Printed April 1, 1999

In what was called a “painful, but very necessary, decision,” by UNM Athletic Director Rudy Davalos, the UNM Athletics Department announced it would cut the funding of three sports for the 1999-2000 fiscal year.

Those cuts mean the elimination of men’s swimming, men’s gymnastics and men’s wrestling teams from the athletic program.

Davalos said in a news release the cuts were necessary because the department did not have enough resources to support 24 athletic programs.

“Maintaining programs that are regionally and nationally competitive was a condition of membership in the Mountain West Conference, and we will allocate all of our resources to ensure that our remaining sports can achieve excellence,” he said in the release.

The department said the elimination of the three sports is expected to reduce department expenditures by approximately $175,000 for its 1999-2000 budget, and its savings will eventually grow to more than $300,000 annually. The three programs totaled $370,000 in the departmental funding.

Associate Athletics Director Linda Estes said the decision to cut those sports was difficult.

“I don’t underestimate what it means to compete for a gymnast or a wrestler or a swimmer,” she said. “It’s just as important to them as basketball is to men and volleyball is to women.”

UNM swimmer John Bennett said he was upset about the lack of response from the Athletics Department about informing the respective teams of the cuts.

Nobody will give us a straight answer,” he said.

Estes said one of the reasons for cutting all three sports was due to their lack of funding, but added that wrestling and gymnastics were cut because they were the least supported sports of all the Mountain West Conference members. UNM, Brigham Young University and the Air Force Academy all have gymnastics programs, while only UNM BYU, Air Force and the University of Wyoming have wrestling teams.

UNM assistant swimming coach Sarah Pierce said cutting men’s swimming prevented the sport from gaining sponsorship from the Mountain West, which prevents the conference from recognizing a conference champion from that sport. She said a sport needs to have six teams competing in it to be recognized as a conference sport.

The Mountain West will have Air Force, BYU, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Utah and Wyoming fielding men’s swimming teams.

Pierce said it is disappointing that a men’s swimming conference champion cannot be recognized.

“Swimming has a lot of tradition here,” she said. “We have the most WAC champions of any UNM sport. In swimming, we have the most (Western Athletic Conference) champions except Utah. We had a WAC champion this past season.”

Bennett said he was not going to give up easily. He said the team may try to raise money privately, and may try to get help from the U.S. Swimming Association.

“We need this community’s support in this,” he said. We are dedicated to our sport – without it, we don’t know what we’re going to do with ourselves. We’re going to make a big fuss. I’m not going to rest until I get some answers and some action.”

UNM gymnast James Buckmelter said he couldn’t understand why the department disbanded the team, especially since it generates much of its own funding.

“We raise a lot of our money and they are saving a lot,” he said. “We promote ourselves, they don’t. We pretty much function without them.”

Estes said the athletes of the disbanded programs will keep their scholarships up to the amount they were allocated, and the department would help any student who wanted to transfer to another school. Any athlete who does transfer would be eligible immediately because the programs have been disbanded.

Pierce said transferring would have been easier if the department’s decision had been made earlier. She said that because the NCAA swimming championships were last weekend, many of the swimmers could have talked to coaches of prospective schools and made plans.