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Winning on the football field will win over CSU on-campus stadium doubters

A look inside the proposed on-campus stadium at Colorado State University. The topic has divided the Fort Collins community, and the Rams have to win to win over the town.
A look inside the proposed on-campus stadium at Colorado State University. The topic has divided the Fort Collins community, and the Rams have to win to win over the town.
CSURams.com

Opinion – Win and you're in.

Fort Collins isn't sold on buying a new football stadium, even if it will be privately funded.

Some argue the traffic around the area – the south end of campus – will be too much to bare.

Others are worried about noise on gameday, specifically those living in closest proximity of campus.

And some, the Wall Street Journal in particular, argue a new football stadium neither guarantees wins on the field nor attendance in the stands.

From Rachel Bachman's piece that published a week ago, “No academic research exists to support the notion that a new stadium helps a college football team win, experts say. Nor will it necessarily attract more fans. The universities of Akron and Minnesota both moved from off-campus to new on-campus stadiums in 2009. Both saw initial attendance bumps before attendance dropped below pre-new-stadium levels.”

For Colorado State, those comments must be frightening.

Of course, Athletic Director Jack Graham – who staged a coup, selling the on-campus stadium to CSU President Tony Frank back in December of 2011 as a way of getting the job – needs his new stadium to attract more in terms of attendance, and when fans flock back to Fort Collins, they need to be watching a competitive team.

Should Colorado State take a $225 million gamble? Is building a stadium more like a Hail Mary pass – attempting to lure in bigger recruits and out-of-state tuition money – than a methodically constructed touchdown drive?

President Frank explained it this way to The WSJ, "In fact, in places—research funding and things—we do far better," he said when comparing Oregon to CSU. "Yet, I bet if you asked 100 people outside the state of Oregon and the state of Colorado which is the better academic institution, probably 90 to 95% would say the University of Oregon. And what I would argue to you is that that would be based largely on perception and the visibility from athletics."

A winning football team – the most visible part of a university, especially to pre-college teens – simply makes one school more attractive than another. At least to a certain segment of the population. And when the team wins, they play more games in front of national television audiences, with the ability to show off the academics side of the university to the all-important out-of-state students.

Simply, with state funding diminishing, Colorado State is looking for new ways to bring in money. One way is to attract more out-of-state students and their tuition that is three times that of an in-state resident. Currently, 81 percent of CSU students are from the Centennial State; Frank intends for an additional 5,000 out-of-staters to come in. And soon. Putting millions of dollars into the academic facilities hasn't brought more out-of-state students, Frank is banking on the new football stadium to do so.

What the Rams need is a perfect storm of sorts. And, the storm clouds seem to be building as we speak.

First, they must win. They need to raise money for academics – which a $500 million fundraising campaign was completed last year – and then raise money for athletics.

Without winning, raising money for athletics – and ultimately the new on-campus stadium – will be impossible.

Rams head coach Jim McElwain admitted that much in his weekly press conference last Monday, when I asked if his team must win to win over the doubters.

“Absolutely. That's part of the job. I've said that from the get-go,” McElwain explained. “But I also know we've got to win right. You take shortcuts, it's going to crumble at the end. That's something I refuse to do and won't do. I think you can see that in the way our guys are playing. But, I think that's obviously a part of it.”

About 40 percent of the way through their current season, McElwain's Rams sit at 2-3. It's not exactly where he wanted to be, but it's also becoming clearer that they're improving. Last season's 4-8 record was a slight improvement over the previous three seasons, while they've shown glimpses of brilliance in all three phases of the game. All indications point to Colorado State continuing to get better this season and in the long term, with McElwain's recruits already showing more promise and potential than the previous regime's players.

Of course, a gleaming on-campus stadium would only help with bringing in bigger and better recruits.

Currently, CSU is in the “quiet fundraising phase”. Graham is busy raising big donations in order to get to that now $113 million number, or half of what the updated design is slated to cost. Frank and CSU's Board of Governors agreed to build the on-campus stadium if, and only when half of the proposed total has been raised. And that must happen within the next year, two total years after Graham got Frank to convince the BOG.

Where is Colorado State in that fundraising? No one can say for sure, because they won't tell a soul. But once they hit the mark, it's likely they will make an announcement. Tony Frank, in his notes on the stadium from three days ago, says he's confident they will have raised one-third of that $113 million by the end of the year.

No doubt about it, this new on-campus stadium is coming. Graham's job depends on its construction, or at least it's why Paul Kowalczyk was fired and Graham was hired. Kowalczyk was doing a fine job, but Graham promised something bigger, something brighter, something bolder.

CSU's new AD ushered in his “Bold New Era,” and unquestionably, things have improved in Fort Fun when athletics are concerned.

Graham lured Jim McElwain from Alabama, a huge hire and Mac admitted to the WSJ the promise of opening an on-campus stadium brought him to Northern Colorado. CSU's AD also hired Larry Eustachy, who earned the respect of a team full of seniors, pushing them to play a different brand of basketball than they were used to, while compiling multiple team records in his first season as head coach. Graham's also ended the school's contract with Russell Athletic for much more popular Under Armor, opened a new retail store in Old Town, began pregame traditions, and ditched Water Polo for Women's Soccer.

Nearly two years after being presented, seemingly out of nowhere by Graham, I'm in continued support of the stadium's construction, understanding the possibilities is presents.

The program would immediately catch up to the national powerhouses, at least in terms of facilities. Only a handful of the 125-team FBS division don't play in an on-campus stadium; CSU's situation is an outlier, making the Rams outsiders.

Another brand new building on campus would only make it more attractive to students and student-athletes alike, especially when they include a classroom, like the new renderings include. Of course, it also means bringing football fans and alumni – some of which haven't visited where the school side of things in years – back to campus, where it's ever-evolving, always becoming more beautiful.

And down the line, if the Rams can become perennial winners, filling their stadium, a bigger and more prestigious conference may come calling. A move up from the Mountain West would boost their television earnings and help the athletics department overall.

Build it and they will come? Colorado State has to hope so.

But first, they have to win to win-over the town.

Previous CSU on-campus stadium pieces:

Three-part series on the stadium

Part One: State of Colorado State Athletics

Part Two: How Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium compares

Part Three: To build or not to build? CSU's future is in question

Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichKurtzman) for all your CSU Rams news and opinion.