Just drop football, or at least drop to a lower classification. Budget problem solved, right?
Friday, in a phone interview, University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez declined to discuss which of his 22 varsity programs might be in danger of being dropped.
On Tuesday, the UNM Board of Regents approved a budget that calls for “a reduction of sports” in future years as a response to the athletic department’s much-discussed financial woes.
“It’s still so early in the process,” Nuñez said. “I’m not discussing any sport that’s potentially or not potentially (at risk), because the fact is there’s so many questions that have to be answered.”
Nonetheless, there are those who believe there’s one, definitive answer.
Isn’t football UNM’s most expensive sport? Yes.
Isn’t football the biggest contributor to the athletic department’s whopping, accumulated debt of $4.7 million? Yes.
“UNM football simply does not have a fan base that will ever be able to fund, or nearly fund, the football team,” Albuquerque attorney Dick Minzner wrote in a Journal guest editorial that ran on April 9. “The likely alternatives will be to require other departments of the university to contribute through constraints on their budgets or to require students to contribute through increased tuition or fees. It seems unreasonable that those who do not care about football must subsidize, in ever-increasing amounts, the entertainment of those who do.”
More succinct: A recent contributor to the Journal’s Sports Speak Up! column labeled football “a mediocre money suck.”
But, Nuñez said on Friday, nothing about the prospect of dropping an athletic program, least of all football, is that simple.
“There’s other components that are part of that (picture), ” he said.
First and foremost, he said, there’s conference affiliation.
General regulation 1.2 in the Mountain West Conference handbook states that league members are required to field a football team. It also states that an MWC member’s football program must maintain the standards required for NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision membership.
The Mountain West’s recent courtship of Gonzaga, which does not have a football program, strongly suggests the league would have been willing to change its bylaws had Gonzaga said yes. But, since it has never happened, it’s not clear how the MWC would react if a current member school were to drop football from the FBS level to Football Championship status — or drop football entirely.
As a full-fledged Mountain West member, UNM shares annually in profits from the conference’s football TV contracts and in revenue from the College Football Playoff. Those revenue streams would be reduced, or could disappear, if football were reduced to FCS status or dropped entirely.
The University of Idaho, its football program — like New Mexico State — booted out of the Sun Belt Conference, has opted to drop from FBS to FCS and membership in the Big Sky Conference. Idaho will need to maintain only 63 football scholarships rather than 85, and its travel budget will be greatly reduced.
But Idaho must learn to live with far less TV and CFP revenue.
Idaho also must deal with the loss, real or potential, of revenue from scheduled “guarantee” road games against NCAA “Power Five” conference schools.
Idaho had five guarantee games on the books worth a combined $6.45 million from 2018-22.
One of those games, at LSU in 2020 for $1.4 million, already has been canceled. (New Mexico is scheduled to play at LSU in 2023 for $1.6 million.)
Idaho’s four other guarantee games are still on the books but could be in jeopardy. Some Power Five schools won’t schedule FCS teams. Few schedule more than one in a season, and the guarantees for such games are in the $500,000 range.
As of now, UNM has six guarantee games worth $7.7 million scheduled from 2018-25, and Nuñez is looking for a couple more. That’s money lost if the school were to drop football, payouts endangered if UNM were to go FCS.
Regarding football or any of UNM’s varsity sports, Nuñez said, the entire ball of yarn must be unraveled before any decisions are made.
“What are they doing, positively or negatively, financially,” he said. “What are they doing from a conference (standpoint), Title IX, what are we doing with donors.
“All those things are being taken into account.”