Although early attempts were made to develop athletics at the university, such as a tennis team from 1979–88 and a rugby team for a short time, the university's position as an upper-level institution for junior, senior, and graduate students made long-term sustainability of athletic teams difficult. In 1991, the Texas State Legislature authorized UTPB to offer freshman and sophomore level courses, and within a year, a committee of faculty, staff, and community members assembled by UTPB President Charles Sorber investigated the potential for intercollegiate athletics. The committee recommended the creation of a limited program of athletics to increase student life and increase freshmen enrollment. In 1993, the legislature and the Board of Regents approved a student fee to help support an athletics program and authorized the creation of the current UTPB athletics. By 1994, the university had begun club sports on campus, and in 1995, the university joined the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Volleyball became the first intercollegiate sport in the fall of 1995. Softball and men's soccer and joined the athletic program in the following academic year; and the university joined the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC).
The early 2000s brought more expansion to the UTPB athletic program when the students voted to increase the amount of student fees allocated to support of athletics. The Legislature and Board of Regents approved the fee increase in summer of 2001 and the university added women's soccer in the fall of 2001, followed by men's and women's basketball in the fall of 2002. The university began offering a limited number of athletic scholarships in 2003 and a second fee increase in the fall of 2003 allowed for the addition of five additional sports for the 2004-05 academic year, when the school added men's and women's cross country, men’s and women’s swimming, and baseball. Major changes to the athletic program occurred in 2006 when the university was approved for provisional membership in the NCAA. The university also became a member of the Heartland Conference. After a successful transition period, UTPB became a full member of the NCAA at the Division II level in the fall of 2008.