Big 12 expansion talks heat up: what does CSU bring to the table?

Justin Michael

A Big-12 expansion appears imminent following Tuesday’s news that the conference would be actively exploring their possibilities and contacting universities to add to their current 10-team alignment. With expansion talks at the forefront of discussion, Rams fans hope to see a Colorado school back in the Big 12.

ESPN reports that Colorado State officials have reached out to current members of the Big 12, including a May report that CSU President Tony Frank reached out to West Virginia President Gordon Gee last summer making a case for Colorado State.

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The Big 12 is expected to look for two schools. ESPN reports that Houston and BYU would be the favorites based off a coaches poll conducted, in which Colorado State placed fourth.

Other teams to receive votes in the poll include: Cincinnati, Memphis, and UCF.  

Improvements in facilities and consistent athletic success across the board has helped revive what was a dying CSU athletic program; uniform and merchandise improvements with Under Armour have helped re-brand the Ram image, and with the on-campus stadium set to open for the 2017 season, here is a pitch for why Colorado State will be considered for conference expansion. 

Academics and Image

Academically, Colorado State is arguably the most impressive of the possible candidates. CSU ranks 127th nationally according to U.S. News and World Reports’ annual rankings. Of the current Big-12 members, CSU would rank 7th, below Texas (52), Baylor (72), Texas Christian University (82), Iowa State (108), Oklahoma University (108), and Kansas (115).

Also worth noting, a school-record 82 CSU student athletes earned Mountain West scholar-athlete nods for the 2015-16 season and a total of 102 student athletes earned academic recognition.

With a respected president like Tony Frank running the University and athletic director Joe Parker in charge of athletics, Fort Collins would be a stable place for the Big-12 to plant their flag. Parker’s connections to Texas Tech and the conference could be huge should CSU be considered.

TV and Ticket Revenue

To quote Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” More important than winning, is revenue intake, which is where CSU and the Denver TV market would be appealing to the Big 12. Denver is a top-20 TV market nationally and has strong ties to the region already with Colorado University being a former member.

Of the schools being considered, Houston is the only school to offer a larger TV market (10), according to stationindex.com .

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Conference expansion would assumingly lead to the creation of a Big-12 TV network. An invite for CSU would help the conference secure the Denver market, which would be an attractive option for the Big-12.

Colorado is home to a large amount of midwest imports and sets up well geographically with multiple current members of the Big-12. This is important because of the possible creation of a Big-12 network and how successful it could be in this region, as well as giving fans the opportunity to travel and support their school on the road.

The men’s basketball team will play Kansas State at the Pepsi Center this season and there should be a lot of Wildcat fans in the crowd. If the two programs were to meet regularly, a nice rivalry could develop.  

On-campus Stadium

What will be the foundation of the Colorado State football program for years to come is also one of the strongest selling points for CSU. Hughes has been the home of CSU football since 1968, but the fancy new on-campus stadium is crucial for a variety of reasons.

Hughes is outdated and OCS will draw in larger crowds for home games. More importantly, the new stadium will improve the perception of CSU football, which on a national scale, has an outdated mid-major perception.

The stadium is a shining example that CSU is dedicated to athletic excellence and with the gaps widening on a yearly basis between the power-five and everyone else, the Rams are trying to end up on the winning side.

Improvements have already been made to the indoor practice facility. Once the OCS opens in 2017, CSU will have a stadium that fits the image of a successful and modern college football program.

Winning

The Rams are on the right track when it comes to athletic success. CSU won more conference championships than any other MW member for the 2015-16 seasons with nine. Looking at football, volleyball, along with men’s and women’s basketball, no school in the nation has a higher winning percentage at home. (.779). Over that same span, only Western Kentucky (179) and Brigham Young (175) have more total wins at home than CSU (173).

The football team has made a bowl game the past three seasons, but no championships since 2002 is a glaring astrict on CSU’s Big-12 resume.  Bowl games are key for the success of any football program and the Rams need to be competing for one on a yearly basis. If CSU football is going to make a jump to the big time, the goal needs to be to win the conference.

Obviously leaving the Mountain West for the Big-12 would be difficult for CSU to compete right off the bat. CSU has not even won their own conference in over a decade. The Big-12 would certainly be a reality check for a growing Rams football program.

Other Factors

Colorado State has done everything in their power to raise the athletic profile of their university after not even being in the conversation the last time conference expansion took place. Expansion talks being pushed forward keeps the dream of jumping to the power-five alive, but also brings the harsh reality that CSU may not be quite as attractive as some of the other candidates.

BYU has the largest national following of all the possible candidates and consistent athletic success across the board makes BYU a logical choice for expansion and if CSU was wise they would be lobbying alongside the Cougars. Adding either school would bring the conference into a third time zone, which is not ideal for scheduling, but adding the schools together makes much more sense.

The two programs already have a history together and joining the conference at the same time could certainly reignite the rivalry.  BYU presents minor scheduling conflicts and their personal network makes them not ideal for a conference that already has to deal with Texas and the Longhorn Network, but these are issues that can be moved around.

If the conference were to add both schools, they would own the western region. If the conference decides to only take one school from the west, BYU would be considered the favorite.

After adding West Virginia the last time around, the conference will likely add somebody from the east to join the Mountaineers. Cincinnati, Connecticut, Central Florida and Memphis all make strong cases for the power-five. The University of Houston also has made a strong case for themselves.

Ultimately the Rams chances obviously improve if the conference expands to 14 teams rather than 12, but they will be in the mix either way. A jump to the power-five would be monumental for CSU and raise the profile of the entire university, but the biggest question is if the Ram brand is big enough to wow the Big 12.

Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @JustinTMichael.