The Board of Regents voted 6-to-1 Tuesday to approve the Department of Athletics’ proposal to balance the budget and start a repayment plan for the millions of dollars in accumulated deficit to the University.
Student regent Garrett Adcock, a former Lobo football player, was the lone dissenting vote.
Regent President Robert Doughty said the plan was a step in the right direction, but the BOR is still awaiting the creation of a line-by-line itemized budget from athletics.
“I think we made it clear for the future that we want an in-depth analysis of the athletics budget,” Doughty told the Daily Lobo after the meeting.
Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said that past budgets were not compiled with line-by-line costs and revenues and that he is working to provide that information to the regents by the end of the week.
According to the newest data, athletic’s deficit for 2018 will be $4.7 million. The department received a $1.3 million gift from Main Campus last Fall — that gift does not need to be repaid.
Since the Budget Summit last month, the estimated 2018 budget deficit shrunk by nearly $1.2 million according to the presentation to the BOR Finance and Facilities Committee. A document, released Tuesday, said misplaced transfers, reductions in personnel costs and uncounted revenues accounted for that difference.
The athletics department’s debt to the University began accumulating in 2006. Since then, the department has been operating in a deficit for nine out of the past 11 fiscal years. Each spring, the athletics budget is approved by the board of regents and by Executive Vice President of Administration David Harris.
The Department of Athletics is receiving funds from the land sale of Mesa Del Sol, an account distributed under the regents’ discretion. According to President Garnett Stokes, the money has been previously used to fund baseball field renovations and the rebranding campaign at UNM.
The team originally requested $1.7 million from this account but amended their plea to $1.6 million after determining job vacancies would save the department $100,000.
Athletics still has $31.7 million left to pay off on the debt from the Dreamstyle Arena remodel.
Beginning in fiscal year 2011, the department started paying down the $60.6 million renovation of the arena.
One proposal that the regents evaluated to help athletics was to have Main Campus acquire the debt. However, an assessment conducted by budget officer Vahid Staples concluded that a transfer was not feasible without an additional revenue source. Whether that revenue source would come from athletics or Main Campus, is unclear.
Other issues brought up by regents included the fan experience at Lobo sporting events. Regent Suzanne Quillen said she noticed the room the BOR was meeting in looked very different from the room five years ago, when students filled the space for a similar meeting.
“I’m just wondering why and how we lost our students,” Quillen said.
During a press conference, the Daily Lobo asked when the criteria for cutting sports would be presented.
To this, Nuñez said, “That’s the expectation of this board and our president, so that’s what I’m going to be focused to have everything hopefully presented either before or by (July 1). But again, I don’t want to speculate. I have to sit down with our coaches again after this, I wanted to get over this hurdle.”
The plan includes over $3.4 million in cost reductions beginning with fiscal year 2019, including $1.9 million in “reduction to sports.”
Nuñez said that doesn’t necessarily mean that sports will be cut.
“That could be from budgets, that could be from a lot of things,” Nuñez said. “It could be from roster management, again it goes back. Is cutting sports an option? I think that’s something we have to determine as a group — the president, myself, whoever else is involved with that decision. That is all part of this process.”
UNM head soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein attended the meeting. He sent an email to media Monday speaking out against the possibility of any programs being cut.
“I’m embarrassed to be up here,” Fishbein said at the regents meeting. “I’m embarrassed. I grew up in an educational household, my dad was an educator. It’s awful. On behalf of everybody, we hired President Stokes and our Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez to lead…Give them a chance.”
In addition to Fishbein, many alumni who played in the program, both under Fishbein and under previous coaches, also came out to show their support for athletics at New Mexico, including Jason Hix.
The ties to UNM athletics run deep for Hix, as he is one of six members of his family who have participated in athletics at UNM, including his daughter, Jessie, who is currently a member of the women’s soccer team.
“Playing at UNM, those three, those four years (were) as good an experience I’ve ever had,” Hix told the Daily Lobo prior to the meeting. “Also as challenging an experience I’ve ever had, I look fondly on those years and attribute any success that I’ve had — a large part of (it) really was my experience at the University, and as part of the athletic program.”
Fishbein and his fellow UNM coaches will have to wait. A decision on whether sports would be cut — and which ones — will have to come by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
Cameron Goeldner is a sports beat reporter and photographer for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer and softball but also contributes content for baseball, basketball, football and track and field. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @goeldfinger.
Danielle Prokop is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.