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Colorado State Rams Big 12 Dreams: Three benefits of joining Power 5

Andre Simone Avatar
May 13, 2016


Ever since news leaked of interest from the Big 12 in CSU, I’ve been having weird dreams. I have odd dreams of playoff glory, of intense conference finals against Oklahoma and old Mountain West foes TCU. I can see coach Bobo, in Texas blue-chip recruits’ living rooms, saying “We’re the only team in the Big 12 that plays a pro-style offense, look at who we’ve produced in the NFL…” I wake up screaming. Not screams of terror but of exhilaration.

My brain conjures up images of Nick Stevens running down the field and scoring an improbable touchdown, awakening old images of Bradley Van Pelt slamming the football on a Buff’s helmet after a triumphant score (or maybe it’s J.C. Robles scoring in my dreams). My poor wife has to calm me down and reassure me that the Rams are still in the Mountain West and I am not covering a Power 5 team (yet!).

While the objective journalist in me, who wants to analyze this from all angles, and is inherently skeptic, isn’t ready to believe a conference change is coming (or even convinced it’s the right thing for the institution), the romantic fan in me keeps dreaming of the possibilities.

There are three benefits that get me extremely excited about a potential Big 12 move, and they should get all Colorado State fans excited, too. They are as follows: Recruiting big-time players, CSU’s fit geographically and talent wise is better than others and a television network’s multiple benefits.

First is recruiting. The recruiting profile of CSU instantly gets raised if and when they join a Power 5 conference, but we cannot underestimate the inroads this would allow the Rams to make in fertile territories like Texas and the rest of the southwest. Recruiting is a huge part of this for all sides involved. The Rams, out of the four contacted teams, are in the region most lacking in depth of high Division I athletes. So, while part of the appeal for adding teams in the southeast, like Memphis and Central Florida, would aid the conference, giving them more of a foothold in SEC recruiting territory, the Rams are the one team who could seriously upgrade not just their profile, but their reach in big time recruiting states. Well, Colorado State and BYU, if the conference decides to go that way and move into the Mountain Timezone.

The second thing that gets me giddy and makes my imagination run wild is the competition level and potential Big 12 North Division that the Rams would likely find themselves in. Fort Collins’ location and the Colorado State’s health as a program is another advantage CSU has over the three other contacted teams; the Rams simply fit better. The Big 12, with teams like Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas and West Virginia are very split into “northern” teams and Texas-Oklahoma teams. Adding UCF or Memphis would be a tricky fit, both travel wise and in finding legitimate regional rivals in-conference. CSU is a natural fit geographically and wouldn’t be that far behind the talent level of the other four teams in this imagined new north division (three teams were part of the old North Division when the Big 12 had 12 teams). Add in BYU, and that would give the “northern” division six teams.

Let’s run through them real quick,

  1. Kansas: They’re a nightmare in men’s basketball and no one from the north or south divisions are going to beat them, most years. But in football, they’re one of the worst Power 5 programs around. The Rams are probably already better on the gridiron.
  2. Kansas State: They’ve been solid if not right out good with Bill Snyder at the helm. Without him, they’ve been about as successful as KU in football. How long their great football coach — who’s come out of retirement once already — stays around, and who his heir is will be keys to the football program staying relevant. If anything, they’re a good model to follow when joining the conference and managing to be respectable despite an obvious lack of resources compared to the southern competition.
  3. Iowa State: Great in hoops the last few years, competitive in football but far from a winning program.
  4. West Virginia: OK, so this is going to be a hell of a basketball division, but the Mountaineers football program has been stagnant the last few seasons. They’re always exciting to watch but the wins have been hard to come by since joining the Big 12.

There’s not a single team in there that makes me think the Rams would be winless in conference play, which is a legitimate fear in all this: Can they compete with Big 12 teams?

CSU has beaten mid-level Power 5 competition the last few years, whether it be Boston College or CU, plus they hung in tough against Minnesota last year and even at Alabama in 2013. The Rams can already compete against the ISUs, KSUs and KUs of the world. Look at Colorado, and one of their biggest issues when switching from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 is that they just haven’t been able to compete in football, making it an uphill climb in the new conference. The Rams, however, would have no such problems.

The wrench in this whole plan is that a sixth team from the presumed south would have to be added, or a new addition would have to be added to the North. Houston with the Rams seem to be the most logical fits for the TV market, geographically and scholastically. If Houston is the sixth team that would be OK, they were arguably the best team from the state of Texas last season, but they too would have to adjust to new teams and a higher level of competition.

The other options are more worrisome, obviously, the furthest north of the Texas and Oklahoma schools would be OU and OSU. There’s no way in hell the conference splits up its two marquee teams in Oklahoma and Texas, so the Sooners are already out the race (phew!). Oklahoma State seems unlikely, but makes the most sense (out of the Texas and Oklahoma schools) as long as they still have an annual game scheduled against their in-state rival. The other possibility would be to throw relative newcomers TCU in the north, without having to break up the old rivalries in the south (geographically speaking TCU is further north than all Texas schools except for Tech). TCU or Houston make more sense than others, and would be by far the Rams toughest competition in their new football division.

Of course, what makes the most sense is for the Big 12 to add both Colorado State and Brigham Young University, two teams which are both relatively geographically close to one another, and two schools with a rich football tradition playing against one another.

The third factor is a potential television network deal, which has multiple positive returns. First, is gaining a foothold in the Denver Metro area, both in media coverage and in recruiting on the men’s basketball side. This has been big for CU in basketball during Tad Boyle’s tenure, where he’s had success recruiting top talents from Denver and Colorado Springs. CSU can’t compete with the Buffs for these recruits, primarily because they’re national recruits and will only stay at home if it means playing in a big conference. Being in the Big 12, this problem should vanish and it could open doors to all the top talents in the state, which could pay huge dividends on the court and field.

Don’t discount the added media attention and coverage either. This is the Rams’ big selling point and the main reason why you’d want to join a Power 5 conference, as this all leads to raising the athletic profile of the university while significantly increasing revenue streams. Forget the money CSU could make by simply joining the Big 12, if they’re competitive on the field, the TV money as well as advertising and merchandising is there for the taking in this sports-crazed market.

The hangup on this is simple: Texas holds the fate of expansion of the Big 12 due to their Longhorn Network. If two or even four additional teams are added to the conference, Texas must give up their $15 million in revenue from ESPN each year, but, turning off that network could result in more money from a potential Big 12 Network. Some estimate the Big 12 Network would make $225 million a year, divided by 12 teams would mean a slight bump to $18.75 M per year, which could potentially grow over time.

Can you see it now? Can you see Bobo selling big recruits on creating a winner in Fort Collins? Can you see the epic battles against Oklahoma in a conference final that could lead to a playoff appearance? Can you see the program growing in all directions and the options being nearly endless?

CSU joining the Big 12 is far from a sure thing, and it’s a move that must be approached with caution by the athletic department. If done the right way, this is potentially a game changer not just for Rams fans but for college football fans in the entire region. Ultimately, in a perfect case scenario in which CSU goes undefeated in the Big 12, they’d have a shot at a National Championship, which is currently not possible in the Mountain West.

So, dream with me for a second and think of what could be if the Rams were in the Big 12.


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