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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reluctant SFRB yields to Athletics

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news@dailylobo.com
@ArdeeTheJourno

UNM’s Athletics Department might receive $4 million in student fees from the University next fiscal year.

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Student Fee Review Board Chair Priscila Poliana, center, stretches as other board members try to finish student fee recommendations over lunch at a meeting on Saturday at the Student Union Building. After the meeting, the board tallied a total preliminary recommendation of $617 per student. Of the total sum, $169 per-student recommendation is for the Athletics Department. The SFRB will forward its final recommendations to the Strategic Budget Leadership Team on March 1.

By Ardee Napolitano / New Mexico Daily Lobo

The University’s Student Fee Review Board elected to respect in full the department’s budget request during the board’s second round of deliberations Saturday.

But SFRB member Matthew Rush said that despite contention on Athletics’ funding sources, the board’s hands were tied.

“I don’t think students should be funding Athletics at this amount,” he said. “But the reality is the regents are going to approve this. I think it’s understood that this is roughly what the regents would like to see Athletics at, so we’re going to fund them at that amount.”

Last year, the SFRB recommended that Athletics receive $2.3 million in student fees for FY 2014. The recommendation then went to the Board of Regents, who have the final say on appropriations.

The regents overrode the SFRB’s numbers; the SFRB’s current recommended appropriation for Athletics is the same as that which the department received from the regents last fiscal year.

The current recommendation will amount to about $169 per full-time student for next fiscal year. The SFRB estimates next year’s total student fees at $617 per full-time student, which is a $6 increase from the present school year’s fees.

Along with the appropriation, the board will require Athletics to provide a 10-year strategic plan detailing future initiatives the department plans to reduce its expenses. The SFRB will also request a concise list of expenditures from the department.

Rush said that Athletics should work particularly on reducing its travel costs.

“They’d have to look into ways of reducing travel costs in order to start saving us, the University, money,” he said. “That is a significant portion of what they’re asking funding for … The reality, as far as I’m concerned, is that we’re funding $4 million to Athletics, and I’ve just come to accept that.”

According to Athletics’ SFRB Funding Request Form, about $1.4 million of Athletics’ total budget request is for travel costs.

The department is also requesting $1 million for complimentary student tickets, $800,000 for equipment, $438,000 for academic support and $300,000 for student athlete care.

SFRB member Matt Fleischer agreed with Rush. Rather than costing UNM money, he said the department should be a source of revenue for the University.

“I still don’t like funding Athletics through student fees,” Fleischer said. “I think we should be spending on the Athletic Department through the University, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’d like to see in the long term the Athletics Department generate profit and contribute financially to the University rather than the University contributing financially to Athletics.”

Luke Holmen, a non-voting member of the SFRB, said the main problem with Athletics is that it has given up on entering the Bowl Championship Series, which comprises the major games in the NCAA.

“They’re doing a great job with generating funds,” he said. “But the main problem is that they’re not going to be able to get into the BCS. In the past, (Athletics Associate Director) Tim Cass has said that was his primary goal. During the hearings, I asked him about that, and he said that’s not even on the table anymore.”

Holmen said that during the SFRB budget hearings in January, Cass said participation in the BCS would bring in $30 million to the department and would make it more sustainable.

According to an article by the Daily Lobo published in January 2013, Athletics is still in the process of paying back a one-time $1.25 million loan it took from the University in July 2011. The University gave the department 10 years to pay back the loan. Athletics pays UNM $12,500 per month.

At the meeting, SFRB Chair Priscila Poliana said although she thinks funding Athletics is important for the University, the department should listen to student perspectives more in their decision-making processes.

“What I have a problem with is the fact that the history of this process has made the Athletics Department not to be very responsive to students,” she said. “That’s very problematic. I have pointed that out to President (Robert) Frank and to the regents. But I think that’s still where we stand.”

Board member Frankie Gonzales questioned whether passing Athletics’ budget request is a good move.

“If we do that, does that signal that maybe this board doesn’t need to even make a recommendation on it?,” he said.

But Rush said passing the department’s request as-is will be an appropriate compromise.

“The SFRB has at least helped to make Athletics more transparent,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re working forward into the direction that SFRB will be working closer with Athletics. I think the reason that we’re passing this is that it’s likely to stay the same. It’s just going to be a cause of agitation for us to try to make cuts.”

The SFRB will have to submit its recommendations to UNM’s Strategic Budget Leadership Team before they become finalized by the Board of Regents. The SFRB will submit its final recommendations on March 1.