UNM regents vote to uphold contested athletics cuts

August 18, 2018
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Supporters of New Mexico athletics attend the university Board of Regents meeting Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Albuquerque, N.M. (Jim Thompson/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Regents at New Mexico’s flagship university on Friday voted for a second time to cut men’s soccer and other teams, citing longstanding financial challenges within the troubled athletics department and failures by the school to meet federal gender equity mandates under Title IX.

The unanimous vote followed hours of public testimony that included emotional pleas to preserve the soccer team along with men’s and women’s skiing, beach volleyball and women’s diving.

Diving was taken off the table before the final vote after questions were raised by student regent Garrett Adcock regarding the facilities used by the team, the overall effects on the swim team and the minuscule savings that would result.

The move prompted cheers from some in the audience but many were still frustrated about the rest of the cuts.

University President Garnett Stokes said the reality is that a university the size of UNM doesn’t have the resources to support 22 competitive Division I teams and that the athletics department needs to get its house in order and not at the expense of the rest of the university.

“This is an incredibly difficult decision,” she said. “It is an incredibly emotional time for our students, our staff and for our faculty and for our leaders.”

Top legislative leaders urged the board to delay the vote, saying potential solutions could be hashed out during the next legislative session in January. University officials countered that a fix could require millions of dollars more in recurring funding and more uncertainty would only hurt the teams and student athletes.

The regents first voted on the cuts in July. That sparked public outcry and they came under fire from the state attorney general and others for alleged violations of state open meeting laws.

Friday’s special meeting was meant to address those concerns.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller was among those who rallied in hopes that regents would reconsider — or at least delay — their decision to cut the teams. The proposal before the board also called for significant roster reductions within other programs.

“The decision to cut programs for students before the Legislature had time to bring better options to the table is short-sighted and will have a negative impact on the broader community that UNM serves,” Keller said in a statement.

Members of the City Council also weighed in along with candidates running for office. The political interest comes as Albuquerque prepares to see some return on its investment to boost youth soccer and bring a minor league team to town.

The UNM men’s soccer team has among the highest profiles nationally of Lobo men’s sports, with its numerous NCAA tournament appearances and a reputation for drawing prospective talent from around the world.

Top university officials argued again Friday that options are limited if the athletics department has any hope of turning around its finances and meeting Title IX requirements.

“Merely keeping up status quo is not a viable option,” athletics director Eddie Nunez said.

He called the process heartbreaking and said anything short of cuts would be unrealistic.

He and Stokes have pointed to an analysis of the university’s sports programs that found expenses have continued to increase, revenues have decreased and the operating budgets for each sports program have been incrementally reduced over the past decade.

The analysis also mentions shortfalls in budgeted ticket sales and fundraising efforts over the past two years.

The university this week also posted more documents online that officials say were used in making the decision on which sports would be eliminated and which would see roster changes as part of the proposal.

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