In the land of oddities, chalk up the 1994 SWC race as a two-headed goat with both male and female parts. Never before had a team with more than two losses won the SWC crown. Never before had five teams shared the trophy. All that changed in 1994 when due to a curious series of events 62% of the conference won the conference title.
More of (Almost) Everyone Gets a Trophy...
(Almost) Everyone gets a trophy. Part One - The Hammer of the NCAA
NCAA investigators knew the ins and outs of every major airport near a SWC campus. They had no trouble finding their rental cars, knew the best hotels, where to get a decent beer, and where to find the athletic director's offices. The SWC conference had long been a haven for bending the rules, turning in your rival, and generally scorching the earth. The league was after all the home of SMU, who received the death penalty after ignoring repeated NCAA sanctions and threats because SMU famously "had a payroll to meet."
By the fall of 1994, the league knew two things; it had two more seasons of existence before the conference would break-up and second that Texas A&M wouldn't hoist the trophy in 1994, the NCAA saw to that.
The higher-ups in Indianapolis placed the Aggies on probation due to a summer jobs scam. The Aggies were a bonafide juggernaut, winning 22 straight and three straight conference crowns. The NCAA had a keen interest in the Aggies dating back to 1988 when Jackie Sherrill's circus tent of NCAA violations finally burned down, resulting in a bowl ban. Sherrill and his minions paid athletes, promised employment to recruits, and Aggie players engaged in the age-old SWC practice of selling their complimentary tickets for profit.
By 1989 Sherrill was gone, but the practices were not. In 1992 the administration suspended Greg Hill and three other Aggies for a summer jobs scam in which a prominent Aggie booster compensated players for work they didn't do. A year later booster Warren Gilbert agreed to a one-year suspension from any involvement in the athletic program based on his participation into the payments. Gilbert, a Dallas area real estate developer paid players for not working and did it year round.
Two months later the Aggies suspended two more players for their involvement in the scheme. In the fall of 1993, the NCAA stepped in and suspended Hill and four others for their accepting illicit benefits. In November of 1993, the Aggies released a statement saying basically "we didn't do anything wrong, but hey, our players may have done some stuff that wasn't cool."
After another Cotton Bowl trip, and loss to Notre Dame, the NCAA sprung into action and put the Aggies on a one-year bowl/television ban. So with the Aggies out of the way, the rest of the conference, which wasn't exactly top heavy suddenly had a path to a title.
A year before, only one team, other than Texas A&M, ended the season with a winning record. That team, of course, was the Rice Owls. Wait...what? Yes, the Owls finished 6-5 in Fred Goldsmith's last season before he high tailed it to Duke. Tech qualified for the Sun Bowl, but Oklahoma saw to it that the trip to El Paso wasn't scenic, pummeling the Red Raiders 41-10.
Texas came out of the annual media junket poll as the favorite, picked by ten of eleven writers. The eleventh guy, apparently to be a dick, still picked A&M. The shadow of Texas A&M remained over the league throughout the pre-season. Rice's Ken Hatfield and Tom Rossley suggested that games against A&M shouldn't count in the final conference standings. The league turned the suggestion down, but R.C. Slocum and his band of exiles were taking notes and preparing to deliver vengeance.
The NCAA allowed all but one of A&M eighteen seniors to transfer, the one being Greg Hill who opted for the NFL draft rather than the SWC. As far as we can tell, none transferred, either because their current pay rate at A&M was too cushy or because they wanted to deliver one last ass whipping to the league that betrayed them.
Before the NCAA settled up in the state, they learned that two of Texas' star players, Mike Adams and Lovell Pinkney, were caught using a car "loaned" to them by a friend of the program. For fans of the league, a loaned Toyota Camry was small change compared to everything else going on behind closed doors. Still, Texas went ahead and suspended the two for the opener and fined them $500 each. Where they got the money to pay the fines? We have no idea. We're sure from their summer jobs. We're sure those summer jobs were legitimate and not false fronts for an illicit benefits scheme.
Tune it for Part Two, where we look at the band of misfit toys that made up the SWC contenders in 1994.