Every collegiate conference has a team or a couple teams that simply have it a little more difficult than the rest of the league. Washington State’s rural eastern Washington presence makes it difficult to sustain success in the PAC 12. Vanderbilt’s academic requirements make it hard for the Commodores to consistently compete at the top of the SEC.
The University of Wyoming falls into a similar category. The Pokes geographic isolation, small population and simple lifestyle make it the most challenging place to win in the Mountain West Conference and one of the most arduous places to win in the entire country.
Let’s face it, the majority of the new generation isn’t exactly over the moon for small towns or a rural way of life. According to a recent study by CityLab.com, millennials are flocking to big cities at an all-time high in a process called youthification.
That trend likely won’t slow and that generation is the one UW is trying to attract to Laramie in order to compete at a high level.
The Gem City of the Plains doesn’t have an urban dynamic. Chains stores such as Footlocker or Starbucks are replaced by old downtown shops with local flair.
Traffic doesn’t stream down First and Second Street or Grand Avenue — the epicenter of Laramie. Traffic lights are positioned unassumingly near the sidewalks, not overheard and dangling from a wire. Cars park at an angle, not parallel to the curb, sidewalks are wide and not overly crowded. Laramie has a vibrant downtown, it’s just not the vibrant downtown millennials seek.
It’s not San Diego, with its intersecting highways and interstates, proximity to white sandy beaches or electric nightlife. It’s not Las Vegas with its bright lights, endless entrainment options and desirable winter climate. It’s not even Fort Collins — just 65 miles down the road from Laramie — with its booming population and slew of breweries.
Even in a pool of cities featuring Albuquerque, Boise, Reno, Fresno and San Jose, Laramie is the black sheep, the outcast and something completely different. More than half of the schools, eight, in the MWC are located in a city inside the top 100 in terms of population. Laramie barely surpasses 30,000 people — the smallest town housing a MWC school.
Not only are most prospective collegiate athletes drawn to bigger cites, but with sheer population numbers comes the likelihood of higher athletic prowess. The more people, the more athletes and the more high-caliber athletes — California, Florida and Texas always boast the most collegiate-bound high school talent.
Fresno State can find a good portion of its football roster within its metropolitan area, and nearly its entire team is from the state of California.
Wyoming has but two players from the city of Laramie and just 17 players from the state of Wyoming, the large majority of which are preferred walk-ons. And it’s not as if Laramie is situated near a large epicenter of population. On more than one occasion each winter, Interstate 80 will close, severing Laramie from Wyoming’s capital and largest city. It’s simply a norm for the people that call Laramie and Wyoming home, but far from the norm for many college-bound athletes not from the Equality State.
The University of Wyoming must win with blue-collar, down-home and tough-minded individuals, and the fact of the matter is, less and less of those people exist. Many 17- and 18-year-old kids looking to further their athletic career want a location that’s accessible, young and with a slew of entertainment options. Laramie isn’t that.
University of Wyoming place-kicker Cooper Rother was named Third Team Preseason All-American by Athlon Sports.
UW trackster Christopher Henry was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-American Men’s Cross-Country/Track & Field First Team.