State legislators are opportunists on UNM sports cuts

August 19, 2018

In the “Land of Mañana,” it was appropriate that the community demonstrated its support of the soon-to-be-cut sports at the University of New Mexico at the 11th hour.

As encouraging as it was to see state legislators and other government leaders speak up in support of men’s soccer, skiing, beach volleyball and women’s diving at Friday’s do-over board of regents meeting, their actions raised a question.

Where were you?

It’s not like the UNM athletic department cloaked its decision to cut sports until the last minute. Now, it certainly didn’t let those programs know their fates until the day before the ill-fated, and poorly coordinated July 18 regents meeting, but anyone who followed the travails of the athletic department for the past few years knew the end game. UNM President Garnett Stokes made it clear that athletic programs would be cut, so no one should have feigned shock or surprise at the decision.

Still, Friday’s public forum was an exercise, not of futility, but of convenience. It was convenient for leaders to let the regents know that these cuts could have been avoided if they just communicated with them — as if this was all news to them.

UNM’s athletic department was fiscally negligent under former AD Paul Krebs, having accrued budget deficits in eight of 10 years. When Krebs resigned in June 2017, it was clear that the next AD’s job was to clean up the mess and balance the checkbook.

All of this happened in the backdrop of the state government’s struggling revenues (until recently), so to ask the Legislature to rescue UNM athletics was moot. If it had, could you imagine the uproar?

For legislators to come forward and suggest they could have come up with a better solution than cutting sports is disingenuous at best, and pandering to their constituents at worst. They had time to do it. They didn’t care enough to take action until it was too late, and the howling from the public was too loud to ignore.

There was time during the 2018 legislative session, but nothing happened.

There was time last September, when Eddie Nuñez was hired as AD/hatchet man, but the silence was deafening.

Dialogue is not a one-way street. Judging from the comments of legislators, the communication from UNM’s side wasn’t much better, but it’s too late to play the blame game. It is time, though, to build relationships that might benefit everybody. Only time will tell if that occurs.

If we want to parse how UNM went about trying to balance its budget going forward, there is definitely room for debate. Are there better plans that could have helped the athletic department achieve its goal of meeting its budget? Probably.

Was this the worst plan the university picked? No.

It was merely the most convenient plan, because nobody spoke up when there was time for a better solution.

In the “Land of Mañana,” though, it’s just business as usual.

James Barron writes an opinion column about sports in New Mexico. Contact Barron at 505-603-9465 or jbarron@sfnewmexican.com.

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