from Minnesota and the Dakotas all the way to the Gulf. That was our vision."
Arkansas saw something else.
Jacoby said he met with Frank Broyles, the Arkansas athletic director. He told Broyles that if they could pull off the merger, the Southwest Conference member that would have the most to gain was Arkansas.
Jacoby said that the next day, Broyles met with Roy Kramer, the SEC commissioner, in a Memphis airport and made the deal to go with the SEC.
Jacoby met Tranghese in 1990 when Tranghese became Big East commissioner. They talked about arranging games between the conferences. Now, he has suggestions for Tranghese.
"If I were in his shoes, I want to do something to strengthen my football, strengthen my basketball and help my television markets," Jacoby said. "The logical ones to me would be Cincinnati and Louisville. They both have strong basketball programs, and they both have football programs that are pretty good."
The upheavals, then as well as today, are part of a persistent civil war within the NCAA over control and distribution of television money. From 1952 to 1984, the NCAA exercised iron-fisted control over television negotiations under the leadership of Walter Byers, its first director.
The concept was to make sure the money was spread around to all members and ensure that the market was not glutted with games. Power football schools, however, argued that they should be getting most of the money because they were bringing in the most.
In 1980 the College Football Association, made up of major college football programs, was introduced and mounted a legal challenge against the NCAA. In 1984, the College Football Association won in court, and the Supreme Court later upheld the decision that the NCAA's television restraints on members constituted a monopoly. Ultimately, the College Football Association folded, too. Notre Dame, which encouraged Georgia and Oklahoma to sue the NCAA and take the College Football Association's television deal, secretly cut its own contract with NBC. Notre Dame's departure took the heart out of the CFA. The civil war analogies in college sports will play themselves out, obviously without the loss of life but with drastic transformations and even losses of conferences. The NCAA will have its Bull Runs and Gettysburgs before the playing field is level, true sharing occurs, men's and women's programs are financed fairly and symmetry between universities' academic and athletic missions exists.