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Regents put heat on UNM athletics department

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Rob Doughty, president of the UNM Board of Regents – which is responsible for signing off on years of consistently failing budgets from university’s athletics department – says he feels he’s been lied to and won’t rubber stamp any future athletics budgets nor consider forgiving any of the department’s estimated $7.5 million deficit before seeing significant changes.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez, left, and Deputy athletic director Brad Hutchins listen to the Board of Regents during Thursday’s budget summit meeting. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

An unexpectedly fiery Board of Regents Budget Summit meeting Thursday on the University of New Mexico campus began with students speaking out not against the eventually passed proposal to raise their tuition, but against forgiving years of accumulated deficit of Lobo athletics. The debt includes a record high this fiscal year of about $3.3 million.

Doughty’s exchange with deputy athletic director Brad Hutchins seemed to symbolize the growing frustrations in the UNM community.

“I want to know right now, in front of everybody, why are we $3.3 million in the hole when I was promised last year that we had a balanced budget?” Doughty intensely questioned.

How much of Thursday’s heated exchange was for show and how much was sincere frustration of a board that has, for years, publicly backed the department’s continued financial struggles, may not be known until the forgiveness issue is addressed at an April 10 Finance & Facilities committee meeting.

Then, athletics plans to present its 2019 Fiscal Year budget proposal. It was supposed to be presented Thursday, but department leaders said it is just now getting a grasp on how bad the current budget is.

First-year UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said he and new Chief Financial Officer Rob Robinson aren’t sure how, or why, certain things were done in the past, when the department annually constructed its roughly $33 million annual operating budget.

He added his department won’t repeat budgeting errors of the past.

“We’re going to try and make this right,” Nuñez said. “…I do think some projections and other things probably were not done as they should have been. I do know that (since Nuñez has been AD) we’ve used factual information that we gauge from the previous year to be able to determine our numbers, but why the differential between that and what was placed (on past budget projections), I can’t answer because I wasn’t in the room.”

About 18 minutes into the athletics portion of Thursday’s Budget Summit, Doughty stopped Robinson in the middle of a line-by-line presentation of the current budget.

“I’m very upset,” Doughty said. “Is Brad Hutchins here?”

Hutchins had presented last year’s budget to the board. At that time, former athletic director Paul Krebs was preparing to retire.

Doughty took particular issue over questions he had asked Hutchins last year about a trend reported for several years in the Journal of over-projections the department made regarding ticket revenue in football and men’s basketball.

This season, men’s basketball and football projections were off by about $910,000.

“I want to begin this, Brad, by saying I’m not coming after you personally,” Doughty said. “…We had our (meeting) just like we’re having today and you looked me in the eye on behalf of the athletic administration and you made (a case for the budget projections). I’m very upset today. I feel like this Board of Regents and the folks that were there, and especially me, were misled and were told things that weren’t true. And you were making false promises.

“And, I have to say, that in my time at this university in the last four years, as I sit here today, I think I’m as mad as I’ve ever been.”

If Doughty wasn’t being clear enough, he then got even more specific.

“I think the projection line was done just to balance the budget,” Doughty said. “I want to know what research was done, what analysis was done to really back the projected figures.”

Hutchins said he worked with the university’s budget office, but did not specifically name who helped the department. He later said, “It’s my fault we did not hit our ticket revenue projections.”

But missing ticket revenue projections by about $900,000 was hardly the only flaw with the athletics budget.

Other factors included missing fundraising projections – a line almost exclusively produced by the Lobo Club – by $600,000; overshooting personnel costs by $350,000; and overspending on “supplies” – athletics hasn’t explained what goes into that category – by $475,000 and travel by nearly $600,000.

Regent Tom Clifford questioned where the “cost containment strategies” were in a memo Nuñez sent to the regents earlier this week that highlighted potential future revenue sources, but didn’t specifically address the numerous issues on the expenses side of the ledger.

Several students spoke out strongly against forgiving the majority of the athletics deficit.

“I feel this is rewarding bad behavior and rewarding financial mismanagement with a blank check that’s allowing them to continue doing what they did in the past and not change anything,” said sophomore Economics major Benjamin Lopez.

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