Two days separated the announcement of Paul Weir as the new head men’s basketball coach and the discontinuation of both the men’s and women’s ski teams.
This jarring sequence reflects the wider — and questionable — priorities of UNM Athletics under the leadership of Paul Krebs.
Weir’s contract is to be 2.5 times that of his previous salary at NMSU. The base salary for his first year at UNM will be $625,000, escalating to $825,000 by his sixth year. Buyouts for basketball and football coaches have been costly for UNM in recent years, from Locksley to Neal.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the entire operating cost of both UNM ski teams is a mere $600,000 annually in an approximately $35 million budget, cutting these successful programs was somehow identified as the most effective solution to the $1.54 million deficit UNM Athletics faced last year.
Krebs says that this is a bigger problem than buyouts, and that it’s more of a systemic problem. I agree — it is maladministration.
I understand that the men’s basketball team makes the largest contribution financially to the Athletics Department. However, neither basketball nor football has been able to break through to prolonged sustained excellence, especially in recent years.
What UNM Athletics is promoting is not excellence, nor is it dedication and achievement. It is an acceptable level of mediocrity in the most televised, popular sports.
It is generally considered that the goal of university athletics is not necessarily a direct profit; in fact, the athletic departments of many big-name institutions either break even or lose money.
Instead, college sports are meant to make the institution more attractive. They are meant to create an involved University community and foster pride among students, as well as publicize the given school in a positive way.
Of course, basketball and football have more viewership at UNM and nationally, than programs like cross country and skiing. However, at a certain point, achievement as such becomes singularly important. Pride and positive exposure are not cultivated by losing games on television, or even winning a few.
It is cultivated by knowing that the community to which you belong is truly excelling at something, possibly, for instance, when seeing your classmate hoisting a championship trophy on ESPN.
UNM Athletics would rather maintain a 21-person coaching staff for a single team (football) than keep a championship program around — the only UNM athletic team to win a team NCAA title in University history was skiing in 2004, until women’s cross country in 2015.
These are the kinds of disparities that show there is a disproportional bias toward the football and basketball teams beyond what is actually healthy for the Athletics Department and the University community.
Furthermore, the ski teams have maintained the highest overall GPA of any of the athletic programs on both the men’s and women’s sides, with a 3.6 for the men and a department record of 3.9 for the women in fall 2015.
By cutting these teams, UNM cements the general opinion that it does not prioritize academics for student athletes. It is not a good reputation for an athletics program or a university to maintain.
This is not meant to bash any varsity athlete or team, nor am I after anyone’s job. This is a suggestion that a top-to-bottom reevaluation of the priorities and allocation of UNM Athletics is necessary, because the decision to cut two of its most all-around successful programs is simply not justifiable.
I am an officer and player for the UNM Women’s Rugby Team, and I have been heavily advocating for Athletics Department recognition of both the men’s and women’s rugby programs.
The representatives of the student body, ASUNM, got behind us in a major way by passing a resolution very recently in favor of this recognition. We wanted to show UNM Athletics that, with a small budget, we could be contenders for the national championship within the next few years.
All our efforts seem lost now in the face of an Athletics Department that simply seems to say, “you chose the wrong sport to excel in.”
The UNM rugby teams stand in solidarity with the ski teams and in opposition to the decisions and priorities of UNM Athletics.
We have signed the petition for the Board of Regents to overturn the decision and want to extend our full support in any capacity we can. For our own cause, we are also going to redouble our efforts for Athletics Department recognition and encourage an extensive reexamination of the viability of the administrative model of UNM Athletics.
Gabriella Rivera is a reporter for the Daily Lobo, as well as an officer on the UNM Women’s Rugby Team. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org