It started with a text message at 8 a.m. and, by 2 in the afternoon, the program he had been a part of for over 30 years was no more.
That was the reality for head ski coach Fredrik Landstedt on Thursday, when UNM athletics announced their decision to dismantle the UNM ski program altogether, a situation that Landstedt describes as “extremely poorly handled.”
Athletics Director Paul Krebs informed the coaches in a meeting at 1 p.m. before informing the team’s student athletes at a second meeting 15 minutes later.
Athletics Communication Director Frank Mercogliano confirmed that nobody in the ski program was aware before Thursday’s meeting took place and the release of the decision was made public a few minutes after that meeting started.
Landstedt said he made it very clear in recent months to inform him if there was ever any talk of cutting the ski team.
“It’s pretty clear to me now that they knew for a long time,” he said. “It shows great disrespect to the student athletes.”
Now those athletes, which include 17 individual national champions, are in a situation where it’s really a “fair play” issue because they cannot continue to ski or transfer schools as many teams are already filled this late in the season.
“They either have to quit skiing and stay at UNM, or they have to quit UNM and go ski,” Landstedt said. “They were not given a chance.”
Although the athletes can keep their scholarships, they have to work 10 hours a week for the Athletics Department in order to remain eligible.
Mercogliano said the requirement is similar to what a 5th-year scholarship award recipient must do, meaning a student would be assigned to a department — academics, marketing, Lobo Club or communications, for instance — and help in that area.
Landstedt said all that is irrelevant at this point. Due to late timing, he said, it would be extremely difficult and expensive for the athletes to pursue skiing, as they would have to transfer schools.
“They won’t be able to compete anymore,” he said. “They have to quit their sport, basically.”
Pending Board of Regents approval, all contracts will be terminated by June 30.
Landstedt, a UNM alumnus who has been coaching for 20 years, said the disrespect also translates to the coaches, as Krebs never made any suggestions or reached out to Landstedt beforehand.
“I have a family,” he said, adding that the Alpine head coach Joe Downing has a wife.
“It’s no regard to other people,” Landstedt said. “What kind of message are you sending to the rest of the student athletes, to the UNM community, if you are cutting the programs that really exemplify excellence?”
That excellence includes a total of 13 NCAA trophies, Landstedt said, more than any other sport at UNM.
As for the athletes themselves, he said, this threatens all the work they have done to reach the top level of skiing competition.
“Suddenly, everything is taken away — it’s huge for them,” Landstedt said. “This is their life.”
As a team that prides itself on being at the top of the academic tier — the women’s team has a collective 3.9 GPA, while the men own a mark of 3.6 — Landstedt fears some will be emotionally affected to the point that they will lose concentration on academics.
‘A tough situation’
Shock and disbelief; those are the two words skier Rob Greig used to describe the moment they found out the news.
“There was no rumor, no talk of anything happening,” he said. “No one had any idea what was going on.”
Greig, a skier since he was just over a year old, said no one on the team saw the decision coming, especially after a season in which they finished seventh at the NCAAs, buoyed by several All-American honorees.
“It was pretty hard to bear,” Greig said. “I can hardly think of my own identity without being a ski racer and without being a Lobo.”
Greig believes, with better management of the budget and fund allocation, the decision could’ve been avoided, citing the recent hiring of a new men’s basketball coach who is set to make $625,00 in his first year.
“It’s hard for us to watch money being spent and have them tell us that there is not enough money to support us anymore,” he said. “It’s left a lot of people in a tough situation.”
Taylor Grauer, who has been skiing with the team for four years, is one of those people.
“They addressed us like we were just numbers in their business,” Grauer said, adding that the meeting was “impersonal” and only 10 minutes.
Grauer said she believes they were targeted because the department thought the ski team would be a “quiet release.” As a senior, Grauer is finished at UNM, but feels “horrible” for her younger teammates who feel “their dreams are over.”
She said it’s upsetting that the department was so quick to cut the ski team when, as she says it, he has never once been to a ski race.
“They say ‘Lobos for Life’ — it’s on all of our shirts. And then they just kicked us out on the street,” she said.
Fighting the decision
Landstedt said the team is going to push for the decision to be overturned.
“We are definitely fighting it all out, we are going to try to get it overturned,” he said. “We owe it to our student athletes, our alumni, supporters and fans.”
That fight includes sending letters to people “higher up than Paul Krebs” and reaching out to supporters, like ex-ski team member Gary Johnson, and others for help.
Landstedt also said the team isn’t a contributing factor to the department’s budget woes, as the program has “always stayed within its budget.”
A Change.org petition to save the program has also been created by members of the team, and had already garnered over 6,400 signatures as of Sunday afternoon.
“We have an amazing number of big business people out in the community that’s been on the ski team or supporters of the ski team,” Landstedt said, adding that if some of these people stop supporting UNM athletics, it would be a “big hit” from a financial standpoint.
Hopefully the outcome is reinstatement, he said, and to figure out reasoning behind why the department is doing so poorly with their budget.
“I think there are quite a few reasons there – that you can pinpoint – and it has nothing to do with skiing,” he said. “It’s definitely a sad time for UNM and for athletics.”
For everyone involved, including Greig, there is a lot hanging in the balance.
“Time is a big factor right now,” he said, “and we’re running out of it.”
Matthew Reisen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MReisen88.