INTRO: With the exception of the Wyoming Cowgirls basketball team, it’s been tough sledding for athletics at the University of Wyoming. While there has been a couple of football bowl wins, some success from wrestling and swimming, it’s been mostly glum. But led by an eight win football season and an apparent turnaround of the Cowboys basketball team, things are looking up again. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
BOB BECK: When Tom Burman took over the Athletics Director job at the University of Wyoming in 2006, things were not all that great for UW sports. In the ensuing years, there were some successes, thanks to the Cowgirls Women’s National Invitation Tournament title and first ever trip to the NCAA tournament. But for the most part, it been tough going..
TOM BURMAN: “I’m pretty impatient, so there have been times over the last five years where I’ve said, geez we just can’t quite turn the corner. Not so much in football, I felt the last three years, even last year when we slipped and we went 3-9, I was pretty confident we were going the right way. Basketball situation I’ve been banging my head against the wall for five years.”
BECK: Burman wanted success at all levels of his athletics program. The wrestling team has quickly vaulted into one of the top teams in the nation…but it took a while for the other programs to catch fire. However he remained confident.
BURMAN: “You can see incremental gains that sometimes don’t come out in wins and losses, I knew volleyball was going in the right direction. I felt pretty good about soccer, but there were times, even early this year where I was going, come on we gotta get it going, we have to win these games that we were losing 1-0. But I think I can look back on it and say there was progress.”
BECK: And progress did occur. For the first time in its 16 year history the soccer team won a post season conference tournament game and actually made it all the way to the Mountain West Conference Championship game. Then volleyball rose up and upset nationally ranked Colorado State in one contest and won its first conference tournament game since 1998 and this year’s wrestling team is ranked among the top 15 in the nation.
BECK: Fans are starting to notice too. At a recent Wyoming basketball game fans like Bob Austin were excited.
BOB AUSTIN: I think it comes down to that they are doing a lot better with their recruiting and we are seeing better quality players and they are fun to watch again.
BECK: Two rows away Billy Warpness agrees.
BILLY WARPNESS: It’s extremely better, it’s a heckuv a lot funner to come and watch that’s for sure.
BECK: But not everyone is paying attention. That concerns Cheyenne resident Sherry McBride.
SHERRY MCBRIDE: Even though the coaching changes have been better there seems to be less fan participation and I don’t know why that is. Q-Do you think people are a little skeptical and waiting to see? A-Yes, yes waiting to see what happens.”
BECK: Burman is not that worried about the attendance now, because if for instance the basketball team does well during the conference season, he has no doubt that the fans will come out in droves. He says the key to generating interest in all the sports teams is tied to the success of the football team. Wyoming Football Coach Dave Christensen agrees.
DAVE CHRISTENSEN: The football program at almost every University in American is the front porch to the University. And when football is doing well, the alumni are excited, donations are good, the enrollment is up.”
BECK: And other teams try to match that success. How long will this all last? Burman says the teams are recruiting better and new coaches have made a difference…but he says success will likely go in cycles.
BURMAN: “I’ve always believed that Wyoming can rise up and have great years. I’m not sure we can always be great.”
Beck: That’s because Wyoming coaches have to recruit players that take time to develop and budgets are smaller than other division one school. But Burman does believe that this is one of those times when it is good to be a Wyoming fan.