Editor's Note: The opinions within the column are that of the writer only and do not reflect the overall opinion of the Daily Lobo.
A story typically benefits from having a protagonist and an antagonist — a good guy and a bad guy (or gal) — someone to root for and someone to bear the burden of villain for people to root against.
The student-athletes who make up the University of New Mexico sports programs seemed to be an easy choice for the side to cheer for — a natural fit as they are competitors who rely on and thrive under the support of fans in the community in the respective sports they play.
Despite an outpouring of support, many of the students involved in UNM sports found themselves caught in the crosshairs, targets of a plan for a reduction in sports. And it seemed only natural that people would rally against the students unfairly becoming casualties due to other's errors, including a lack of financial oversight, Title IX non-compliance and a myriad of other issues.
UNM's student-athletes are a collection of young people who have been affected by years of arguably poor choices that resulted in a problem they had no hand in creating — and will be required to pay a hefty price by essentially having to give up the "athlete" part of their title that is so much a part of their life.
The University of New Mexico Board of Regents held another meeting on Friday, Aug. 17, focusing on the topic of cuts to UNM Athletics. And for the second time in as many months — early afternoon turned into late afternoon and the regents rendered a unanimous decision to cut a handful of sports after nearly five hours of discussion.
Men's soccer, men's and women's skiing and beach volleyball will be eliminated — though a motion was made and passed to spare the dive component of the swim and dive team from being part of the cuts this time around.
The outcome of the meeting has left many people searching for a villain and there are plenty of frontrunners who have drawn consideration to become the antagonist.
Many of the events that led to the current financial situation and Title IX compliance issues can be attributed to the previous leadership at the university and in UNM Athletics. But with many of those individuals being gone, UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez and UNM President Garnett Stokes have seemingly drawn a lot of attention — despite both being relative newcomers at UNM.
While they may not be above criticism regarding the way the sports cuts unfolded, it seems important to point out that while Nuñez and Stokes might be convenient choices, it is unfair to label them as the villain in this story — nor the UNM Board of Regents for that matter.
All of the parties seemed genuine in their assertion that cutting sports was a hard decision — one that was made out of necessity under the pressure to address the findings of multiple audits and inquiries.
They were asked to come up with a plan, hoping to satisfy a mandate to correct a slew of problems or risk the possibility of losing federal funding and potentially face other ramifications. And, regardless of whether or not you agree with the outcome, all the administration did was carry out the task it was asked to perform when the proposal was accepted on Friday.
The bad guy isn't even football or other sports that have come under scrutiny as to why those programs weren't considered for elimination. There have even been talks to boycott or protests against those sports — which seems counterintuitive considering those student-athletes are equally blameless in all of this mayhem.
Some have even pointed the finger at Lobo fans in looking for someone to blame — suggesting that if the ground swell of support that has shown up recently had been present in the stands over the past decade, then eliminating sports wouldn't even be a topic for discussion.
There is probably plenty of blame to go around, but looking for a scapegoat to shoulder the burden isn't fair.
Stokes opened last month's regent's meeting with a quote from former US President Theodore Roosevelt, which essentially said there are three choices when faced with a dilemma. They included choosing to do the right thing, the wrong thing or nothing at all — the latter of which is often the most harmful of choices.
And as much as many of the people involved in the process echoed that they didn't want to take away opportunities by cutting sports, standing by and doing nothing was no longer an option.
At Friday's meeting, Stokes' opening statement conveyed a harsh reality that should not fall on deaf ears — a university with the size and budget of UNM simply cannot sustain 22 sports programs.
While in previous years, the university and the athletic department elected to "kick the can down the road" as one regent put it, the current administration was the one that finally stopped kicking it and took action to address those financial concerns and Title IX shortcomings.
That's not to say the decision was right or wrong. And it doesn't mean affected student-athletes, families friends and others shouldn't be outraged — they should be.
The student-athletes affected by the outcome are unfortunately the losers in a game they couldn't win. They didn't get a fair shake — though it should also be pointed out that the university will honor the full duration of their scholarship offers so they are at least afforded the opportunity to fulfill their academic pursuits and earn a degree.
As newcomers, Nuñez and Stokes may not have realized the scope and impact UNM soccer has on New Mexicans or that members of the ski community credit the UNM ski team as a generator of substantial revenue for one of the state's biggest industries.
But, as leaders, they probably aren't getting a fair shake either. They have been asked to answer for past transgressions they didn't commit and come up with expedited solutions for problems that took years to create.
The tenure of the athletic director and the university president will likely not be defined by what has occurred over the past several months, though they will be inextricably linked to it. The two inherited an absolute mess and knowingly accepted the challenge to try to help UNM navigate out of a tumultuous situation — even if it means some might vilify them for it.
In the end, there doesn't seem to be much point in deciding who gets the lion's share of the blame — it's probably not going to make anyone feel better about the outcome.
Robert Maler is the sports 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 email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.