The University of New Mexico Athletic Department will cut men's soccer, women's diving, men's and women's skiing and beach volleyball, pending a vote from the Board of Regents. The University will also institute roster management plans for men's cross country and men's indoor and outdoor track.
“The University is faced with very difficult decisions and tough choices, but we must act now to ensure the long-term stability of Lobo Athletics,” President Garnett Stokes said in a release. “Regrettably, the recommendations do include a reduction in sports, the least desirable measure but one that will help alleviate our financial concerns and work towards outing us in compliance with federal law.”
The Lobos athletic department has failed to balance its budget eight of the last 10 fiscal years. Stokes said as early as April that cutting sports would be necessary in order to balance the budget. The athletics budget that approved for fiscal year 18-19, which began July 1, called for $1.9 million in reduction of sports.
The men's soccer team has been under serious consideration for elimination since April, when head coach Jeremy Fishbein sent a letter to media and supporters of the program regarding a meeting with athletic director Eddie Nuñez. The program was expected to cost the department nearly $540,000 during fiscal year 17-18. There are 29 players listed on the 2018 roster.
“It's a pretty bitter pill to swallow right now… it's kind of mindblowing,” Fishbein said following his team’s meeting with Nunez.
In his comments to the media, Fishbein said that he wants to see all of the sports being recommended for cuts saved, reiterating his belief that there is no such thing as major or minor sports.
“Every student-athlete is of equal importance,” he said. “My thing is that there's no such thing as a major or minor sport, every kid gives it everything they’ve got. Every coach gives it everything they’ve got. I still strongly say we don’t need to drop sport — we need to support sports, we need to support the people that are going to impact this state, we need to be progressive. My fear is that we really take some steps back when we take away these kids from our institution and from our state.”
Nick Williams, an incoming freshman on the team and a local product, had finally achieved his goal of playing for UNM, which he says was his dream school. For him, elimination of the program would take that away.
“University of New Mexico soccer was my dream, my total dream program. I love being home and I love playing," Williams said. "They have the best facilities, they have the best coaching."
Williams added that, if the regents approve the decision to cut men's soccer, he may have to leave UNM altogether.
"Even if I love the university, I have to continue to pursue my dream (of playing soccer), and if they aren’t going to let me do that here, then I’m going to do it somewhere else," he said.
Beach Volleyball is the youngest of the 22 programs that UNM currently sponsors, with play beginning in the spring of 2015. Jeff Nelson serves as head coach of the program, as well as indoor volleyball. The roster, available on golobos.com, lists 16 players on the roster, with many also playing for the indoor team. The program's expected final expenses for FY 17-18 were just north of $208,000.
The men's and women's skiing programs, which narrowly avoided being dropped last year after an outpouring of community support and donations from private individuals, will again face elimination. Eliminating the programs is expected to save the university roughly $600,000 per year. There are a total of 20 skiers listed on the 17-18 roster.
Women’s diving, which consists of five student athletes, is the final sport expected to be eliminated, with the swimming portion of the program surviving. Total expenses for swimming and diving during the last fiscal year were projected to come in at $312,926. The 2018 roster for swim and dive shows five divers.
In a letter to student athletes released by the university, Nuñez stated that athletes in the impacted sports will have their scholarships honored through graduation, and that the school will work with the NCAA on a plan to allow any athlete from an impacted sport transfer and be eligible immediately.
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
Cameron Goeldner is a beat sports reporter and photographer for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer, but also contributes content for baseball, basketball, football and track and field. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @goeldfinger.
Kyle Land and Danielle Prokop contributed to this story.