Like many of the large schools west of the Appalachians, Colorado State University (CSU) was created via the Morrill Act, which granted public land to states to create agricultural universities.  Michigan State was the vision for this Act, created via the Michigan constitution, and Iowa State and Kansas State became the first two schools derived from this national land grant boon.   Big 12 members Oklahoma State and West Virginia followed suit so, in that regard, the Rams are in good company within the conference.

Unlike those schools, however, Colorado State has largely remained in the shadow of the sole Power Five School and former Big 12 member, The University of Colorado, within the state.   With the Buffalos moving to the Pac 12 in the last round of realignment, many have speculated that the Rams could easily replace them along the foothills.  Let’s look at the numbers to see if that is the case.


With the exposure the University of Colorado received being in a Power Five conference for decades, that shadow they cast over CSU has reduced the amount of branding the Rams have built up over the years.  This is reflected in Colorado State’s licensing, which ranks 83rd in nmcsubcthe FBS or the lowest third.  It is also the lowest licensing rank of any school that has or will be presented within the expansion project – nearly five times less than fellow expansion candidate, the University of Connecticut.

All is not bad news for the Rams however.   With an enrollment of over 30,000, Colorado State would be fourth in the Big 12, behind Texas, Texas Tech, and Iowa State.  Most of this is recent growth as they’ve added 5,000 total students since 2010.  This gives them a base to start building their brand within the coming decades.

However, even with that favorable base, the lack of any sort of successful or historic brand, specifically when compared against other expansion candidates, hinders Colorado State’s value to the Big 12.


There was a time, not so long ago, when Colorado was one of the western anchors to the Big 12’s footprint.  At that time Iowa State and Missouri formed the eastern borders.  A lot has changed since then as the Big 12’s footprint now extends to another mountain range in the Eastern Time Zone.

nmcsulocThere was a lot of feedback on the University of Houston’s expansion capsule via email and on our forums, that I was unfair to the Cougars due to their low ranking in the location score, since they are still close to a lot of Big 12 schools.  I was rather clear in the original location article how everyone would be judged; distance to the geographic center of the Big 12 and distance to Morgantown, West Virginia.   To ignore that the Big 12 is aiming east and needs new markets is naive at best.   And, like most western schools, CSU takes a beating because of this.

At 838 miles away from the geographic center of the new Big 12, Colorado State is nearly exactly as far west of this point as West Virginia is east.   And that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the score, because the Rams come in at over 1,500 miles away from Morgantown.  To give that some perspective, UConn is closer in total mileage than CSU.  Whether you want to accept it or not, this distance makes it difficult for the Big 12.   And the Big 12 needs to get West Virginia off an island.

Typically this extra travel is balanced by a benefit of a market and Colorado State does have that.   While Fort Collins is only around 150,000 people, it is sixty miles north of Denver, which is the 17th largest market in the nation with 1.5 million homes.  Geographically, like the Salt Lake City DMA, the Denver market encompasses not only the bulk of Colorado and its 5.3 million residents, minus Grand Junction and Colorado Springs/Pueblo, but also extends into western Nebraska and southern Wyoming.  This gives the Rams the potential to not only get exposure in high density Denver, but also spread out through the smaller mountain regions.


With a low amount of revenue from licensing and a fan base lacking in a lot of exposure over decades, Colorado State’s athletic revenue hasn’t swelled like its enrollment.   Earning less than $40 million in revenue places the Rams last in the Big 12.  Matter a fact they are so securely in last that the current 10th place team is nearly twice their revenue.

nmcsufsThe story doesn’t get better from there.   As mentioned in previous articles, the Big 12 schools generate their revenue without many subsidies.   This means when revenues do increase they can be invested into the program, instead of used to pay down debt, e.g. stop using subsidies first.

Iowa State had one of the largest subsidies within the Big 12, and that only amounted to 1.15% of revenues.   Colorado State’s subsidies amount to 53% of revenues.  It would take the current per school payout from the Big 12’s media contract just to get Colorado State into the black.  Like the University of Houston, that’s a major concern, which is evident in its ranking of 90th out of 123 FBS schools reviewed and the only schools below them reside in conferences like the MAC and CUSA.

That being said, there is definitely room for improvement with attendance to make up the gap, as the Rams currently rank 86th in this category.   Football, the major factor of expansion, should get a boost with a beautiful new stadium in the pipeline for 2017.   Though, this new nmcsuattstadium will only house 36,000 seats with standing room only attendance swelling to 41,000.  That is still 10th place in the Big 12, behind TCU and Baylor, who have half the students.

Currently they rank 83rd in the FBS is football attendance with just over 25,000 fans per game.  And, even with a surging basketball support behind the feisty Larry Eustachy, the Rams rank 91st in the FBS in men’s basketball attendance.

While there is a lot of room for improvement, Colorado State’s financial health and attendance figures place them near the bottom of the AAC and not even in the ball park of the Big 12’s scores.  It would likely be extremely difficult for the Rams to compete consistently against current Big 12 members.



As mentioned, Colorado State is building a brand new football stadium indicating the administration and community is willing to invest in the Ram’s facilities to increase competitiveness.  Though, historically they have won just 47% of their games and 50% of their post season.  Granted there are Big 12 schools with a bad history in football as well, but those histories are also littered with losses against Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska, instead of non-Power Five Schools.

Academically, the Rams have a lot of positives.  While still a land grant school, which are typically chartered to educate as many state residents as possible, it does have a sizable amount of research expenditures.  Currently it comes in just below Iowa State and just above Kansas in the R&D rankings, which is a solid company of peers.

Another benefit of Colorado State is its location in the burgeoning foothills north of Denver.   Since 2005 Colorado has grown by nearly a million people, making it one of the fastest growing areas of the country.  This provides the Rams an opportunity to grow over the next several decades as that population begins to enroll people in college.

Much of the growth in the area is from companies headquartered elsewhere building facilities up and down the foothills of the Rockies.   However there are a few major Colorado companies, like Arrow, who is located in Englewood, about 80 miles south of Fort Collins.   Currently, most of the corporate investment within the university has come through research partnerships, not athletic sponsorships.


After taking into consideration all the positives and negatives discussed, we start to get a clear picture of the value Colorado State brings the Big 12.

nmcsutotIts only real strengths to offer the Big 12 currently is its location at the fringe of the Denver Metro Area and being a strong research facility.  Its scores rank it near the bottom third within the FBS for every category and, due to that, its ranks 89th over all.

Even if you don’t think location matters and I remove that category, Colorado State is still in the lower half of the FBS.  It likely has a lot of potential to grow into a power within Colorado over the next 10 to 20 years, especially if the state continues to grow, but it isn’t there yet.  Matter a fact it isn’t even close.

I’ve received a lot of comments that it could easily replace the University of Colorado within the state and I’m not sure I agree.  Here is how the two schools compare across the major categories after removing location:

nmcsuchartEven with the University of Colorado struggling over the past decade and having some financial issues, it clearly out ranks Colorado State in every category by a sizable margin.   Joining the Big 12 won’t automatically make Colorado State match these numbers and, even if they could, look how far below Colorado is from the Power Five average.  Both schools would need to improve significantly to even get to the middle of the Big 12 averages.

In the end, Colorado State has potential, but likely needs a lot more time to develop along that path before joining a Power Five conference.


If you have any questions or would like some numbers discussed, contact The Number Monkey via “Ask the Monkey” in our forum, on Twitter @TheNumberMonkey or by email [email protected].

©2016 Number Monkey Media


  1. I’m a bit confused on some of your points. First of all, CSU just surpassed CU in total enrollment, so that final graph is incorrect on “attendance”. Also, CSU just raised 197 million from donors last fiscal year (2015-16), which is more than CU has ever raised. You also took into account CSU’s overall winning percentage of 47%, but said that was against non-P5 schools. However, P5’s have only been a thing the past few years. In 1999, schools such as BYU and Utah joined CSU to form the MWC (schools that are now considered P5 schools, although BYU isn’t officially in a P5 yet). CSU also spent a few years playing TCU. The truth is, the gap between P5 and G5 schools has grown substantially, but this is a relatively recent change in the college football landscape.

    You’re correct that CSU has a ways to go in a lot of areas, specifically fan support, but their upside is as good as any other B12 expansion candidate. If the B12 doesn’t pick up CSU now, it’s only a matter of time until CSU gets into a P5 conference.

    • Personally I would like to see CSU in the Big XII, but the Monkey has his own way of looking at things. Your points are noted. I lived in Las Vegas for a decade so I am familiar with CSU and the MWC and truly believe it is (or at least was before TCU, Utah and BYU left) a very underrated football conference.

      I am working on a lame ass expansion piece where CSU is included if it makes you feel better. I had a few people from CSU contact me about this before it was released so I apologize for any disappointment. Best of luck getting the invite.

    • Ben – Thanks for your comments. Here are a few clarifications:

      I mentioned the boost in enrollment, but enrollment is not attendance. Enrollment is one factor in the branding and culture score, so it resides there. Attendance is how much fan support each school receives, e.g. average football attendance, basketball, etc. So the graph is not incorrect, it just isn’t measuring what you believe it to be. What it is showing is that CSU has far less people attending sporting events than Colorado.

      Power Five conferences have been around for a while, but prior there was six. The Mountain West was never as powerful as the Big 8, who had Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado constantly battling for national dominance for a while. And that is what I was referring to here. If Kansas State has a poor historic record like CSU, they played a lot tougher competition in that time so it really isn’t an apples to apples comparison. Considering who CSU was playing, they should have a higher win percentage than a low team in a more challenging conference.

      Lastly, the funds you’re discussing are university funds. The revenues I’m discussing are athletic department revenues. If two donors gave $5m each to CSU, one for an engineering school and the other for football, only the football one would count in this discussion. CSU had about $38m in revenues last year, of that $3.8m came from contributions, e.g. donations. Colorado, by contrast, had $67m in revenues with $10m in contributions. Both schools used a lot of subsidies from the universities, which, along with their low revenues, is what is depressing the financial strength scores for each.

      Hope that helps!

    • Oh, and I should give a Big 12 comparison on those revenues, sorry. Iowa State has the lowest revenues in the Big 12, at $75m, which included $21m in contributions and no school funds (their subsidy came from student fees).

      The middle of the Big 12 is closer to $85-90m in revenues, so CSU would need to have a sizable jump in how much they bring into their athletic department to match the middle of the pack. If you take subsidies out of the equation CSU’s athletic department earned about $18m in revenues.

  2. Although I question a few of the criteria judgments here, I ultimately take issue with the following statement: “It likely has a lot of potential to grow into a power within Colorado over the next 10 to 20 years, especially if the state continues to grow, but it isn’t there yet. Matter a fact it isn’t even close.”

    Your criteria (other than location, I guess) are all lagging indicators and do not speak to the “investments” CSU has recently made to achieve much higher success. These investments tell a story of where CSU is moving to, not where it has been. Anyone who has followed CSU in the past recognizes that it has always focused its investment on its academic side to detriment of athletic success. Right or wrong, you can point to the Sonny Lubick era as a prime example of failing to reinvest the financial windfall and fan excitement back into the football program. However, in the past 3-5 years, I recommend you take a look at what CSU is doing financially and its trend line (Facilities, coaching, donations, licensing). For your reference, see the following:

    http://www.csurams.com/genrel/081916aaa.html (Record licensing — increase by 35% over previous year)
    http://www.csurams.com/genrel/072116aad.html (record $31.8M in athletic dept fundraising)

    While I agree CSU is not “there” yet, it is getting “there” much faster than your statement indicates. Any bump to Big12 would certainly accelerate that process even more.

    • I agree, many schools didn’t focus on athletics and are now behind on their branding. The unfortunate thing for CSU is Colorado didn’t have that same limitation, though they seem to not care about sports now.

      It could easily accelerate faster than a decade or two, but it would take a considerable amount of success at a level CSU has not had to play yet. Beating one or two P5 teams a year and having to beat ten of them are completely different things. And most schools find that funding dries up if they are getting beat often. So my point was they are not at the level to compete with the bulk of the Big 12 in multiple sports. Their revenue and investment would need to triple and joining the Big 12, while it will increase their revenue, won’t give that much. If you believe it will, then obviously you are on the sooner side of the comment than later. TCU would be a good comparison with CSU about moving from the MWC to the Big 12, but remember TCU was winning Rose Bowls and resides right in the middle of one of the greatest recruiting grounds in the nation.

      At the end of the day, some of these indicators may be lagging, but they are lagging for everyone and the trend line needs to be growing much faster if CSU wants to make the jump successfully. Whether or not they have what it takes to do that from an administrative/booster stand point is anecdotal, but could be the difference maker.

  3. I get tired of apples to oranges comparisons. Look at CSU attendance and television ratings when they play P5 opponents. That is your indicator of what to expect if they are picked up by the Big12 or any other P5. You really want to compare CSU vs Alabama/BC/Colorado/MN as opposed to CSU vs USU/WY or even BSU. Attendence and Colorado households tuned in are hugely different because of access. But that is okay, you will probably say it is only BC fans in Colorado tuning in… wrong … there is pent up demand for CSU’s product and people like me who live out of the market only get to watch them when they play P5 teams because of the distribution model. It is hard to blame G5 schools for low viewership and alumni participation when the distribution system stifles access. This is kind of like politics, you only get to vote for who makes it on the ballot, which shows inflated support for the P5 schools or candidates you realy wouldn’t vote for if you had other choices. At least in my anecdotal case and from my conversations with fellow alums, if you provide the product we will consume it. But ESPN and Fox know enough will vote (tune in) even if it is not the preferred product.

    I appologize in advance for this last bit but, it is “matter of fact” not “matter a fact”.

    • Duane,

      First, thanks for your comments, especially the grammar one. No need to apologize, I try and track those down too, but when kicking out 10-15,000 words a week without even a second set of eyes, some crap gets through. I tend to spend more time going over the numbers than being a copy editor. I’m sure the Fanatic would take someone on too if it meant he didn’t have to deal with me. 😉

      As for your ratings comment, I’m both with and against you on this one. First, yes, not all viewers of games are P5 viewers if a P5 plays an FBS team. However, also remember that every team has peaks and valleys in their schedule and, generally, the biggest games are the best viewed. So, to your point, if CSU/Colorado had an audience of 600k in that 2014 it can be assumed that it is one of the larger audiences for CSU that they’ll see in that year. Especially if it is a rivalry game where they knock off a P5. That audience is still small though, similar to when Akron played Penn State. Looking at other P5 instate rivals in the same year we see Iowa/Iowa State at 1.7m viewers, and neither are big brands. FSU/Florida nets an audience around 6m people. If CSU/CU was pulling in 2m viewers I’d agree with you fully, but you’re not and that is what I am talking about fan bases. That same Iowa State team averaged nearly 60,000 people in football when going 2-10. CSU averaged around 31k when they went 10-3 and that includes the 63k that were at the Colorado game in Denver. Is CSU going to be able to expand to 50k+ seats and fill them constantly when they are getting beat down in a Big 12 conference schedule? It doesn’t appear that the fan base is there yet, but to be fair, not a lot of P5 schools are either. That is what the Big 12 needs more of though.