Amidst the outrage swirling around the decision to cut four sports from UNM’s Athletics program, lies the question of who is responsible.
While most of the vitriol and threats to withhold funds from the University are aimed at President Garnett Stokes and Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez, many of the parties responsible are left unscrutinized.
For a decade, leadership in Athletics promised increased attendance in games to bolster budgets, despite these claims having no basis in fact. And that’s only the beginning.
May’s regent-directed audit charged that the department “lack(ed) documentation” such as vouchers, purchasing card usage, payrolls, financial awards, fundraising, “etc.”
The 87-page report also cited overpayments to soccer, basketball and baseball coaches, mismanagement of account balances, and other issues related to fundraising, collection of Pit Suite money, a trip to Scotland, and it doesn’t stop there.
Year after year after year, the Board of Regents and EVP of administration, David Harris, rubber-stamped these budgets.
To be fair, the Regents have made a point to speak out this year — this was also the first year they demanded a sport-by-sport breakdown from the Athletics Department.
The dressing-down of the Athletics’ administration by BOR President Robert Doughty at the Budget Summit this past March, while fiery, falls flat with the context that he approved budgets.
BOR Vice President Marron Lee acknowledged the fact that the Board had not been performing their duties to act as a gatekeeper. During the July 19 meeting, Lee addressed Nuñez regarding the public ire for the sport cuts:
“(The public is) berating the regents for being short-sighted and ignorant in how they ran the University,” Lee said.
However she later hedged this comment by saying it was not the fault of players or coaches.
“The Administration got us into this situation,” Lee said.
Does that include the Regents?
Instead of answering that question, far more attention has been dedicated to “negative media coverage” as a talking point.
In an April committee meeting, Regent Thomas Clifford cited that “hysteria” from media coverage was exaggerating Athletics’ dire situation. Especially when it comes to tickets.
“I’m reacting a little bit to that accusation that we were somehow naive in this forecast,” Clifford said. “I think mis-estimating ticket revenue by 8 percent is not a naive forecast,” pointing out that a winning football season would make a big difference.
Even May’s audit described the shortfalls of ticket projections played a significant role in the deficit. In 2016-18 it more than doubled by $2.5 million because of missed projections.
Also in April, Noah Brooks, former Associated Students of UNM President, spoke on the athletics budget item, saying that supporting athletics with the negative media coverage has been difficult, according to the meeting notes from the board of regents meeting.
And nary a word about former Athletic Director Paul Krebs, who oversaw the Department of Athletics while rampant financial mismanagement occured.
Krebs’ only mention during the meetings came from a member of the public, who referred to him as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
The structural issues revealed by multiple audits, attempted to be contained by state and University officials alike, is not the result of bad coverage or one bad apple.
Instead, it was the annual approval for Athletics’ to proceed as if nothing was the matter. The issues of financial mismanagement, Title IX violations, and severe lack of department infrastructure have snowballed to the point where the administration feels sports must be cut.
Students are footing the bill for these expensive mistakes — what’s it going to cost the Regents?
Danielle Prokop is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. The views expressed in this column are her own. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.