The Big Eight Conference was a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-affiliated Division I-A college athletic association that sponsored football. It was formed in January 1907 as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MVIAA) by its charter member schools: the University of Kansas, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, and Washington University in St. Louis. Additionally, the University of Iowa was an original member of the MVIAA, while maintaining joint membership in the Western Conference (now the Big Ten Conference).|
In February 1994, the Big Eight and the Southwest Conference announced that the two leagues had reached an agreement to form a new conference. The eight members of the Big Eight joined with SWC schools Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech to form the Big 12 Conference the following year. A vote was conducted on whether to keep the new conference's headquarters in Kansas City, and by a vote of 7–5 the conference members voted to move to Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. The two Oklahoma schools, all four Texas schools, and Colorado voted for the move while both Kansas schools, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa State voted for Kansas City.
In 1908, Drake University and Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) joined the MVIAA, increasing the conferences membership to seven. Iowa who was a joint member departed in 1911 to only compete in the Western Conference, but Kansas State University joined the conference in 1913. Nebraska left in 1918 to play as an independent for two seasons before returning in 1920. In 1919, the University of Oklahoma and Saint Louis University applied for membership, but were disapproved due to deficient management of their athletic programs. The conference then added Grinnell College in 1919, with the University of Oklahoma applying again and being approved in 1920. Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University) joined in 1925, bringing conference membership to ten, an all-time high.
In the early 1990s, most of the colleges in Division I-A (now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision) were members of the College Football Association; this included members of the Big Eight and Southwest Conferences. Following a Supreme Court decision in 1984, the primary function of the CFA was to negotiate television broadcast rights for its member conferences and independent colleges. In February 1994, the Southeastern Conference announced that they, like the Big Ten, Pac-10, and Notre Dame before them, would be leaving the CFA and negotiate independently for a television deal that covered SEC schools only. This led The Dallas Morning News to proclaim that "the College Football Association as a television entity is dead". More significantly, this change in television contracts ultimately would lead to significant realignment of college conferences, with the biggest change being the dissolution of the Big Eight and the Southwest Conferences and the formation of the Big 12.
Before the formation of the conference, three African-American brothers at the University of Kansas are the first known to have participated in organized sports for a league school: Sherman Haney played baseball for KU beginning in 1888, followed by Grant Haney and then Ed Haney, the last of whom also played football at KU in 1893. At the same time, the University of Nebraska football team had on its roster George Flippin, the son of a slave, beginning in 1891. Nebraska's football team featured three more African-American players over the next 12 years. Notable among these NU players was Clinton Ross, who in 1911 apparently became the first African-American to participate in sport in the MVIAA, following the league's formation in 1907.
The modern era of full integration of league sports began at Kansas State, with Harold Robinson. In 1949, Harold Robinson played football for Kansas State with an athletic scholarship. In doing so, Robinson broke the modern "color barrier" in conference athletics, and also became the first ever African-American athlete on scholarship in the conference. Harold Robinson later received a letter of congratulations from Jackie Robinson, who had reintegrated major league baseball in 1947 while playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Nebraska was the third league school to (re)integrate its athletic teams, with Charles Bryant joining the football team in 1952. Iowa State would be next, with Harold Potts and Henry Philmon reintegrating the Cyclone football team in 1953. The following season, Franklin Clarke became the first varsity African-American football player at the University of Colorado. In 1955, Homer Floyd became the first African-American to play football for the KU Jayhawks since Ed Haney in 1893. Sports teams at the remaining three conference schools (Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State) were subsequently all integrated by the end of the 1950s. Most notably, Prentice Gautt became the first black player for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma in 1956.