State of Athletics at UW

January 22, 1999


What a difference a year makes. Last year, at this time, a young University of Wyoming basketball team, under theleadership of a first-year head coach, captured the imagination of Wyoming fans with a tenacious defense and a deliberateoffense. This year, a younger UW basketball team, again under the leadership of a first-year head coach, is exciting fanswith hustle, hard work and a running, high-scoring offense.

For many Cowboy basketball fans, the coaching change from Joby Wright to Larry Shyatt to Steve McClain has beenunsettling. We suspect that also is true for fans of other UW sports who have seen, in recent years, not only the hiring of anew athletic director but also the hiring of new head coaches for every team except mens golf, women tennis, andwrestling.

While stability can be comforting, change really is the norm at dynamic universities, and not just in athletics. In recentyears, UW has hired new faculty and staff, deans, vice presidents, and a new president. Almost every year we welcomesome new Trustees as the terms of others expire, and every year more than 1,000 new students cross our doorstep tobegin their education. The challenge facing universities that aspire to excellence is to ensure that the changes theyexperience change them for the better.

The University of Wyoming has had a long, proud tradition of excellence in intercollegiate athletics. Fans across the statereminisce fondly about our 1943 national championship in basketball, our seven Western Athletic Conference footballchampionships and our ten appearances in bowl games. Those were great days, but while we should remember the past,we can't afford to live in the past. If we do, our best days surely will be behind us.

Just as the single wing gave way to multiple formations, just as the jump shot replaced the two-hand set shot, changes insociety have changed the very nature of college sports. In the early part of this century, college sports were envisioned assurrogate battlefields where young men of privilege could achieve manhood through physical "combat." Racial integration,the inception of need-based scholarships, and Title IX have since opened up opportunities for increasing numbers ofAmericans to attend college and play intercollegiate athletics. Quite frankly, the face of intercollegiate athletics haschanged and -- notwithstanding the ongoing issues of institutional control and integrity -- has changed for the better.

The economics of intercollegiate athletics also have changed. Intercollegiate athletics no longer simply provide localentertainment and a focus for community pride. Thanks to mass communication and commercial marketing, intercollegiateathletics are played in a national arena where a college on one coast can have legions of fans on the other shore. Youngpeople in Wyoming, who've never been to North Carolina, buy Duke t-shirts. High school students in North Carolina buyUCLA sweatshirts. How many prospective college students living outside the state of Wyoming buy UW t-shirts? Notnearly as many as we'd like.

Today, we live in an era where universities with successful, nationally recognized athletic teams will prosper while otherswill not. People within Wyoming continue to be loyal supporters of the Cowboys and Cowgirls. Many of you still drive toLaramie from hundreds of miles away to attend games at War Memorial Stadium and the Arena-Auditorium. Many ofyou also support our academic enterprise, enrolling at UW and supporting UW with your private donations. But, if we areto be truly successful academically, athletically and financially, we must broaden our base of support both inside andoutside the state of Wyoming. We want to be nationally recognized for our academic excellence but, as we have seen inexamples ranging from BYU to the University of Florida, intercollegiate athletics can be our doorway to the world - if doit on our own terms. Put simply, we must operate at the highest levels of athletic performance, academic accomplishment,and universal integrity.

So, how do we plan to achieve national recognition for intercollegiate athletics on our terms?

In a very real sense, it all starts with people. As we have already noted, change at universities is constant. Whenever wechange intercollegiate athletic administrators and coaches, through resignation or retirement, we do so with the expectationthat they will produce success on the playing field within the rules established by the NCAA and within the academicstandards we have for student-athletes. When our coaches recruit new student-athletes, we expect them to bring toLaramie not only high-caliber athletes but also students of high moral character who understand and appreciate the valueof a university education.

The process of recruiting student-athletes, however, contains its own set of conflicting expectations. Wyomingites reverehomegrown athletes and would like all their high school heroes to play for UW. But, as we mentioned earlier, times havechanged. If UW is to be nationally competitive in intercollegiate athletics, if our fans want us to successfully challenge thetop schools in the country, we must recruit the best student-athletes available. Our philosophical position has been clearand consistent: We are committed to pursuing every Wyoming student-athlete that our coaches -- in their professionaljudgment -- believe is capable of success at the Division I-A level. At the same time, we can't expect our coaches andteams to be successful if the final decision on whether to recruit an athlete is based on his or her zip code. Neither can weexpect every top Wyoming athlete to automatically transfer their loyalty to UW; some are going to go to schoolout-of-state regardless of how hard we recruit them.

We want to be competitive for top student-athletes, and we will be increasingly competitive when we build our StudentAthlete Center, a privately-funded athletic/academic complex to be located near War Memorial Stadium. We also haveworked hard in recent years to increase the loyalty of potential UW students and student-athletes through our on-campussports camps and off-campus sports festivals. With early and frequent exposure to UW, we hope that many moreWyoming high school students will decide to enroll at UW for their college careers. Some, no doubt, will join thepantheon of UW sports heroes.

Because we want everyone in Wyoming to be as excited about UW athletics as we are, we've tried to increase fanenthusiasm by increasing the number of televised football and basketball games. But television creates its own set ofconflicts. We know that UW fans in Wyoming want to see the Cowboys play on TV. However, we also know byexperience that televising games within Wyoming significantly reduces the number of people who are willing to drive toLaramie (or even leave their homes in Laramie) to see a game in person. Smaller attendance decreases revenue at thegate. It also decreases our attractiveness to national television networks and bowl committees. Consequently, while wewould like to televise more games within Wyoming, we will only televise home Cowboy games when we believe we canafford to. We will televise away game whenever we can. We think it's fair to say that the new Mountain West Conferenceseven-year television contract with ESPN will give Wyoming residents more opportunities than ever before to seeCowboy football and basketball games on television.

In order to build broader excitement for UW sports, we will continue to explore ways by which we can better marketUW athletics. As noted above, in the past year we have strengthened out national marketing position by helping to buildthe Mountain West Conference from the ruins of the Western Athletic Conference. And, we are working to make UWlicensed products -- from clothing to souvenirs -- more attractive and more competitive in the national marketplace. Byincreasing our licensed-product revenue, we can increase visibility for UW and increase our spending on intercollegiateathletics without adding to the cost of attending our games.

As you can see, we have many challenges to meet if we are to join the ranks of the nation's most successful and mostvisible intercollegiate athletics programs. But that is our goal, and so we embrace those challenges. We hope you will joinus in helping the University of Wyoming reach our goal and recapture a measure of our past greatness. If we succeed, wewill honor the past while building the foundation for an even greater future, for UW and for the state of Wyoming.

Go Pokes!