Established in 1914, its charter members were the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University (then Oklahoma A&M), Southwestern University (in Georgetown, Texas), and Rice University.
The first organizational meeting of the conference was held in May, 1914 at the Oriental Hotel in Dallas, Texas. It was chaired by L. Theo Bellmont, who originated the idea for the athletic conference and was at the time athletic director at the University of Texas. Originally, Bellmont wanted Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi to join the conference as well, but they declined to do so. The Southwest Conference became an official body on December 8, 1914.
Its early years saw fluctuation in membership; Southwestern (a comparatively smaller school) dropped out of the conference in 1916, and Southern Methodist University joined it in 1918; Texas Christian University became a member in 1923.
Phillips University (Enid, Oklahoma) was a conference member for one year (1920). Oklahoma left in 1919 to join the Missouri Valley Conference, and was followed by Oklahoma A&M in 1925. (The intense football rivalry between the universities of Texas and Oklahoma, however, would continue in an annual matchup between the two teams held in Dallas, often their most important non-conference game of the year.)
After its organizational years, the conference settled into regularly scheduled meets among its members, and began to gain stature nationwide. The SWC would be guided by six commissioners, the first of whom, P. W. St. Clair, was appointed in 1938. In 1940, an agreement was reached that the winner of the conference football title would play in the Cotton Bowl, which further established the prestige of both the bowl and the conference. Texas Tech University joined the SWC in 1958, followed by the University of Houston in 1972.
The 1980s saw all but two of the conference's football teams hit by recruiting scandals and NCAA probations (SMU's team was disbanded for two years). At that time, NCAA rules prohibited schools on probation from appearing in televised games. As a result, the conference's market share in television coverage dwindled, and the disbandment of the SWC became inevitable after Arkansas left for the Southeastern Conference in 1992. In May of 1996, after the completions of championship matches in baseball and track & field, the Southwest Conference was officially dissolved.
Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech joined the Big Twelve Conference, rejoining Oklahoma and Oklahoma State after 75 years; these teams now form that conference's southern division. Rice, SMU and TCU joined the Western Athletic Conference, and Houston the newly-formed Conference USA. In 2001, TCU left the WAC for Conference USA. In 2005, Rice and SMU will also move to Conference USA, reuniting the remaining four SWC members.
Over the course of its 81-year history, teams of the Southwest Conference garnered sixty-four recognized national championships in collegiate sports (nine in football).
– John F. Kennedy, Rice Stadium, September 12, 1962