TORRINGTON – It has been a difficult seven months for the University of Wyoming and athletic director Tom Burman, facing hurdle after hurdle as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burman was in Torrington on Monday, speaking to the Rotary Club at the Cottonwood Country Club and spoke extensively about the last several months on the job and the bumpy ride it has been.
It all started in Las Vegas, Nev. during the Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament in March.
“My life was already kind of crazy,” Burman told the Rotary Club. “We were getting ready to decide to make a men’s basketball coaching change. I was hearing a little bit about COVID. I knew a little bit about it, but I wasn’t really worried about it.”
The Cowboys went on to win their first two games of the tournament, making Burman’s phone ‘blow up to not make a change’, only adding to the stress of a decision he said he basically had already made.
“I remember sitting on the steps at the Thomas and Mac (Center), everyone had left, and I thought to myself this was getting complicated,” Burman said.
The decision to make the change proved to be only the tip of the iceberg.
Once back in Laramie, COVID starts to pick up steam. Travel restrictions. Work restrictions set in.
“I don’t have a basketball coach and a bunch of players that want to leave,” Burman said.
He battled through it, finding Jeff Linder at the University of Northern Colorado, but things continued to spiral downwards.
“After that happens, COVID hits full bore. You have financial implications. You have to postpone all your spring sports. You have to send kids home,” Burman said. “There were many days in April and May that I was like what are we doing? How are we going to get through this?”
As time progressed into the summer months, the football team was brought back for workouts.
The for the athletic department was to keep the athletes busy and safe to prevent any possible COVID infections.
Burman and the football staff were successful in doing so, but the hurdles kept on coming.
Then the conversation began about football in the Mountain West Conference begins to bubble up.
“We always felt like we could, but the presidents and medical advisory people believed the only way you can do it is if you can do rapid testing,” Burman said.
At that time, rapid testing wasn’t available to all the schools, resulting in a decision to stop the fall sports by the conference presidents and the leagues health advisors.
“I then have to meet with volleyball, soccer, cross country and football who were all training and think they are playing,” Burman said.
But there was light at the end of the tunnel.
A company from California with ties to San Diego State wanted to help make fall sports happen.
“We were able to get a deal through the Mountain West to provide rapid testing for all football players three times a week and the night before a football game,” Burman said.
The total cost for the rapid testing was $4 million, but Burman explained the cost was spread out over the entire conference and would be paid by the Mountain West reserve funds.
“It provides hope,” Burman said. “It provides these young people with a dream that they can go back to work.”
However, the hurdles weren’t finished coming yet.
On Friday, Oct. 2, 11 cases of COVID-19 were found among the freshman football players, resulting in a pause of all football activities for three days.
The team returned to the practice field on Monday in continued preparation for the season opener at Nevada on Oct. 24.
“It’s hard. You have to make tough decisions, and people aren’t going to like them,” Burman said. “The good news is, at the end of October we’ll line up and go play the University of Nevada. Then we play Hawaii. Then we play that team to the south in Fort Collins.
“We have a special group. They have been working very hard, and they are hungry.”