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Ski team makes its case, again, to UNM

Don’t tell John Garcia it’s not ski season.

With the University of New Mexico nearing its dreary decision on which of its 22 varsity sport to eliminate in a cost-cutting measure, one of the more influential members of the state’s $500 million ski industry is turning up the heat and making a case that the Lobos ski team should be taken off the chopping block.

In fact, the larger point being made by Garcia, a board member of Ski New Mexico, is that the most sensible solution would be to table the decision altogether while first-year President Garnett Stokes and first-year athletic director Eddie Nuñez get a better read on the community and a chance to address the longstanding financial woes that have plagued the athletic department. UNM athletics this weekend is expected to close the fiscal-year books with its ninth deficit in 11 years.

“I feel that even before we talk about cutting teams, it’s important to fix the problems that got them to the point they feel they have to cut teams,” says Garcia, who spearheaded a private fundraising model that brought UNM $181,000 this year for the men’s and women’s ski teams.

“The fundraising we did, in a very short time, shows that the ski community will step up to help. We would have done it years ago if asked. But let’s first let Eddie get the right people in place. I told the president (in a past meeting) if you cut these teams but don’t fix the larger problem, then you’ve only passed the buck to the next president and we still have the problem, just now without these sports that have represented the university in a positive way.”

The costs of operating sports, he contends, isn’t why the department missed budgets so regularly.

Garcia sent a press release to the media this week noting the lengthy academic, competitive and community service accomplishments the team has achieved, added its recent fundraising success can continue and says its mere existence helps the state’s ski industry.

He said past meetings have been cordial with both Stokes and Nuñez, who plan to announce a “reduction in sports” decision at some point this summer to eliminate $1.9 million annually in operating costs.

Former athletic director Paul Krebs announced the elimination of the ski team in April 2017, a decision criticized for having little or no warning. Meanwhile, the current handling of the athletics decision to eliminate sports is now falling under scrutiny for seemingly dragging on too long.

The team, which won an NCAA National Championship in 2004, earned a reprieve last year when it came up with a commitment from the ski community to help privately fund the sport.

With Garcia taking charge, the promise was for $400,000 in private donations over the next two years — earmarked to cover the team’s grant-in-aid (scholarship) costs each fiscal year.

Friday, UNM told the Journal skiing came up with $181,000 this fiscal year. While short of the goal, it was a figure that more than covered the team’s $137,010 in grant-in-aid costs, thanks in part to the team not using all of the allowed scholarships to try to cut costs. The NCAA allows seven scholarships for the women’s team (UNM used 3.3) and 6.3 for the men’s team (UNM used 5.15).

According to a report given to the Board of Regents earlier this month, the ski team (men’s and women’s combined) had a total expense of $480,810 this fiscal year. Of that, the private donations dropped UNM’s cost to under $300,000.

UNM anticipates there being a $200,000 transfer to athletics from skiing this coming season.

Nuñez said Friday there is still no decision on what sports will be cut, adding the decision will be as much about Title IX gender equity implications as it will be about finances.