Mile High Sports

The showdown belongs on campus

Given the ever-evolving condition of college football, it seems a little silly to be grumbling about something that’s still five years away. None of us have the slightest idea what the college game will look like by the year 2020. We may very well have an actual NFL minor league system going strong by then that makes the college game an afterthought. Who knows?

What we do know – and are already blogging and franticly tweeting about – is that the Rocky Mountain Showdown, the annual football tilt between the University of Colorado and Colorado State, has a contract that is set to expire at that point. CU athletic director Rick George tossed out some comments last week that have led many to believe that renewing the series in its current form is unlikely to happen. Some fans are riled up.

Again, not knowing what the college game will look like by then makes all this talk just talk. Much will have changed. CSU will have a new on-campus football stadium and Colorado will have renewed its rivalry with Nebraska. Our two schools may be powerhouses at that point… or not.

But as things stand right now, George is concerned that the annual game in Denver with CSU could be hurting the Buffs more than helping them. Presumably, he was talking about off the field, but the Buffs on field (mis)fortunes have to play a part in his thought process, too.

There’s no question that the current setup is a bigger benefit to CSU than it is to CU. CSU makes a good deal of additional money in Denver (as opposed to playing the game in dilapidated Hughes Stadium) and has everything to gain on the field. If CU wins, the country shrugs its collective shoulders; the Buffs are supposed to beat the Rams. If CU loses, they get barbequed.

So be it. That goes with the territory when you’re a “power five” conference school. You can’t only play games you don’t look bad for losing. And when it comes to playing Colorado State, the risk is worth the reward if you look at the bigger picture. Right now, CSU is Colorado’s best non-conference opponent.

Soon, the Pac-12 will be going to nine conference games, leaving only three dates for non-conference games. Colorado should not even consider dropping CSU so they can and play only teams like Nicholls State, (MW member) Hawaii and UMass (the other non-conference foes for 2015.) So unless CU goes out and schedules three non-conference games all against power five conference foes, then playing their in-state Mountain West rival remains something they should always do. What sense does it make to do otherwise?

The Buffs can benefit from having a true rivalry game. Right now, they simply don’t have one. And while the Pac-12 is trying to create a rivalry between CU and Utah, it’s not happening any time soon. And Buffs fans that want to designate USC or Oregon as CU’s “rival” need to wake up. That’s never going to take hold. It takes two to tango. USC already has UCLA and Notre Dame. Oregon has Oregon State and Stanford. They could give a rip about Colorado. All the other Pac-12 schools already have their traditional rivalry games. The Pac-12 has designated Utah to be CU’s rival – hence the season ending match up.

But the Utes actual true rival is BYU; that’s the way it always will be, whether they play each other that season or not. Utah isn’t any keener on having CU as their “rival” than Nebraska (unfortunately) was. (That was Nebraska’s loss. They needed a rival, too, and also still don’t have one.) Colorado should embrace CSU as their rival just as Utah does with (non-power five team) BYU and the same way CSU fans have. (Inside the walls at CSU, they still consider Wyoming the Rams archrival and always will.)

All that being said, George is absolutely right to want the game moved back to campus. The event in Denver has lost its luster. The city has not created any kind of financial windfall for the schools. And while the two schools share the same media rights marketing company, they can’t land a title sponsor for a decent payday. What’s even worse is a stadium that’s only half to two-thirds full.

So bring it back to campus. Alternate home games every year (so no, Buffs fans, no two-for-one; that’s nonsense.) Make scoring a ticket in CSU’s yet-to-be-named 40,000-seat stadium a big deal. What’s wrong with a standing-room-only, sell-out crowd of that size? Let the cities of Boulder and Fort Collins reap the financial benefits. Denver has had its chance and it’s no longer working.

Just as importantly, it’s time for George to go to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott with an outside-the-box idea that would likely be met with much applause in Utah, as well: Push to move the CSU-CU game to the Friday after Thanksgiving. Give the Pac-12 Network exclusive rights to televise a doubleheader that day: CU-CSU followed by BYU-Utah, a much needed revival of “The Holy War” rivalry. Those two games will generate a huge buzz for the network and the conference. It will dwarf CU vs. Utah.

The stumbling block is that right now, the conference only allows the Notre Dame vs. USC game to be played as a late season non-conference game. It’s a tradition-laden game and no one complains. But so is BYU vs. Utah. If you’ve seen a Holy War game, you’ll understand that it’s a rivalry that takes a backseat to very few. The conference would benefit from having that game on the schedule. Scott needs to get the conference newbie’s a break.

So why not Colorado vs. Colorado State on rivalry weekend, as well? There are several season-ending non-conference games that weekend, like Florida vs. Florida State and Clemson vs. South Carolina. Big, emotion-filled, out-of-conference matchups… each played on campus.

The (hopefully sponsored some day) Rocky Mountain Showdown could become all that. Imagine the season-long build up? What if a bowl bid is on the line for either or both? What if one or the other is also gearing up for a conference title game appearance? The stakes would be much higher (there really aren’t any stakes with a season opener) and the buzz much greater.

We have given the season opening game in Denver ample opportunity to become one of those huge neutral site games. It hasn’t worked. Unless things change dramatically for the better in the next five years, it will be time to take this rivalry back to campus when the current contract runs out and play it on rivalry weekend.

That’s when it belongs and where it belongs.