Could Colorado State University leave the Mountain West for the Big 12?

It’s the $5 million question currently being asked by every fan in Ram Nation. It’s also a question Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson was asked yesterday in Las Vegas during the conference’s Media Days.

“A number of Mountain West institutions have expressed interest in looking at Big 12 membership,” Thompson explained, without saying which schools specifically. “What’s going to happen? Nobody has any idea … No idea on what the timetable might be. No idea if if affects a current Mountain West member. We’re all playing this game that some people have said is similar to a sweepstakes.”

Oh, Thompson is playing the sweepstakes while Colorado State is playing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

The Rams, along with the Boise State Broncos, are likely the “multiple teams” Thompson is talking about, and he specified he’s given the Big 12 permission to contact MW teams. If CSU were to be picked by the Big 12 as a new member, the university would have to fork over $5 million for an exit fee.

That’s a steep price to leave the conference, but it was set to try and create stability within the Mountain West. We can’t fault them for that.

And, while it was unlucky for CSU that the Big 12 now decides they want to expand — schools can dodge the exit fee by notifying the conference they’re leaving the next year by June 30 of the previous year — the Rams were lucky when the MW presidents decided to vote down an increase to the exit fee (to $10 million) last month. That vote, according to Thompson, was 6-4 against increasing the exit fee, with two schools abstaining. Again, the Commissioner declined to comment, this time on which schools didn’t vote.

Of course, if CSU joined the Big 12, that $5 million exit fee would be well worth it, as the Big 12 announced a record year for revenue, and they’ll be splitting the $304 million evenly between their members. Without a doubt, “The Price is Right.”

For Colorado State, this is an exciting time, indeed. They’re at least in running, a contestant in the Big 12’s version of “The Bachelorette” among multiple more schools trying to strut their stuff while proving their worthiness, their value. The Rams don’t necessarily top that list — with teams like Houston and Cincinnati leading most “experts’” lists — but this is the best shot CSU has ever had at graduating to a Power 5 conference.

For Thompson, on the other hand, this must be an anxious time, bringing back bad memories of 2011 and 2012 when Brigham Young University and Utah left, and then Texas Christian University also fled the Mountain West for greener pastures. BYU became independent, Utah joined the Pac-12 and TCU joined the Big 12. Since then, the MW has added six new members, including headliner Boise State, leaving the commissioner hopeful his conference will stay healthy and stay relevant.

“We could look beyond 12 (schools),” Thompson said Tuesday. “This membership/expansion door swings both ways. This week I’ve had more than one and less than five institutions reach out to me and say, ‘Can we be in the Mountain West Conference?’”

Who could those schools be? The University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) spring to mind, which would only be ironic; Thompson could lose one or possibly multiple schools to the Big 12, which is dominated by Texas institutions, while simultaneously picking up a few of the state’s lesser-known programs.

Still, for MW teams like Boise and CSU, getting that all-important invite will likely come down to the Big 12 deciding they want to expand not by two teams, but by four. If the expansion includes only two schools, Houston and Cincinnati are almost certainly the winners. Others in the running are the University of Connecticut, Memphis, BYU and, of course, CSU.

There are plenty of pros and some cons when considering Colorado State, and now Ram fans are hoping the school — and, namely the football program — has done enough to merit an invite.

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