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In Wyoming, UW Cowboy sports matter to just about everybody

Feb 25, 2014 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

While producing a segment for Wyoming PBS's "Capitol Outlook" last week, I began this way: "When it comes to the University of Wyoming, sports matter."

A colleague suggested I should have prefaced the package by saying, "When it comes to Wyoming, UW sports matter."

Do you agree? Are the Cowboys and Cowgirls your conduit to our state's only four-year university? Chances are, what you hear about UW's athletic programs shape how you feel about the University of Wyoming in general.

Why else have college sports?

Certainly there are those who believe that football in particular should be eliminated from the array of college sports at American universities because it undermines our educational system in such a way as to impact our competitiveness globally in science, engineering and technology.

Why should universities be known more for their bowl records, the arguments go, when achievements in labs are far more important to our lives and economy than whether a coach should have gone for it on fourth down?

Why shouldn't we worry more about recruiting academic talent than whether our receivers can run a 4.4 second 40-yard dash?

Why should our university offer sports?

Because sports matter.

Look no farther than UW's video on its homepage that asks the question, "Can one university make an impact?" Intermixed with the symphony, engineers and scientists are cheerleaders, band members and football players. Sports and academics meld together in American college culture.

Chad Baldwin, former Ranger editor and current University of Wyoming Director of Institutional Communications, says that there is ample evidence that strong academic institutions can and should have outstanding athletic programs. Strong intercollegiate athletic programs, Baldwin says, support the academic mission of the university.

Sports at most universities don't turn a profit. But if we feel good about the way UW's sports are managed, that our teams are working to be competitive, and are competing in facilities that we are proud of, then we feel good about our university.

On the same "Capitol Outlook" last week, host Geoff O'Gara said that our state sighed a collective moan when Larry Nance Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury Tuesday night in the second half of Wyoming's basketball game with Fresno State. Athletics was again our bridge to UW.

And athletes give back.

It may surprise you to learn that at the level of individual donors, alumni who participated in intercollegiate athletics when they were students donate more than alumni who never saw the inside of a locker room.

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I spent a half hour last Wednesday with Coach Craig Bohl, the new head football coach at the University of Wyoming, for an upcoming "Wyoming Chronicle" on Wyoming PBS. I'll be writing about my interview in upcoming days.

I also got to meet Stuart Williams. He's Wyoming's kicker who was working out Wednesday in the Indoor Practice Facility (the relatively new indoor football field adjacent to War Memorial Stadium). When he leaves Wyoming, he'll have two engineering degrees in his pocket.

He's also begun his marketing campaign to make "the poster" and to become team captain. He already has one vote, he says (his own), as he joked with Tim Harkins, UW's associate athletics director for media relations.

Odds are you will see "the poster" with Wyoming's 2014 schedule this spring and summer. That's another bridge that UW uses to reach you.

It's time to have a kicker on "the poster."

You now have two votes, Stuart.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!