Wyoming’s Jeff Linder on Home Attendance: ‘It’s Not Good Enough’
LARAMIE -- Before getting situated behind the podium for his postgame press conference last Tuesday night, Jeff Linder openly asked -- then looked for himself -- what the announced attendance was inside the Arena-Auditorium.
The number read: 3,685.
That's roughly a third of the 11,612 capacity Wyoming's home basketball venue holds. It's also exactly 273 under the season average. New Mexico, the 25th-ranked team in the nation, just completed a 91-73 rout moments prior.
Once proudly nicknamed the Dome of Doom, this building has become anything but intimidating for the opposition.
For the Cowboys fourth-year head coach, it's simply unacceptable.
"Someone's got to talk about it," a clearly frustrated Linder said on Monday. "It's not good enough. That's the bottom line."
Early in the 2022-23 campaign, this same plea was sent out to the masses on behalf of a frustrated coach. That was met with jeers and eye rolls. That team was supposed to compete for a Mountain West title. A trip to the NCAA Tournament, for many, was a forgone conclusion.
Graham Ike was the conference's preseason player of the year. Wyoming returned nearly its entire roster intact from the previous season, which included a surprise appearance in March Madness.
When the dust settled, that squad won just nine games.
Ike, who suffered a foot injury before the season began, never stepped on the court. Injuries, illnesses and upheaval led to a year-long soap opera. Fans didn't just tune in to see the final score, drama dominated the headlines.
While the Cowboys (12-11, 5-5) are technically just two games out of first place in a league widely considered one of the best on the college basketball landscape, fans -- especially students -- have yet to buy in.
Linder is in search of the reasoning -- and a solution.
What he does know, butts in seats make a difference. Not just on the scoreboard, either.
"I feel for our guys," he said. "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 and 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)."
New Mexico's famous Pit draws nearly 13,000 per game. San Diego State (12,354) isn't far behind. Neither is Boise State (10,412), Utah State (8,212) and Nevada (8,161). Wyoming's most-hated rival, Colorado State, is seeing more than 6,500 through the turnstiles on game day.
"Everyone wants me to beat CSU," Linder said. "I watch those games at CSU, and they're what, one game ahead of us in the standings? They have a full student section and a full gym in Moby."
Linder said he understands the reasoning for some absences.
He knows the weather, along with travel across this state in the winter time, is sometimes impassable. Weeknight games, he added, are a particularly tough draw because of those reasons above. Television, a "necessary evil," also plays a role. The games that don't make it on CBS Sports Network and Fox are streamed on the conference's website.
He also knows a weak non-conference slate coupled with the injury to incoming NAIA Player of the Year, Mason Walters, didn't help matters. Those, he says, are other factors that are out of his control.
"The one thing we do know is constant is that we know that there are students on campus on the weekdays," he said. "... Whatever we need to do to get them there, not just from an administration standpoint, but from a staff standpoint, I mean, if that means I have to do more to do that, then I guess that's what's going to have to be."
Linder said games at Viejas Arena in San Diego are "an event." Same can be said for the Spectrum in Logan, Albuquerque's Pit and ExtraMile Arena in Boise, among others.
He added Name, Imagine and Likeness (NIL) is also the "elephant in the room."
"If you want good players to stay here, and we're not going to give them a bunch of NIL money, we're not going to do anything on that front -- which is not happening -- then you know what, when they walk into that gym there better be people in there supporting them through thick and thin and not just when you're winning," Linder said. "That's why I came to the University of Wyoming for was that support. That's why I came because that's the one school in the state.
"I just hope that we can find a way to keep trying to build it, I guess."
Wyoming hosts front-running Utah State Wednesday night inside the Arena-Auditorium. The Aggies are the fourth-straight team to come to Laramie that is either in the Top 25 or receiving votes. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1.
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