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We should know by next week which athletic program UNM will remove

July 11, 2018

The self-imposed deadline of June 30 to announce cuts within the University of New Mexico athletic department has come and gone and, yeah, the anticipation of what comes next is enough to raise the blood pressure of everyone on the South Campus.

What we know is this: The department has been ordered to push forward with a $1.9 million reduction to its annual budget, a reduction that comes largely through the elimination of at least one sport and significant cuts to others. We also know that the identity of the sport(s) will almost certainly be revealed at next week’s Board of Regents meeting, if not sooner.

Athletic director Eddie Nuñez has been remarkably tight-lipped about the entire process. Attempts to reach him have been fruitless, and probably for good reason.

It’s clear he’s got his hands full with not only sending at least one team to the trash heap, but also coming up with a transparent plan to deal with the ensuing backlash. That includes the grilling he’s sure to take from the regents, the UNM administration and the public.

The closer that day gets, the more it seems that men’s soccer is in the crosshairs. Same, too, with skiing and heavy cuts to at least one of the men’s running sports like indoor track, outdoor track or even cross-country.

Then again, no one’s talking. No one knows for sure.

Fact is, the backbone of anything Nuñez reveals is Title IX, not finances. UNM is woefully behind in its compliance with the federal law that calls for equal athletic opportunities for men and women. The school could eliminate football, baseball and men’s soccer and only then fall into compliance for scholarship equivalencies, but the crux of Title IX isn’t making things equal right now — it’s making small moves at a glacial pace to keep the feds at bay.

If UNM can at least demonstrate a tiny step toward balancing the scales, then it will be enough to stay out of trouble. Love it or hate it, Title IX is about fairness and equity. The law makes sense and, barring a major seismic shift in the legal landscape, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

If UNM moves forward and eliminates a women’s sport like skiing or beach volleyball, even more drastic cuts to men’s sports must come, too — all of which makes it painfully clear that a major men’s sport is in serious jeopardy.

As likable as he is and as strong of a case as he makes to keep his sport alive, Lobos soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein appears to be fighting a battle he cannot win through no fault of his own. His points for keeping the sport are valid and the support he has garnered shows the leverage he has to keep his program alive.

Anyone who has heard him speak or spent five minutes in his company is drawn to his cause. What can’t be overlooked are the years’ of mistakes by his administrators. The one-two punch of financial distress and Title IX compliance has led UNM to this point, where life without men’s soccer is a very real possibility, where justifying its loss as a “blame it on this, blame it on that,” scenario is somehow seen as acceptable.

But then again, only time will tell.

Will Webber has spent more than two decades covering sports in New Mexico. You can reach him by email at wwebber@sfnewmexican.com.

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