Colorado State Has Accomplished a MWC First: A Brand New Football Stadium
The Rams are stepping up their commitment to football.
Colorado State is above the rest with their new football stadium.
By all accounts, the new digs—encased as they are in metal, glass, and Colorado sandstone—are a hit. When the CSU Rams opened their 2017 football season versus Oregon State on August 26th, they did so in their brand new Colorado State Stadium. A jubilant crowd of 40,000 fans was on hand. Things could not have gone better—on or off the field.
After trading scores early, the Rams pulled away from the Pac-1212 Beavers in the second half. A pick six by CSU’s Tre Thomas, followed by a pair of Nick Stevens TD passes turned the debut into a route. CSU: 58 OSU: 27.
The Coloradoan and Denver Post provided lavish coverage of the opening. Fans gushed about the views, the fact that the stadium was actually on campus (the old place, Hughes Stadium, was located 3 miles west of CSU), and the sheer awesomeness of the New Belgian Beer Porch.
This is Colorado after all. Arguments that had seemed so important during the fundraising and planning stages (debt, academics first, etc), faded into the background. “I was wrong to doubt the new Colorado State Stadium,” Coloradoan columnist Mary Francis apologized. “The energy on campus was pure magic.” The Post’s Mark Kiszla thought so much of the new stadium he resorted to Neil Diamond. The $220 million new stadium? So good, so good, so good!
So What Does This Mean for MWC Football?
CSU’s Stadium is the first built-from-the-ground-up football stadium to open in the 19 year history of the Mountain West Conference. The first, and thus far (SDSU?) only, brand new MWC stadium.
Others conferences, though, have been building away. Over the past 30 years, NCAA Division I FBS college football programs around the country have built 21 new stadiums. This number does not include stadiums (Heinz Field, Lincoln Financial Field, Raymond James Stadium, etc) built by professional teams that are used by college programs.
Nor does it tally the almost innumerable renovation projects to existing structures. Before Colorado State Stadium, there had been two college seasons with nothing brand new. The University of Houston and Baylor University had opened new stadiums in 2015. Tulane University completed its Yulman Stadium in 2014.
Most of the building over the past three decades has been done by “mid-major” schools. Of course analyzing stadium growth via athletic conference is tricky given the fact that many schools have built a stadium and then switched conferences. Or they’ve built a stadium in order to move up to the FBS level. Nevertheless, here’s the new stadium breakdown, since 1987, according to the current conference affiliation of the university:
American Athletic Conference – 5 new stadiums (Houston, Tulane, UCF, UConn, SMU)
Conference USA – 5 new stadiums (Charlotte, North Texas, FAU, FIU, Marshall)
Sun Belt Conference – 2 new stadiums (Coastal Carolina, Georgia State)
Mid-American Conference – 2 new stadiums (Akron, Buffalo)
Most of the country’s largest stadiums (those of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC) were constructed during the 1920s and 30s. Only three schools, while already members of the cash-rich Power Five conferences, have constructed stadiums in the past 30 years.
Baylor University (Big 12) opened its McLane Stadium, at the cost of $266 million, in 2014. It has a capacity of 45,140. The University of Minnesota (Big Ten) spent just over $300 million to build its 50,805 seat TCF Bank Stadium. It opened in 2009.
And then there’s Stanford University. We’ll let Stanford on this list (see Stanford, exclusivity can go both ways), but barely. We’ll call it a legacy acceptance. Stanford (Pac-12) demolished its former stadium in 2005 and built a new one in the same spot.
The new Stanford Stadium, which opened in 2006, seated 50,424 and cost less than $100 million. The bargain price tag came from the fact that Stanford reused some spare parts, including its press box elevator and some of the original stadium lights, and utilized aluminum risers. Who knew there were such bargains in Silicon Valley?
This leaves the most interesting new builds for last. For three schools since 1987 a new stadium paid the ultimate dividend: entry to a Power Five conference.
The University of Utah opened the gates of Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time in 1998, one season before the school helped launch the MWC. The back story here though, is fairly unique.
Utah’s new stadium came with an Olympic Games attached. Salt Lake City was awarded the 2002 Winter Olympics in 1995. The Utes’ Rice Stadium was insufficient for the task. Thus everything but the south end zone bleachers came down, and Rice-Eccles resulted. The University of Utah, after a sustained run of success in the MWC, jumped to the Pac-12 in 2011.
Rutgers and Louisville Universities opened new stadiums in 1994 and 1998. The Scarlet Knight was a member of the Big East at the time; Louisville competed in Conference USA. The building of brand new 50,000+ seat stadiums helped both schools move to stronger football conferences. Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014. Louisville moved to the Big East, and then, also in 2014, to the ACC.
CSU Went Big
Taking the Power Five builds out of the equation, the average stadium constructed in the past 30 years had a total capacity of 34,186. While reporting metrics differ, this capacity number comes from seats, boxes, and predetermined standing room areas.
Thus Colorado State’s maximum capacity of 41,200 stands out. The Rams went 17 percent larger than average. Only UCF (with its nearly 65,000 students), among non-Power Five conference schools, has built a stadium in the past 30 years larger than the new one in Fort Collins.
Is bigger better? That depends I suppose. But when considering the new builds in the college football world over the past 30 years, one can’t help but notice that schools constructing on campus stadiums the size of CSU’s new one tend to end up in Power Five conferences. That’s the pattern. And that’s not even accounting for the craft beer porch built right into Colorado State Stadium.