The final whistle will be blown for four University of New Mexico sports next July.
After an emotional four and a half hour special Board of Regents meeting, the regents voted unanimously to cut men’s soccer, beach volleyball, women’s diving from the swimming and diving team, and men’s and women’s skiing.
As for the 63 student-athletes whose sports have been cut, what’s next is mostly unclear, but disappointment is widespread.
Abbey Willison is a sophomore and Albuquerque native who came to UNM to play beach volleyball. She said her team expected the outcome, but they aren’t going to stop fighting.
“We love this sport and we’re going to continue to find ways to play it,” Willison said.
As for what’s next for Willison, she said it’s hard to say. She said transferring to other schools and finding colleges that will take players is a possibility, but first they will play their final games.
“We’re going to play this last year with all we got,” she said. “We’re going to go out with a bang.”
The diving component of the swimming and diving team was another sport cut Thursday. Captains Emily Huffer and Talia Passarelli were at the meeting and both expressed frustration.
Huffer said there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the team and cutting diving will only hurt their program as swimmer’s and diver’s points contribute to the team’s overall score.
“It makes no sense for scoring points,” she said. “If they want us to continue to do well in our conference we’re going to be at the bottom of the pile.”
Huffer said two division-one schools that do not have swimming and diving are Washington State and Oregon State, and said they’re at the bottom of the PAC 12 conference because they don’t have divers.
“People don’t understand. It’s separate, but we’re scored together,” she said. “It’s two different sports, but it’s one team.”
Huffer and Passarelli both said the decision doesn’t make sense, because Title IX compliance is not an issue for the team in their eyes.
“I think they have it in their minds that we have to have all these new facilities, and we don’t. We’re perfectly fine,” Huffer said.
Both captains are swimmers for the team. Diver Natasha Dark was also there and said the decision was a shock to the team.
Going into her junior year this fall semester, Dark said she is unsure what the future holds for her. She said her coach, Julie Weddle, is looking for opportunities and she may follow her to another school. If not, she said she will continue to support the swimming team her final year from the sidelines.
“I think I’m just going to enjoy my last year of diving and then for my senior year I’ll just sit out and accept it,” she said.
Katharine Irwin, a senior on the ski team from Colorado, spoke about the possible repercussions of cutting the selected sports.
“I would love to see what the (Athletic Department’s GPA) is with these teams involved and without the teams,” she said. “I think it’s sending a horrible message to the community that obviously athletic (and academic) excellence don’t mean anything.”
The first NCAA championship UNM ever won was by the ski team in 2004.
Irwin was on the ski team in Spring 2017, when they were first told their program was going to be discontinued. That decision was eventually overturned, but at today’s meeting Irwin said, “I didn’t feel the need to speak (to the BOR), I spoke to them last year and said everything I needed to say.”
However, Irwin said that she believes this decision will have “bigger fallouts” than if the ski team was discontinued in 2017, because “it is involving men’s soccer, a huge community sport, (and) so many women’s opportunities when we are already so out of line with Title IX compliance.”
Several current and past members of Lobo men's soccer spoke about the position the sport has within the local committee, and their determination to continue playing.
Anthony Muñoz, an incoming freshman, said that the lobo soccer players were his heroes, and told the BOR that the men’s soccer program is “built and driven by success.”
Simon Spangenberg, an upcoming senior from Belgium, spoke about his teammates, saying, “They are talented and hard workers, and their back is against the wall now. And they’re not here right now defending themselves. They’re putting on (youth soccer) camps.”
Spangenberg went on to discuss his own experiences teaching, reading and writing to young immigrants, and explained that such actions were representative of the impact men’s soccer has on the surrounding community.
He then told the BOR to “put a price on that, considering you’re giving all that up for a dollar value.”
An online petition to “Save UNM Men’s Soccer” was created ahead of the BOR decision and has already accrued more than 10,000 signatures at the time of this article.
“It's very disheartening, and honestly really difficult that we have been put in this position as a University”, said Becka Meyers, the Associated Students of UNM President. “Of course we don’t want to see sports getting cut, but unfortunately that’s where today left us.”
Meyers said the plan continuing forward is to promote conversation and prevent a similar situation from happening again.
“I think that athletics does need to meet us halfway, and that it’s important to us to protect the student-athletes that didn’t get their sport cut today,” she said.
Meyers also urged students to continue to utilize their voices, and provide input to the BOR during future decisions.
Austin Tyra is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com, or on Twitter @AustinATyra.
Madison Spratto is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Madi_Spratto.