College football realignment: CSU Rams happy to talk (again) to Big 12. But after being jilted by Texas, Oklahoma, will Big 12 listen?

Texas and Oklahoma just opened up a massive hole along college football’s front line. Can the CSU Rams run through it?

“Absolutely,” Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker told The Post. “I think that’s something that every one of the schools that is playing within a Group of 5 league (understands). We’re always interested in understanding our options and exploring our options.

“And that’s not to say that we don’t appreciate what we have today in our current league and our peer programs that we compete with every single day. We’ve been proud members of the Mountain West Conference since its inception (1998) and we’re going to remain true to those relationships.

“But I think everyone also understands that as you move forward in the future of college football, you want to make sure that you’re appropriately aligned and have the opportunity to perform at a higher level.”

The Longhorns and Sooners are leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference by at least 2025. Maybe sooner. That’s thrown the future of the remaining eight members, collectively and individually, into speculation and chaos.

Will the Pac-12 and Big 12 remnants — the Little Eight, if you will — form a 20-team super league of their own? Will the American Athletic Conference, which has been accused of (and denied) being an ESPN sleeper agent, follow the SEC’s lead on poaching and expanding? And what will become of the scraps?

It’s a mess, potentially. But let’s keep it local and start here: If you’re calling, and you’ve got television dollars burning in your back pocket, Parker is happy to listen.

And happy to plead the Rams’ case, just as he did with the Big 12 in 2016.

“Revenues are important,” the Rams AD said. “We know what the value of the Mountain West is as it relates to our television contract and the (prerequisites) that we play in when we play a Mountain West schedule … there isn’t a single school that wouldn’t answer the call if someone (from the Power 5) invited them into that conversation.”

Will that call come? CSU insiders aren’t sure. CSU outsiders aren’t sure. But they all agree on one thing: It’s probably time, once again, for the Rams to whisper sweet nothings in the ears of the big boys. And to let the chips fall where they may.

“All the sense in the world”

Because if they don’t start whispering, as CBS Sports football analyst and former CU coach Rick Neuheisel points out, somebody else will.

“The Mountain West is a terrific conference,” Neuheisel told The Post recently. “But CSU, based on the facilities that they’ve built and based on the economy and the city of Fort Collins, which seems to be a really thriving community, I would be absolutely fighting, tooth-and-nail, to get into … what becomes of the AAC and the Big 12’s remaining teams.

“I think CSU fits perfectly in that. And I would be looking for that road, to be a part of that in some way, shape or form, absolutely. You’re part of the Denver (media) market. You’re part of a time zone that can be attractive. And when you start putting some of these teams together in the American and what remains of the Big 12, that makes all the sense in the world.”

Sense and cents. Before the coronavirus pandemic blew in, the Mountain West in January 2020 announced a television deal with FOX and CBS Sports that would be worth an estimated $4.1 million in revenue per MW school through 2026. While that tripled the return on the previous TV contract, it still reportedly is close to half what an AAC school gets from ESPN and roughly a 10th what the Pac-12 distributed to CU ($33.6 million) for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The Rams have two wrinkles in renewed talks with bigger leagues that they didn’t five years ago. One is university president Joyce McConnell, who came to Fort Collins from West Virginia, where she worked under WVU president E. Gordon Gee as the Mountaineers transitioned to the Big 12.

The other is the opening of Canvas Stadium in the summer of 2017. The on-campus home of Rams football has been praised by fans, staff and — most importantly — recruits, despite the project’s $220-million price tag and the debt incurred as part of its construction.

“I can’t speak about if (the stadium) was worth it on the part of CSU’s side of things financially,” said Highlands Ranch High School tight end Jade Arroyo, a Rams commit ranked as the No. 11 ranked prospect in the state for the Class of 2022 by

“But for me, I think in the long run, it’ll definitely be worth it, with recruiting pitches and obviously, just to bring in new eyes — looking at the Big 12 possibly, or other conference realignments. I think that it (plays) a big role if the (Rams) want to move to a bigger conference or realign.”

If the football stadium is an athletic department’s front porch, CSU is swinging a bigger stick to conference presidents and television executives than ever before.

“(Canvas Stadium), no matter what happens, was worth it,” Neuheisel stressed. “The stadium was worth it because it gives every student-athlete that plays in it (the feeling) that you’re playing in a big-time environment … in terms of was it worth it, you can never answer that question negatively. Your student-athletes feel like they’re the most important thing on campus. And that’s exactly what the mission statement should be.”

“A new stadium is no guarantee”

The issue? It’s not the front porch. It’s the product.

Over the previous four seasons, the Rams are 15-26 (.366). CSU hasn’t posted a winning record, or played in a bowl game, since 2017. The Rams haven’t won more than seven games since 2014 (10-3), which was also the last season in which they won more than five league tilts (6-2). And that was two coaches ago.

Attendance, despite the novelty of Canvas’ opening, has dropped accordingly. In 2017, CSU drew an average of 32,062 fans per home game, or 87.8% of capacity. Just two seasons later, that average tumbled to 23,338 per contest, or a dip of 24% per home date.

“Playing Group of 5 football, and Group of 5 athletics in general, (becomes) a huge revenue suck,” noted Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at Holy Cross and a Colorado native. “Because you’re basically stuck with all the expenses of all the big-time programs but without all those big media rights revenues and ticket revenues.”

And TV networks who foot the bill want teams that bring television eyeballs. According to the website SportsMediaWatch, four of CSU’s games in 2019 on the ESPN family of networks whose ratings were reported averaged 644,500 viewers per game. In 2017, the site listed the average audience of Rams appearances on ESPN at 920,000 per game, including streaming.

“There aren’t 20 (schools) that are going to be invited into the Power 5,” Matheson continued. “And just building a new stadium is no guarantee to get (you) in there. There’s no reason why Colorado State would get chosen over, say, BYU.

“They’re going to (garner) big basketball revenues at Kansas or huge football revenues at other places. And (those universities) are not going to want to share that with schools that draw 25,000 per game.”

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