A brief history of college football conferences

Our friend Dan Harralson from Vols Wire produces some really great stories and historical photo galleries. If you’ve never checked out Vols Wire before, now is the perfect time to do so. Dan watches the realignment unfold with the rest of us in the college sports industry. He produced a magnificent historical retrospective on the formation of the SEC in 1932.

Here is a small excerpt from Dan’s story:

Tennessee head coach Robert Neyland returned to Knoxville in time to attend conference meetings at the Andrew Johnson Hotel after his mother died in Greenville, Texas.

Neyland also turned down an offer to become Fordham’s head coach. He was approached by Fordham officials while attending the Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium, November 26, 1932. Fordham was looking to replace Hall of Fame head coach Frank Cavanaugh after his senior season.

The Army-Notre Dame game took place two days after Tennessee’s 26-0 victory over Kentucky, played on a Thursday. The Vols then finished the 1932 season undefeated by defeating Florida at Jacksonville on December 3, days before conference meetings in Knoxville.

Dan points out that the SEC was formed when 13 schools broke away from the Southern Conference, which was one of the mega-conferences of its day. The Southern Conference had 23 schools. The SEC schools wanted to self-administer with much more ease and commonality than in a group of 23 schools that had become increasingly difficult to manage. This fact opens the door to a natural set of questions: Where exactly did different schools exist in the conference landscape of the 1930s and other previous eras of college sports realignment?

We’re going to give you a set of facts that older college sports fans know, but younger fans may not have encountered before.

TULANE WAS IN THE SEC

The Superdome is where Tulane played for decades, but not as an SEC team. Tulane was a member of the SEC from December 1932 to early 1966. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

GEORGIA TECH WAS IN THE SEC

December 18, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Michael Devoe (0) heads for the basket against Southern California Trojans guard Ethan Anderson (20) in the second half of the Colangelo Classic at the Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

THERE WAS A FOOTBALL CONFERENCE IN THE MISSOURI VALLEY THAT INCLUDES HOUSTON

HOUSTON, TX – NOVEMBER 04: Jarrid Williams #62 of the Houston Cougars celebrates with Duke Catalon #2 after the first half touchdown at TDECU Stadium on November 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Houston was a Missour Valley school in the late 1950s. It didn’t join the Southwest Conference until 1976. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO WAS A BIG TEN POWERHOUSE

The University of Chicago won 4 of the first 13 Big Ten football championships before dropping out of the sport. (Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

SOUTH CAROLINA WAS IN THE ACC

November 13, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Shane Beamer reacts to play against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. South Carolina was a member of the ACC from 1953 to 1971. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports

OKLAHOMA WAS IN THE SOUTHWESTERN CONFERENCE BEFORE MOVING TO THE BIG 8

December 30, 2004; Carson, California, USA; Former Texas Longhorns coach Darrell Royal (left) and former Michigan Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler at the 2005 Rose Bowl Media Day at the Home Depot Center. Texas and Oklahoma were members of the SWC before OU left for the Big 8 in 1920. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE INCLUDED MANY CURRENT ACC SCHOOLS; DUKE, NORTH CAROLINA, CLEMSON, MORE

Clemson comes down the hill before their game against South Carolina on Saturday, November 21, 1964 at Memorial Stadium. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers 7-3 after a 13-yard TD run to buy USC QB Jim Rogers late in the game. Clemson and other Southern Conference schools formed the ACC in 1953.

THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE HAD ALABAMA IN 1931. IN 1967 IT HAD WILLIAM & MARY AND FURMAN

Nov. 29, 1980; Birmingham, AL, USA; FILE PICTURE; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Paul Bear Bryant on the field before the start of the game against the Auburn Tigers at Legion Field. Mandatory Credit: Manny Rubio – USA TODAY Sports

SEWANEE, A SEC CHARTER SCHOOL IN 1932, WAS ONCE A FOOTBALL SUPERPOWER

Sewanee head coach Shirley Majors, right, keeps an eye on the field during their 14-13 victory over Center College at home in Sewanee, Tennessee on October 29, 1960. The win left Sewanee with a record of 4-1-1. Sewanee’s undefeated teams of 1898 and 1899 are considered two of the greatest teams of the first 50 years of college football from 1869 to 1918. Sewanee’s membership in the SEC is tied to the accomplishments of these teams.

THE BORDER INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION ONCE EXISTED (FOUNDED IN 1931)

02 January 2009; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Graham Harrell (6) throws a pass against the Mississippi Rebels during the 2009 Cotton Bowl Classic at the Cotton Bowl. Texas Tech was a member of the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association, along with Arizona State, Arizona, UTEP, and others. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman – USA TODAY Sports

UTAH PLAYED IN THE SKYLINE CONFERENCE (1948-1961)

October 9, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) during pregame warmups before playing the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Skyline Conference was the predecessor of the Western Athletic Conference. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro – USA TODAY Sports

COLORADO PLAYED IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE (FOUNDED IN 1910)

October 2, 2021; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes mascot Ralphie is run onto the Folsom field before the game against the USC Trojans. The Rocky Mountain Conference resulted in the Skyline Conference (also called the Mountain States), which then led to the WAC, which later became the Mountain West. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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