At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the University of New Mexico’s Athletics budget was left bleeding. University Stadium sat eerily quiet, devoid of cheering fans, the air notably lacking the smell of concession hot dogs and beer, and The Pit’s blaring airhorn, once signaling the end of a decisive quarter, lay silent. And a massive, multi-million dollar deficit loomed amid the empty stands.
But the U.S. government offered a saving grace in late December: federal stimulus money allocated for colleges and universities through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds II (HEERF II). The Athletics department received over $10 million for the 2021 fiscal year as a result of a second pandemic stimulus package through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, according to documents from the UNM Controller Administration.
Yet, in spite of the infusion of aid, the department still expects to fall short of meeting its budget goals by the end of the fiscal year.
“It's not going to give us everything we're looking for, but it is allowing us to make up some lost revenue. Even with the $10 million, we're still looking at about anywhere between a $1 (million) and a $3 million loss this year,” Eddie Nuñez, the athletics director, said.
According to the Athletics department’s FY 21 budget, the department had anticipated earning $6,620,000 from ticket sales to various games. However, the sales ended up totaling only $17,470 which is 0.3% of what was hoped for. Many other avenues of revenue were also negatively impacted.
The department is 75% self-funded, according to Ryan Berryman, the associates athletics director. This makes these losses significant for the department.
“So much of our revenue is self-generated, so we are responsible for hosting events and selling sponsorship and fundraising. And when you can't do those things, it's a huge hit to the budget,” Berryman said. “COVID really impacted that; we're very thankful to have federal support.”
The department had expected to run a deficit in December, the middle of the fiscal year, after the steady loss of potential revenue from would-be patrons and a relocation of the University’s football team out of state to Nevada, according to a previous report from the Daily Lobo. The department is currently in its fourth quarter, with the fiscal year ending on June 30.
While the guidelines for the institutional funds provided by HEERF II prohibit the use of the money for “capital outlays” related to athletics, like the purchase of new equipment or improvements on structures, the funds are allowed to be used to defray lost revenue, according to the Department of Education.
Throughout the pandemic, the Athletics department has received over $12 million of the $31,124,648 in total institutional funds given to UNM via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, according to documents from the UNM Controller Administration.
The Athletics department administration has started to plan how they will fix the deficit moving forward, according to Nuñez. He said that along with cuts they have made this past year to save money, the department will work with the University to create a plan to pay it back.
“The question would be how do we find a way to pay back whatever we owe?” Nuñez said. “That would probably be a plan we work out with the University to offset whatever remaining deficit that we would have to pay.”
Liam DeBonis is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LiamDebonis
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @madelinepukite