The University of New Mexico Board of Regents announced it will hold a session in the next couple of weeks, which could yield a decision on certain UNM sports and whether some might be eliminated.
Several sports have been rumored to be potential casualties in an effort to reduce spending and gain control of an athletic budget that has operated in a deficit for most of the past decade.
Men's soccer is one of the programs that has been mentioned frequently as one that could get the axe, but Lobo men's soccer head coach Jeremy Fishbein has been actively campaigning to give his program — and all UNM sports — a chance to continue.
Fishbein said he is a supporter of all UNM sports and was adamant that all programs should be maintained and supported moving forward. He said eliminating a sport — especially one with the scope and impact of something like soccer — would be devastating and something that should even be an option.
"I'm really kind of embarrassed that it's even out there," the head coach said. "That's our mission as an educational institution is to make our state better and be impactful. And I know our program does that in so many ways."
He said UNM soccer is the only NCAA Division I program for the sport in the state and serves as the lone ambassador for literally thousands of people. Fishbein said the program represents many things that can positively impact the children in the community — saying the team shows the importance of academics and health and gives them hope to pursue an education through sports.
The head coach also mentioned the concepts of multiculturalism and diversity, something he feels soccer is a leader in promoting globally as a sport.
One need look no further than the ongoing 2018 FIFA World Cup as evidence for how popular the sport is worldwide, but Fishbein said he believed some may not be aware of just how much soccer means to New Mexicans.
"Soccer is the number one participation sport in New Mexico," Fishbein said. "It's not just a game, it's a way of life to so many people."
Still, some people have expressed concern over the cost to maintain the program after seeing some financial projections.
Fishbein said he and the coaching staff are "very aware" of whether the team is operating in the red at any given time. And whether things are subsidized through fundraising or donations, they have always met the challenge.
"We've covered our budget every single year that I've been here," he said. "For 17 years in a row, we've never gone over budget."
The head coach added that the program has consistently met its obligations in spite of being asked to do more with less, after having its budget reduced incrementally over the past several years.
He said the team looked at conference realignment in the past, but the PAC-12 and the Big West were not interested in adding UNM into the fold. Fishbein said the easy solution would be to put pressure on the Mountain West to sponsor men's soccer.
There are currently five Mountain West schools that sponsor men's soccer and Fishbein said adding an affiliate member to make it six teams would qualify the conference for an automatic NCAA bid.
Men's soccer competes in Conference-USA, and although the east coast travel carries some significant expenses, the team gets to play against some of the top programs in the country and have employed measures to reduce the amount of road trips and associated costs.
Another factor that could make cutting men's soccer difficult is the 3.1 grade point average the team boasts — fourth highest among men's sports and a benchmark the team has achieved for 14 straight semesters.
Fishbein seemed to be more proud of the impact his student-athletes have made in the classroom and in the community than they have on the field.
"We have to be very demanding of our student-athletes (and coaches) — academically, in terms of community involvement in terms of being role models...those are non-negotiables," he said.
He said several men have come to UNM from out-of-state, earned their degrees and stayed in New Mexico to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, law enforcement, social workers, engineers — an impact worth more than whatever price tag someone may attach.
Title IX issues are yet another component that has been mentioned as a possible reason to eliminate university sport. While women's sports and Title IX compliance at the University of New Mexico is something Fishbein said is very important, he mentioned that sports should not be eliminated in pursuit of proportionality.
"We need to do a much better job to support our women's sports," he said. "Our athletic director (Eddie Nuñez) and our president (Garnett Stokes) are committed to that and (the support) is going to happen. But it can't be at the expense of men's sports."
Fishbein said he has no doubt Nuñez and Stokes will figure things out provided they are given the time and resources to do so, and is hopeful that no reduction in sports is the outcome when things are all said and done.
He said UNM made a commitment to the athletes, the recruits and to the state of New Mexico. He added that the notion of taking away any sport, especially one that caters to such a wide and diverse demographic, is something he does not think is worthy of discussion.
Robert Maler is the sport’s editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and football and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.