Don’t count Colorado State out of Big 12 expansion yet

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Credit: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

Colorado State Athletics may have been a long shot in the beginning to make it into the Big 12 – especially if the conference expands from 10 to only 12 teams instead of 14 – and they still might be. But, don’t count them out of the race yet.

One report, from TMGsports, says the Big 12 has whittled down the 20 expansion candidates to “six or eight” including Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston, UCONN, Central Florida, South Florida, BYU and two other AAC schools.

That would leave out Colorado State, Boise State, San Diego State, Air Force and New Mexico, who were all hopeful to jump ship from the Mountain West to the Power 5 and the Big 12.

One of the reasons the Rams have been a long shot compared to others is CSU’s location in the Mountain Time Zone. There has regularly been talk of an East Coast media bias in sports, and when it comes to making money, markets like Cincinnati and Houston dwarf even Denver’s large television viewing audience.

Of course, BYU is still in the running, despite their Mountain Time Zone location, though a nationwide following helps their case. BYU, in turn, helps Colorado State’s case as they’re neighboring states, would work perfectly as travel “partners” and the two schools have a longstanding rivalry with one another.

That’s one reason why CSU isn’t out of the Big 12 expansion running.

More important is the fact that commissioner neither Bob Bowlsby, nor the conference itself, has made any announcements at this time.

In fact, the only thing we know for sure is this: Eastern Carolina University has been informed they’re no longer in the running. Which makes sense given they were a far longer shot than CSU – or, basically any other school – at making it into the Big 12.

Why is Colorado State still in the running? What are some pros the school brings?

First and foremost, their new on-campus stadium, which is set to open next September, shows the school is not only invested in binging the best they can to athletics, but that CSU is in it for the long haul. Sonny Lubick Field at the on-campus stadium is on time and on budget, it will be LEED certified – which aligns with the university’s “green” initiative – and it will bring an experience to fans which has never been seen in Colorado.

The new stadium will feature a Field Club – similar to what the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys have in their billion-dollar AT&T Stadium – as well as the New Belgium Porch, which will allow fans to take in the game from field level while enjoying some of the local brewery’s top-notch beers. The stadium is catching the eyes of people all across the country as what will be arguably the best venue in the time zone to take in a college football game.

Secondly, Denver’s No. 17 TV market certainly helps. As does the fact that some 30,000-plus Big 12 alumni live in the metro area. The conference can hope, if CSU is included, that those alumni travel the one hour north to catch their favorite team play the Rams.

What are some cons?

The most major one is the lack – or perceived lack – of fan support. A Power 5 conference wants a football program to sell out games and CSU has been far from that, save a sell out in 2014, their first one for a decade.

It must be noted that all indoor and outdoor premium seats at the new on-campus stadium have already sold out for 2017 and season ticketholders have increased to over 10,000 at this point. So, fan support is growing, but it may be too little, too late on this round of Big 12 expansion.

Something else likely hurting Colorado State’s chances: They haven’t won a conference title since 2002, though they have been in three straight bowl games.

CSU Athletics has come a long way over the last five years. They’ve moved up from Russell Athletic being their equipment provider to Under Armour, who is respected and well-liked by both fans and recruits. Then, AD Joe Parker went further to sign a new, better deal with UA which helps the programs out with $2.2 million per year in gear for the athletes. Parker’s also increased the level of competition for his football and men’s basketball teams, scheduling a number of Power 5 opponents over the next decade, 17 in all for the football team alone. And, of course, facilities upgrades have helped propel the department forward, as well. Not just the on-campus stadium, but needed upgrades to Moby Arena, the recently built Indoor Practice Facility and more.

Fans are reacting while increasing their commitment to CSU. The athletics department announced a record year in fundraising recently, with a whopping $31.8 million in donations during the 2015-16 fiscal period.

So, Colorado State is still in the running – until something more concrete comes out – and even if they don’t get into the Big 12 this time around, the athletics department is setting themselves up to prosper in the near future in the Mountain West, Big 12 or, possibly, another P5 conference if they come calling.

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