The Orange Empire Conference was established as a premiere intercollegiate athletic conference prior to the 1986-87 academic year and has changed very little in over 20 years as it still features most of the inaugural colleges. Most of the original colleges were members of the South Coast Conference prior to joining forces to establish the powerful Orange Empire Conference. Cypress, Orange Coast, Rancho Santiago (now Santa Ana College), Riverside, and Saddleback were each initial members of the OEC along with Citrus. The six-college conference remained intact for two years until, prior to the 1988-89 academic year, a couple of changes were made. Citrus left the OEC to join the Western State Conference while Fullerton and Golden West were added to the Orange Empire Conference. This change made much more sense as now all of the colleges in Orange County were a part of the Orange Empire Conference, along with Riverside from the Inland Empire which had a full comprehensive athletic program like most of those in Orange County. Norco College was added prior to the 2013-14 season. Most recently, Copper Mountain College joined prior to the 2017-18 season, making the Orange Empire Conference an 11-college conference.

The new seven-college conference immediately gained notoriety as one of the top conference’s in the state as three teams from the OEC won state championships in the spring of 1987: Saddleback softball, Orange Coast women’s swimming, and Orange Coast women’s tennis. The post-season playoff presence by these OEC teams has not let up since, with OEC teams winning a state championship in every sport within its first six years. Since then, OEC teams have been dominant in sports such as baseball, cross country, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball, and water polo. In just over 20 years the nine colleges which make up the Orange Empire Conference have won 311 state championships.

The strength and success of the Orange Empire Conference has also allowed it to serve as a Red Cross for other conferences, temporarily hosting colleges from other conferences in certain sports which were struggling to keep their numbers up and in jeopardy of dying out. When another conference could not field at least four teams in a certain sport, the OEC would often take in these programs until that conference could rebuild. Sports such as swimming, tennis, golf, men’s volleyball, and badminton have all hosted colleges from other conferences for a short spell.

The OEC expanded to eight colleges with the addition of Irvine Valley during the 1990-91 academic year and then expanded again with the inclusion of Santiago Canyon College during the 1999-2000 year. This expansion ensures that all Orange County colleges participate in the Orange Empire Conference.

Year after year, the Orange Empire Conference is recognized as one of the top community college conferences in the state and, in many instances, the nation. Baseball players from the OEC are scattered among several Major League Baseball rosters and infused on many teams in the Minor League system as scouts enjoy the talent and competition in this conference. Basketball players from the OEC can be found on several major college basketball rosters each year as well as some NBA rosters. Swimmers from the OEC earn dozens of All-American honors each year after posting one of the fastest 16 times in the nation in each event. And the list for every sport goes on and on like this.

Every conference thinks they are the most competitive and the best at what they do. The Orange Empire Conference actually has the numbers to prove it.