The Big 12 conference name may finally make sense again.
In late July, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that he had been approved via unanimous vote from the Big 12 board of directors to begin research on potential expansion candidates.
Following the conference’s announcement for the approval of exploring expansion, several universities have come up in conversation as potential candidates: Colorado State, BYU, Houston, Boise State, UConn, Memphis, and Cincinnati.
Universities could move as soon as the 2017 football season.
CSU offers the Big 12 a rising program, but how does CSU compare to current Big 12 members and the other candidates?
In regards to picking where to go college, academic prestige can be really important. In regards to Big 12 expansion, it may be more important.
If current Big 12 presidents are interested in a university that does not diminish their current academic standing per member, 118th national average according to U.S. News & World Report, CSU is a viable option. CSU ranks 127th nationally, which is higher than four current Big 12 members: Oklahoma State (149), Kansas State (146), Texas Tech (168), and West Virginia (175). While CSU may rank slightly below the Big 12 average, a potential addition to the Big 12 does not harm the conference academic reputation.
The only candidates featuring higher ranks than CSU on U.S. News’ top 212 universities list are UConn (57) and BYU (66).
Memphis received a RNP ranking, meaning it didn’t qualify for the list under U.S. News standards. Boise State is ineligible for the list because they are considered a regional university, meaning they don’t offer enough masters and doctorate programs.
Winning matters. As a P5 conference, the Big 12 wants add at least two schools without tarnishing quality of play throughout the conference.
If the entire CSU athletic department ever wanted a time to go all-in, this is it.
In the past two years, the Rams hold the best win percentage (.799) at home of any school in the nation to feature football, men’s and women’s basketball, and women’s volleyball programs. Excluding Oklahoma State, who don’t offer volleyball, every school in the Big 12 competes in all four sports.
That all helps Colorado State’s case, but what the Big 12 really wants is a winning football program. Football is the big money maker.
That could be bad news for CSU, as they may be less desirable compared to other candidates. At 32-32 over the last five years, CSU sits five games below the Big 12 average (32-27). When compared to the other candidates, it becomes clear that CSU has not seen the same success. Boise State (52-14), Houston (47-19), Cincinnati (45-20), and BYU (43-22) all have better records.
If the Big 12 wants to bring in a football program that can compete right away, there are more attractive programs than CSU.
Recruiting classes help determine the future of programs. The Big 12 wants a program that will continue to get better. While none of the candidates held a higher rating than the Big 12 average (40 via scout.com), Boise State (49), BYU (50), and Houston (52) are the only candidates within 15 spots of the Big 12 for the 2016 recruiting classes.
Colorado State (63) came in ahead of current Big 12 members Kansas (94th) and Kansas State (73rd) in 2016, and with the 2017 recruiting class off to a strong start, it appears the Rams are trending up.
Uh oh. These numbers aren’t too flattering for CSU.
At 22,242 fans per game, CSU is the not so proud owner of the lowest home attendance rate for potential candidates by almost 8,000.
Kansas, a team who has gone an impressively low 9-51 over the past five years, has seen more fans at home games (36,571) than CSU. If you want to compare CSU attendance to the premium Big 12 program, Texas, CSU has to play about five games in Fort Collins to equal the attendance of just one game in Austin.
Don’t abandon all Big 12 dreams yet Ram fans, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins holds 34,400 fans. CSU filled about 64 percent of its stadium every home game over the past five years. During that same stretch, Kansas — owner of the lowest home attendance in the Big 12 — filled around 73 percent of Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, KS.
Yes, CSU attendance still seems rather bleak compared to the Big 12 schools, but despite seeing a 29 percent increase in attendance in the 2015 season, fellow expansion candidate Memphis averaged 30,127 fans per game the past five years, filling only 50 percent of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
If you take out the capacity outliers of Texas (100,119) and Oklahoma (82,112), Colorado State’s 41,000 capacity on-campus stadium set to open in 2017 compares similarly to the Big 12 average (53,235). Both Baylor’s McLane Stadium and TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium hold around 45,000 fans; so while the on-campus stadium would still be the smallest in the Big 12, its size doesn’t matter.
With a farewell Hughes campaign in progress and the new 41,000 capacity on-campus stadium only one year away, CSU’s ability — or lack there of — to fill a stadium shouldn’t pose a problem much longer.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and coming in at just over $855 million, the Wall Street Journal has the University of Texas as the most valuable college football program in the nation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average Big 12 program is valued around $290 million, but just like attendance, Texas and Oklahoma ($674 million) are outliers, so the down to earth Big 12 programs come in closer to a $170 million value.
Colorado State’s value? $31 million. While CSU’s value doesn’t quite compare to those in the Big 12, neither do the rest of the candidates.
The highest valued candidate according to the Wall Street Journal is BYU, coming in just over $99 million.
Probably the biggest reason for the large discrepancy between candidates and the Big 12 is the fact that Big 12 teams are in the Big 12. The Mountain West and American Athletic conferences — the two conferences most likely to lose teams in a Big 12 expansion — both have TV deals with ESPN and CBS Sports. The MW and AAC deals are worth a combined $242 million over seven years. In 2013 the Big 12 extended a deal with ESPN and FOX Sports worth $2.6 billion through the 2024-2025 season, according to Bloomberg.
Big 12 schools benefit from a deal that divvied out over $30 million per school in 2015, not including revenue from private networks such as the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network.
According to Horns Digest, if the Big 12 were to add four new members, ESPN and Fox would be contractually obligated to pay the Big 12 up to an extra $100 million per year for the remainder of the TV contract.
Naturally, any program admitted into the Big 12 would see a healthy bump in their value and not trail behind current members for too much longer.
It is hard to see a university more prepared for the Big 12 than BYU. They are above the current Big 12 average in three of the five factors looked at here and hold a larger national audience than any other candidate. Not to mention they already have a TV deal with ESPN.
The rest of the field is basically like taking a name out of a hat. Pick one and go with it, there are no wrong answers.
Colorado State is not significantly better than any candidate, nor are they worse.
The Big 12 wants to expand, and the Rams have a puncher’s chance.
Collegian Sports Editor Chad Deutschman can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChadDeutschman