The University of New Mexico’s ski team is back.
The ski team was reinstated May 11 for the 2017-18 season by the University’s Board of Regents, after Vice President of Athletics Paul Krebs said their program would be cut from UNM’s athletic programs on April 13.
The overturning was a major win for the ski team. Alex Barounos, a sophomore ski team member and key contributor in petitioning for the reinstatement, said he and his teammates were ecstatic about the decision made on Thursday.
“My first reaction was relief,” Barounos said in a message to the Daily Lobo. “After weeks of rumors, it was so nice to finally hear it said out loud that we could continue skiing. Now I think everyone is excited to come back bigger and better than ever.”
Barounos said support played a huge factor in the team’s success.
“The overwhelming support from the whole ski community who petitioned and many (who) gave more than generous donations as well,” Barounos said. “This decision would have affected everyone, so everyone stepped up with email campaigns to the Board of Regents.”
“The whole ski community,” including John Garcia, Joe Downing, Frank Landsted, Anne and Mark Barounos, the Abruzzo family and George Banks truly made a difference in the team’s mission, Barounos said.
A press release sent by members of the ski team echoed the tone of Barounos’ statement.
“For the student athletes, whose academic and athletic careers had been thrown into turmoil at the mid-April announcement of the plan to cut the team, today’s reversal is a lesson in perseverance,” the release said. “The athletes refused to simply accept what they felt to be a hasty and unfair decision, and instead mounted an outreach to the New Mexico tourism and skiing community, as well as to supporters of collegiate skiing nationwide and worldwide.”
The reinstatement of the team didn't come without contributing factors. According to the release, the Board of Regents echoed the fact that the ski team excelled “athletically and academically.”
The ski team holds the highest GPA of both men and women's teams at UNM, with averages of 3.60 and 3.92, respectively.
The ski team also won the University’s first ever D1 NCAA title back in 2004, and has added 17 individual NCAA champions since the team’s inception in 1970.
Additionally, Regents Vice President Marron Lee commended the composure and respect displayed by the ski teams while fighting the decision.
“They were incredibly respectful and articulate,” Lee said. “The respect and lack of vitriol impressed me greatly, and I think impressed the entire seven of us. I think it had an impact. The way they presented themselves made us listen.”
In a statement during the Board of Regents meeting on May 11, Acting President Abdallah said the community’s financial support is what allowed them to make the decision to fund the program for at least one more year pending a long-term solution.
Abdallah defended the decision of Paul Krebs, saying he was “following University direction” to cut costs and produce a balanced budget.
“A lot of people started getting engaged, including the ski community in New Mexico,” he said. “They came to us with a couple proposals, and we told them how much money we need in order to be able to continue at least for the current time, for this year.”
Both Abdallah and Lee said the original decision to cut the ski team is part of a larger, persistent economic problem facing the University.
“The concern is for the whole University,” Abdallah said. “The athletic department had an imbalance between revenue and expenditure, so we need to cut the expenses and we need to raise funding. The same thing is happening across almost every single unit of the University.”
The ski team, however, will operate on a “somewhat-reduced” budget, but donations from supporters will fill the void in the meantime, according to the release. As for the long term, the release said, “Team coaches and supporters will be able to use the next year to establish a long-term funding mechanism to keep the team in place thereafter.”
The press release did not provide details on how much money will now be allocated to the program.
“We’re very pleased,” Lee said. “These are some of the best and the brightest student-athletes that we have, and they set a good example for all student-athletes with their academic performance and their performance on the slopes, so we hope it works out in the future.”
Matthew Narvaiz is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers baseball and women's basketball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.
Gabriella Rivera is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.