After months of speculation on whether or not the Big 12 conference would expand, the conferences’ Board of Directors will meet Monday in Irving, Texas, and are expected to vote on conference expansion, potentially adding two to four new members.
When expansion talks began to heat up in July, there was a bevy of schools in contention. That list was cut to 11 schools in late August, Colorado State being among the 11 finalists.
Expansion looked imminent early, however, current Big 12 television partners in ESPN and FOX are keen on putting a halt to any such expansion. Should a Big 12 expansion occur, the two media giants would pay an additional $20 million to each new member annually. The current terms of the Big 12’s media contract is scheduled to run through 2024-25.
While expansion is far from a done deal, CSU President Tony Frank’s push for CSU’s membership in the conference has been underway.
Many want to focus on the athletics side of the argument, saying that the most competitive schools stand the best chance. President Frank’s pitch to the conference is centered on the academic fit between Colorado State and the Big 12.
“Our case has been pretty simple. We believe we are a match for them in terms of academic peers,” Frank said. “We sit at or above the mean or the median for most of the major academic statistics as an institution. We believe that we would add value to their brand in an academic sense especially. We’ve got a wonderful history of not embarrassing ourselves or our colleagues with athletic scandals; we intend to keep that up. We think we would be a wonderful long-term partner that brings value to (the Big 12).”
Academics, not athletics, are the driving point behind CSU’s pitch to join the Big 12.
If the Big 12 Board of Directors are interested in universities that do not diminish their current academic prestige per member (118th national average according to U.S. News & World Report) as Frank suggests, 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).
When the Mountain West underwent conference realignment from 2010-13, President Frank was a part of the process. Should the Big 12 choose to expand and follow a similar path, athletic success takes a back seat to an institution’s academic reputation.
“A lot of people have a tendency to look at this year and this football season and say ‘wow, look what Houston’s doing, of course Houston is in,’” Frank said. “In my experience … when we the Mountain West were going through conference realignment, losing members and adding new members, I can tell you that when we sat in the room and talked about it, athletic competitiveness was important, but more important to all of us was who our brand was going to be associated with.”
From the standpoint of an athletic director, the decision for a conference to add new members may have a lot to do with athletics. For the people who actually make the decision, university presidents and chancellors, reputation is more important. That is where Frank believes CSU fits in so well with the Big 12 and has led CSU’s charge with.
“In many ways to the presidents of these universities, the most important thing entrusted to us is the institutions reputation,” Frank said. “We didn’t build it, so it shouldn’t be ours to give away. We want to make sure whoever we’re associated with adds value to us and that is why I think we’ve got a good case as we talk through (Big 12 expansion).”
Where does CSU stand heading into the voting process?
According to Frank, all talks and presentations CSU has given to the Big 12 have gone over well and been positively received.
“I think our presentations have gone well. I think they’ve been well received and I like our arguments,” Frank said. “We also argue that a lot of what has been written is about the athletic competitive side. Certainty that matters and I wouldn’t be making these arguments if we hadn’t put ourselves in a position to say we’ve committed to excellence in everything we do as a university. That includes athletics as well as the excellence we’ve always enjoyed in our academics. We believe we are going to be competitive on the field and court. I think we are in a much better position to make that case.”
According to Frank, the Big 12 has two simple questions to ask: Do they want to expand, and if so, by how many and who?
The answers given will likely have a lot to do with a price tag.
Any Big 12 expansion decision would be guided by money from both the candidate’s and current member’s perspective. Power Five members receive substantially more money than Group of Five members.
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 worth $2.6 billion through the 2024-2025 season.
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.
Naturally, any program admitted into the Big 12 would see a healthy bump in their value; something that President Frank says would tremendously help not only CSU’s athletic programs, but also academics.
“The fundamental thing that drives this is the amazingly un-level playing field financially due to television revenue,” Frank said. “Last year CSU television revenue, we received some $650 thousand in TV revenue. If you lumped everything together for the conference or looked to the future in the new funding model, say it’s a little over $1 million, the Big 12 schools received I think $31 million last year was the average for the school. So if you’re in one of the Power Five conferences, that amount of money, it makes a huge difference. You look at our overall athletic budget of around $40 million, you could substantially add to our athletic department budget, putting us at a competitive par with schools in the Big 12, and still have funds left over where we could start to back out university funds over time and invest those back into the academic side of the institution. That would be a wonderful problem to have.”
Should the Big 12 choose to expand and CSU join the conference, Frank’s vision for the university would to be to fund a healthy amount of athletics through television revenue, thus substantially reducing the amount of money funneled into athletics by university funds and repurposing those funds towards academics.
Should CSU find itself on the outside looking in, the University has no plans of leaving the Mountain West, according to President Tony Frank.
Collegian sports editor Chad Deutschman can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChadDeutschman