With that in mind, Brian DeSpain, the University of New Mexico’s assistant athletic director for football operations, said the department will continue to push for renovations to the Lobos’ locker room.
Tuesday, the UNM Regents Finance & Facilities Committee rejected a proposal for that purpose amounting to $676,500. Regent Tom Clifford said he felt paying down the athletic department’s $4.7 million deficit was a far higher priority.
The timing of the locker-room proposal, he said, was unfortunate in light of the deficit.
DeSpain, interviewed Wednesday after a UNM spring practice session, said he understands and respects the athletic program’s financial realities.
But, he said of funds for the locker-room proposal, “there was a very specific purpose … the way that financing was structured. It’s not like we’re taking money from the general operating (budget) or taking anything from anyone else.”
Sources in the proposal included a $200,000 gift from Albuquerque businessman Larry Chavez, other private donations and capital outlay funds. Up-front money the athletic department will receive this fiscal year for high-paying road football games at LSU in 2022 and Texas A&M in 2023 could also be earmarked for the purpose.
DeSpain said the main problem with the football locker room is the lockers themselves. The locker room was built in 1994 and has not undergone significant change.
“(The lockers) have become outdated and kind of broken,” DeSpain said. “The replacement of the lockers is a big piece of it, and then there’s some flooring and some different cosmetic things.
“It wouldn’t be a new space or new construction or anything.”
In terms of athletic facilities, DeSpain said, UNM is trailing many of its rival Mountain West Conference schools.
“When you look at Wyoming and Colorado State and what UNLV’s doing right now,” he said, “You go right down the list on the money that’s spent on football-specific facilities around the Mountain West. It’s hard to keep up, it really is.”
Keeping up is important, UNM defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said, because athletic facilities often are a prospective Lobo’s first impression when he comes to Albuquerque on a recruiting visit.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things kids look at,” said Cosgrove, who’s serving as acting head coach while coach Bob Davie serves a 30-day suspension. “Are they updated, what kind of bling you have in them.”
Many factors, Cosgrove said, go into recruiting: academics, coach-player relationships, offensive and defensive schemes, etc.
“(But) I think facilities are very important,” he said. “We’re up against a lot of schools with some big-time facilities right now.”
Not just recruits, but the players who are already in the program, DeSpain said, deserve better than a substandard locker room.
“When you show up to a work area, show up to a locker room where everything’s nice and new and clean, I think you feel better about yourself,” he said.
Bijon Parker, a senior safety, said facilities were not a major factor in his decision to come to UNM. It was the unflagging interest, he said, that the coaches showed in him.
“I felt the love, and that’s why I made the decision to come here,” he said.
But, asked if he’d like to come back to a spruced-up locker room for his final season, he said he would.
“That’s me being greedy,” he said.
ABOUT PRACTICE: The Lobos practiced in shorts on Wednesday, but will put on the pads for today’s 15th and final session of spring drills.
“We’ll have some scrimmage situations,” Cosgrove said.