LARAMIE -- Tom Burman hears your frustration with the men's basketball program.

Loud and clear.

In fact, Wyoming's Athletics Director shares most of your concerns.

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In a near 20-minute interview with the local media Tuesday, Burman touched on subjects like Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), scheduling, roster building and what it will take to get fans back inside the Arena-Auditorium. He also spoke about the transfer portal and its impacts on this team since Jeff Linder took the reins back in 2020.

What will it take for the Cowboys to get back in contention in the Mountain West, a conference that sent a record six teams to this year's NCAA Tournament?

The answer is simple. Accomplishing it, on the other hand, is another story altogether.

"Well, (Linder's) going to have to get more talent," Burman said bluntly. "I mean, when you look at the top of the league, what the league had this year and what we had -- we weren't there. So he's going to have to get more talent. We have to develop more talent and retain more talent.

"Partially, that falls on us as our fanbase. We're going to have to help football and basketball the next few years and figure out a way to generate the revenue to do this. People hate to hear that but that's this world we live in 2024. That is what it is. We have to get more talented to get in the upper half of this league."

Linder has made it no secret that this program has fallen behind in the NIL world. He joked late in the regular season that he was undefeated against the Cowboys' "tax bracket," meaning beating Fresno State, San Jose State and Air Force.

Burman agreed, saying the school's NIL budget is now roughly $300,000 across all sports. In his estimation, that number needs to be around $750,000 to $800,000 to be competitive.

"We know how to raise money, but we can't do it," he said, pointing toward War Memorial Stadium and referring to the numerous construction projects that have taken place inside Wyoming's football stadium since he arrived in 2006. "But even when we talk to (fans) about it, they're just slow to embrace. It's time they embrace. We can't wait any longer."

Burman said the top schools in the Mountain West might be hovering around $1 million in NIL funds.

"We're not crazy far off, but we have to make progress," he continued, warning that football is also not immune to this issue. "If we don't, what you see right now in men's basketball, which is constant turnover, is going to be what we're going to have to live with.

Nine players entered the transfer portal last offseason, including the conference's preseason player of the year, Graham Ike. Three others -- Ethan Anderson, Jake Kyman and Max Agbonkpolo -- abruptly left the basketball program in early February with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Injuries and adversity also played a major role in that disappointing nine-win campaign.

Starting point guard and the league's freshman of the year, Marcus Williams, also left the team via the portal before the 2021-22 season.

Four additional players -- Brendan Wenzel, Caden Powell, Jacob Theodosiou and Jonas Sirtautas -- have entered free agency since the Cowboys fell in the opening round of the conference tournament earlier this month.

Burman realizes that not all cases are the same. Some of those guys bolted for bigger paydays, most didn't. He said Linder has had to adapt to not only the changing world of college athletics, but the changing world of the college athlete. Former head football coach Craig Bohl found himself in a similar spot after 12 players -- mostly starters -- entered the portal immediately following the 2021 season.

The remedy: better relationships with players.

"I think Jeff made great strides this year," Burman said. "... I think he's figuring it out, but it is complicated and it's ever changing."

Burman said he doesn't expect any other players from this current roster to leave the program. That's welcome news considering 6-foot-9 freshman forward Cam Manyawu was arguably the team's most talented prospect last season. Guard Kael Combs, also a rookie, appears to have a bright future.

It also helps because Linder's rebuild featured a trio of graduate transfers in Sam Griffin, Akuel Kot and Mason Walters. They were one-and-done players, spending roughly nine months total in Laramie.

Burman said he hopes short-term fixes don't become the norm. There's numerous reasons for that.

"Our fan base is not going to embrace it," he said. "They'd like to watch kids grow up a little bit. One-year wonders just aren't going to work, in my opinion. I'm hoping that we get high school kids and we can keep them for a while or for their duration, and we get transfers who have two years of eligibility so we can watch them grow up a little bit. We may get one or two, but last year's team, nobody knew who they were until February.

"... They were actually pretty fun to watch. I will say this about coach Linder and his staff this year, I think they got a lot out of the talent they had. I think they did a really good job."

Linder, for the second straight year, took aim at the fanbase for not attending games in Laramie. The Cowboys averaged 3,937 fans a night, the fourth-lowest mark in the league behind Fresno State (3,834), San Jose State (2,321) and Air Force (1,803).

"Someone's got to talk about it," a clearly frustrated Linder said in early February. "It's not good enough. That's the bottom line."

The fan element, Linder added, could also aid in roster retention.

"I feel for our guys," he continued. "That's where, in this day and age, when it's really hard to keep the players that you do have where they are at, the one thing that can maybe help you -- not necessarily trump some of the money that some of these guys get offered -- is that when you come into the arena you see a certain type of atmosphere. That's where I feel bad for our guys.

"... Where we've come from in the last year, to get to this point of having some really good kids that are really trying and that are playing hard, I mean, like I said, if we have to do more as a staff to get people there, have to go on campus and do whatever (we will)."

What's the answer to the school's attendance woes?

Burman said he has been "racking his brain" trying to figure that out, going as far as meeting with four groups of around 100 students. The feedback: They're busy.

"They basically said, if you play on Tuesday and Wednesday, I'm never going to not come," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "They're like, 'I have intramural hoops, intramural football, I'm not coming.'

"So, we've got to figure out a way that they don't say that, instead they go, 'How can I adjust my schedule so I can go to games on Tuesday and Wednesday?' We have to get them there on Saturday."

Burman said student attendance at football games is well above the national average (13%), hovering around 38%.

The Mountain West implementing a 20-game conference schedule could help matters, Burman added, saying he has been pushing for the change over the last 10 years. That means an additional team will play in Laramie, alleviating the need to secure another non-conference opponent, a struggle that has been felt in this department for decades.

San Diego State, which is currently in the Sweet 16, didn't make the trip to Wyoming last season.

The Cowboys hosted just five out-of-conference games in 2023, two of which were against Northern New Mexico College (NAIA) and South Dakota Tech (Division II).

Linder and Co. are in charge of scheduling.

"The weirdest thing in the world of college spaces, for whatever reason, college athletic administrators have deferred basketball scheduling to coaches," Burman said, adding that he has attempted to secure games while discussing future football dates with fellow athletics directors. "Even when you try to pull it back when you're hiring a coach -- because that's when you could do it -- there's immense pressure from their agents. So, AD's generally have very little luck getting basketball coaches to play a game and tying it to football. It's really hard. In fact, I'm 0-fer. I've never been able to do it."


The usual excuses come into play, Burman said: Altitude, travel and weather.

For now, Burman said, the focus is on securing future funds for athletes and adding pieces to an already serviceable roster. Linder will again have to dip into the portal, but Burman is hoping the high school route -- a group that has been neglected of late -- can become the long-term answer.

"I do believe this bubble is going to burst," he said. "I don't believe the money that is in the NIL packages that kids are getting promised are always being delivered. I think there's a lot of fraud going on right now in this industry and kids will start to realize that, you know, I'm not getting what I was promised and I'm not getting the minutes I was promised and hopefully it slows down.

"It's not good for kids."

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