Casper College has initiated the first steps in adding men’s and women’s soccer programs to its slate of offered activities. Currently, Casper College offers the fewest sports among Wyoming community colleges with only men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and rodeo.
Chris Lorenzen, Casper College’s public relations director, confirmed to the Star-Tribune that the school has begun taking the initial steps to adding both soccer programs. Pending approval at all levels, both teams would kick off in the fall of 2020.
“Athletics programs add to the collegiate element and experience here, and it brings students into the college,” Lorenzen said. “Soccer’s one that was on our minds and it just became a good time to start looking at it more seriously.”
The school looked at adding soccer earlier, Lorenzen said, but finances and priorities were split elsewhere. Since 2005 the campus has underwent several renovations, including expanding the arts building, the Walter H. Nolte Gateway Center and residence halls, which has diverted money and energy away from the athletics programs. There’s also been the simple financial uncertainty the school faces as a whole.
Casper College’s enrollment has continued to slump, dropping approximately 40 students per year before falling below its average by roughly 83 students to start the 2018-19 academic year. Any enrollment impact from the men’s basketball team making the national tournament has yet to be felt. On top of that, only recently has the school unfrozen its salaries and handed out raises to faculty members after years of stagnant wages.
Those reasons alone have some worried about how the school will fund two new athletics programs. Lorenzen couldn’t estimate figures on what the cost would be at the time. The school will package its findings by early summer, when it petitions the National Junior College Activities Association for Division I certification. Costs and figures would be made available then, when the school discovers if certified soccer could even be a possibility.
“That’s all part of what’s being worked on,” Lorenzen said. “Some of those costs, we don’t yet know for sure. That’s all in the preliminary work that’s being done now.”
The financial package has to be satisfactory or else the NJCAA will deny Casper College’s bid. Gillette College only recently added men’s and women’s soccer, shortly before current athletics director Bubba Hall arrived. Hall was an assistant AD at Southern Nevada when the school petitioned to add baseball. The NJCAA found that the funding package wasn’t satisfactory and denied the school’s request. If a program can’t cover the cost of travel or doesn’t have the infrastructure to host tournaments then it’s a detriment to the region and conference that school belongs to.
“What the institution has to decide on is how much scholarship money they’ll allocate,” Hall said. “Not only scholarships but travel budgets and so on. As far as regents go, allocations of budgets is very important.”
Another crucial element, as Hall discovered at Sheridan and Gillette College — which is looked at in financial terms as one district — is the school’s donor system. Gillette College enjoys a healthy relationship between alumni, donors and its current basketball and rodeo programs. Hall hopes to nurse that relationship with soccer, which is only two years old, to the point where the program is on equal footing.
“That’s another key piece to it,” Hall said. “Not only institutional, but the region has to feel comfortable knowing there’s some outside funding to help support it and be successful.”
Central Wyoming College, with outreach centers in Jackson, Dubois, Douglas, Lander and the Wind River Indian Reservation outside of its main campus in Riverton, enjoys a healthy relationship across the state. That’s helped enable the school to offer 11 different sports before its own men’s and women’s soccer teams kick off their inaugural seasons in the fall of 2019. It’s unknown how Central Wyoming College’s application and implementation of soccer played out. The school’s athletics director, Steve Barlow, did not return the Star-Tribune’s interview requests.
Lorenzen said those at Casper College are confident they can make a bid to add soccer work and that it would add excitement on campus, even as the realities of finances impose their limitations.
“This is the opportune time and we want to make sure we take the steps necessary to make this a successful program,” he said. “We’re all hopeful that it will work out. Still too early to tell, there’s still some hurdles, discussions and more research to do. We’ll approach those when they come.”