Why Athletics Matters So Much at the University of Wyoming

August 26, 2013

By Robert J. Sternberg

When people hear of my passion for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Wyoming, they sometimes ask me why I care so much about athletics. After all, a university is essentially an academic institution, and so what does athletics have to do with an academic institution? As it turns out, quite a lot.

First, land-grant institutions like UW are dedicated to educating future ethical leaders who will make a positive, meaningful and enduring difference to the world. If you look at the characteristics of successful leaders and you look at the characteristics of successful athletes, they are pretty much the same -- drive to succeed, good work ethic, sense of responsibility, knowing how to win and how to lose, skill in planning, understanding the rules of a game, treating others including competitors with respect, ethical behavior toward others, knowing how to work with teammates, and so forth. When we educate athletes at UW, we educate the future ethical leaders of the state of Wyoming and our nation.

Second, athletics helps promote positive spirit and passion toward the university, not only among the athletes, but also among all the fans. It is one of our greatest sources of “UW Pride.” In the end, most citizens of Wyoming do not know exactly how strong one or another department is, but many of them do know how our teams are doing, especially in football and basketball. As a land-grant institution, we serve the state and want people in the state to connect with and be enthusiastic about us. Athletics is a major means of promoting connection and enthusiasm.

Third, athletics promotes good health habits among our students at UW. We hear about how people who get out of shape suffer more illnesses and live shorter lives. Collegiate athletics can promote the kinds of good health habits that last a lifetime. And athletics provides something constructive for students at UW to do in their free time, rather than some of the negative activities in which they might otherwise engage during this time.

Fourth, athletics helps UW financially. When a university has winning teams, donors are more likely to give money, not only to athletics, but also to other endeavors of the university. There is a saying that “nothing breeds success like success,” and this saying applies to athletics. Many donors who start off giving money to athletics end up giving money to academic endeavors as well. So winning games not only will help our athletics program, but also our entire university.

Finally, athletics helps promote the statewide and national brand of the University of Wyoming. I saw this as a provost and senior vice president at Oklahoma State. When the football team excelled, the university started getting free positive publicity in national media, not only for football, but also for other things. Moreover, applications for admission skyrocketed. People who before hardly knew that Oklahoma State existed now began to talk about the university with enthusiasm. Athletics success helps promote prominence. And let’s face it: To get this kind of prominence and attention, a university team has to be Division I. For better or worse, people just don’t pay the same kind of attention to teams in Divisions II and III.

The core of a university is its academic mission. But done right, athletics complements that academic mission rather than competing with it! (Done wrong, athletics leads to scandals and bad press -- definitely not what we want for UW!)

So now you know why I’m passionate about intercollegiate athletics, and about seeing our beloved University of Wyoming win its games. I want you to be passionate too, so please come to our games. The 2013 home football schedule begins Sept. 7 against the University of Idaho. Athletes play better when they have big audiences to cheer them on. We need you at our games.

Go Pokes!

Robert J. Sternberg is president of the University of Wyoming.

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