The first Big 12 meetings in Phoenix have now wrapped up, and more information is starting to trickle about concerning which way the administrators are leaning. It certainly seems as if expansion is closer to happening than ever before, but if the most recent report from Chuck Carlton of the DMN is accurate, there's still plenty of room for some big surprises in this process.
Per Carlton, the top four candidates for Big 12 expansion are:
Since any expansion dovetails with a TV network, look to the markets of possible candidates. For now, the top four are believed to be Connecticut, BYU (which has a national following), Cincinnati and possibly Colorado State (Denver market), although the situation is fluid.
Okay, sure, we've talked about UConn, BYU and Cincinnati all before...but *record scratch*, Colorado State?
The Rams have been left off all but the most exhaustive expansion candidate lists, and haven't popped up very much in dispatches from national writers. The proximity to a potentially lucrative television market is there, and there is more Big 12 fan and alumni saturation in Denver than there is in virtually any city in the eastern time zone. But even though the Rams are in the middle of major and significant infrastructure upgrades, the disparities between them and their hypothetical Big 12 peers are significant.
Per the USA TODAY database, Colorado State took in less than $40 Million in athletic department revenues last season. The smallest reported Big 12 department, Iowa State, took in more than $70 Million. Other than a run in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and perhaps now, the Rams haven't been very good at football either. Last year marked only the second time in school history that they've made a bowl game three years in a row.
Finally, the fact that West Virginia's desire for a travel partner served as one of the reasons for investigating expansion in the first place would make the serious consideration of Colorado State curious. If the Big 12 wanted a western partner, what does Colorado State provide that BYU doesn't, other than Sunday play availability and a public, rather than private, administrative model? Perhaps that's enough.
This isn't to say the DMN is wrong, only that adding Colorado State would seem unusual, unless perhaps the conference expanded beyond 12 (a scenario that has been at least modeled).
For what it's worth, I heard over the weekend that Big 12 administrators were a bit less enamored with adding either Memphis or a Florida school, and this would confirm that a bit.
Conference leaders are still likely a ways from making a decision. Big 12 leaders meet again at the end of May, and will seek out additional data on how expansion may impact their television deals. Don't necessarily expect an announcement then (although this is unlikely to continue into say, the football season). That leaves more time for expansion advocates to work on Texas, who reportedly "appears to really like 10 conference members and no more."