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State to continue close watch of UNM athletics finances

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A month after the University of New Mexico finalized plans meant to financially stabilize its athletics department, regents have begun asking when the state might end the extra scrutiny wrought by athletics’ budgetary problems.

But the New Mexico Higher Education Department says it is not ready to discuss removing UNM from its “enhanced fiscal oversight program,” noting that UNM still must implement the budget balancing and deficit repayment moves the regents approved in April.

Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron

“UNM has submitted a reduction plan to HED for the athletics deficit, which included a plan to realize savings through cutting of sports programs,” Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron said in an emailed statement to the Journal.

UNM, however, has not determined which sports it plans to cut in 2020, though its leaders have set a goal of deciding by July 1.

“HED will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that the significant issues that have long been growing within the athletics budget are now being addressed,” Damron wrote.

The department’s longstanding budget problems prompted Damron to place UNM under the enhanced fiscal oversight program in October. The athletics department finished eight of the last 10 years in the red and had accrued a $4.7 million deficit to the university by the end of fiscal year 2017. Despite a regent-approved $1.3 million infusion to shore up the 2018 budget, forecasts indicate another shortfall in the current year.

Damron had asked UNM to create a plan to pay down the accrued deficit and show it put the department on a financially sustainable path, even warning the university in March that failure to do so could jeopardize UNM’s state funding disbursements.

In April — six months after Damron initiated the oversight — UNM regents approved what officials say is a more realistic athletics budget for fiscal year 2019 and beyond, one that includes cutting sports in 2020 to save $1.9 million a year. They also approved a 10-year deficit repayment plan to cover the $4.7 million owed to UNM’s reserves.

They’ve now started inquiring about when the state would lift the oversight program, with regents Marron Lee and Tom Clifford each raising the issue in separate public meetings last week.

“We are not prepared to talk about when that might be right now,” HED Deputy Secretary Andrew Jacobson said May 8 when asked by Lee during the regents’ Finance & Facilities committee. “For the time being, we appreciate that you approved a plan that does seem to have you on a path that will address the debt.”

Damron said this week that UNM is current in the program’s reporting requirements, but that she expects UNM to continue with the quarterly reports.

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