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UNM shouldn’t bail out Athletics and raise tuition

So the University of New Mexico regents have a magic money tree – an emergency fund they can tap when they choose to.

It appears that’s the fund the UNM Athletics Department is suggesting be tapped to forgive most of the multimillion-dollar debt it’s racked up over the past 12 years. The proposal is slated to be presented during today’s campuswide Budget Summit.

“With direction from the University administration, the proposal is to have the Board of Regents buy out a substantial portion of the Athletics Department deficit using specific funds available to them which to date have not been designated for other purposes,” first-year Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez wrote in a memo to regents. The memo goes on to refer to the money that would be used for the bailout as “regent funding.”

The regents do have a special fund set aside from land sales and investments.

But tapping any fund to reward irresponsible behavior just encourages more of the same.

This year alone, the Athletics Department is incurring an eye-popping $3.3 million deficit, with $1.3 million already transferred from the main campus to help cover that gap.

To be fair, Nuñez isn’t asking the entire athletics debt be forgiven. Under his proposal, the department would repay a little more than $1.1 million over 10 years. The remaining $5.6 million would be forgiven.

Such a deal. Imagine running up a multimillion-dollar credit-card tab and then telling the company you’ll pay back a sixth of what you owe.

But then, this situation is ridiculous on so many levels.

The fact Athletics continues to amass staggering deficits is outrageous. Put simply, the budgets the department puts forth every year have little basis in reality, routinely overestimating ticket sale revenues and underestimating expenditures. This year alone, Athletics overestimated ticket revenue for football and men’s basketball by $950,000, came up $600,000 short on fundraising, overspent its “supplies” budget by $480,000 and overspent its scholarships and aid to student athletes budget by almost $800,000.

Here’s a thought for getting athletics’ finances back on track: Take a math class and use reality-based numbers for budgets. Then again, if there are no consequences for overspending by millions, why bother to rein in expenses?

Nuñez is new to UNM and didn’t create the mess Lobo athletics now finds itself in. But it’s up to him to roll up his sleeves and start cleaning up the mess instead of relying on other funds to cover his department’s debt. That’s what New Mexico State University’s Athletics Department is doing. NMSU athletics amassed a debt exceeding $10 million and has whittled it down by more than half so far. (And lately, both its football and men’s basketball team have fared better than UNM’s.)

It’s also worth noting the request for the bailout will be presented to regents at the same time a budget leadership team made up of representatives from the student body, faculty, staff and administration is recommending a 2.5 percent tuition increase, a $7 premium per credit hour for all upper-division and some graduate courses, and a 2.39 percent increase in student fees. Undergraduates would see total costs rise anywhere from $88 to $214 per semester, depending on courses taken. The extra funding would go to things like campus safety and graduate student positions.

On its own, the proposal for increases seems reasonable. But there’s something wrong if a regents fund is tapped to clean up Athletics’ finances but no money is available to prevent raising students’ tuition and fees.

A big part of going to college is learning responsibility, and while academics is stepping up, the Athletics Department seems to have ditched those classes.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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