There’s been plenty of flirtation going on in the college football landscape since Tuesday, when Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the conference would move forward in adding as many as four teams. And much of the wooing is coming from Fort Collins, where Colorado State’s administration has made it clear that the Rams should be in the running to join the Power Five conference.
A potential move to college football’s national stage—and thus annual showdowns against the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Christian—has some rolling their eyes. It’s a fair critique to wonder whether the Rams can hold their own in the Big 12. The school’s football team has played in three straight bowls, the women’s basketball team has won three straight Mountain West crowns, the men’s basketball team is riding the best four-year period in program history, and the volleyball team has made 21 straight NCAA tournament. But all of that has mostly been accomplished playing against lesser competition than the Rams would find in the Big 12.
However, when you take a good, hard look at what Colorado State has to offer—and when you look what the Big 12 needs—the move makes perfect sense for all parties. And the school must earn this spot (and the millions of TV revenue that come with it), considering this is probably the last major conference shakeup for the foreseeable future.
Most importantly, the Rams can deliver the Denver TV market back to the Big 12, which lost the Mile High City when the University of Colorado Boulder departed the Big 12 for the Pac 12 in 2011. And CSU’s shiny, new $220 million, 36,000-seat football stadium will be open for kickoff next year—just in time for the Rams to become the newest and western-most school in the Big 12.
The new facility will still be 9,000 seats less than the smallest Big 12 stadium, TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium, but that doesn’t erase the fact that it’s a little more than an hour’s drive up the road from the 17th-largest TV market in the U.S. The addition of CSU would drastically expand the Big 12’s footprint outside of Texas and the Midwest.
Other schools in the running certainly have upsides as well. Brigham Young has a more storied pigskin tradition; Houston is a huge market unto itself and is coming off a 13-1 football season; and other hopefuls such as Cincinnati and Memphis make much more sense geography-wise. But the bottom line is that when it comes to football—the sport that matters most, at least when it comes to bringing in TV money—there are no traditional powerhouses looking to move into the Big 12. In other words, CSU’s competition ain’t stiff.
Getting into the Big 12 is only half the battle for Colorado State: Can Mike Bobo maintain a winning program against the Sooners and such? Or will a move to the Big 12 only make the Rams perennial cellar dwellers (see: CU in the Pac 12)?
Regardless, it’s a risk worth taking, and the Rams know that. Count on Athletic Director Joe Parker, who has worked in the athletic departments at Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma, to do everything in his power to get CSU into the Big 12. He’ll pull every string he can get his hands on—after all, it’s not every day you get the chance to jump from a pond to the ocean to see what you’re really made of.
Update: On October 18, the Big 12 announced that it will pass on an expansion for now, remaining at 10 members.