UNM committed to Lobo success - Albuquerque Journal

UNM committed to Lobo success

There has been much contemplation regarding how imminent changes to our Lobo Athletics program will affect its future, and that of the many outstanding students, coaches and staff that proudly represent UNM. Speculation about reorganization of the athletics program and elimination of sports has been a natural focal point for many, but I want to ensure that the process and rationale, as well as future planning, receive comparable attention. While this process was initiated out of a need to address the department’s finances because of recent threats to the overall university budget, let me unequivocally state this is not just about money. We are making a comprehensive assessment of how athletics is structured and operated in order to have a thriving program that best supports our students.

UNM President Garnett S. Stokes
UNM President Garnett S. Stokes

This undertaking is not unprecedented, as many universities are grappling with the same challenges in response to a changing athletic and economic climate. UNM has struggled for over a decade with an underfunded athletic department that sponsors a relatively large number of sports. We project a recurring deficit of $2.3 million for fiscal year 2019, in addition to facing an accumulated $4.7 million deficit. UNM also fields the largest number of sport teams, at 22, in the Mountain West conference, among Title IX-regulated institutions. The conference average is 18.5 and the NCAA average is 19.

In conjunction with budgetary challenges, we are also examining Title IX obligations with respect to intercollegiate athletics, which requires that institutions receiving federal funding provide equal opportunities to both men and women on campus and in intercollegiate athletics. We are committed to equity and have been concerned that our athletics program is not in compliance with federal law. A recent independent review shows that the university is, indeed, falling short. For example, women make up 55.4 percent of our undergraduate student population, but just 43.8 percent of our student-athletes. Several facilities that support the female athletes need significant upgrades to be compliant with Title IX requirements, as well. Preliminary estimates suggest this will necessitate millions of dollars in new funding. UNM must start to proactively remedy any issues that may lead to non-compliance, and subsequent oversight and penalties from federal agencies.

The athletics budget and the operations and programs it supports must be in alignment to afford all of our student-athletes the experience they deserve. In the past months, we have discussed various cuts and austerity measures, but remain committed to concurrently growing revenue as part of achieving a healthy and sustainable budget for current and future exigencies. Based on the factors being considered, we will bring a proposal to our Board of Regents on Thursday that ensures an accountable, compliant and successful program. While this process has by no means been simple or easy, we find ourselves presented with a singular leadership opportunity to rebuild and restore public confidence in the administration and stewardship of Lobo athletics.

The approach we have taken with this process, in the time frame allotted, has been consultative and well-informed. In addition to examining data, we have continued to solicit different perspectives, including possible reputational and economic implications. I have read the letters, the social media posts and the media stories. I have heard and witnessed the passion and pride of what it means to be a Lobo. Public universities are anchors to their communities in many ways, including their athletic programs. Very few programs in the country are self-sufficient; nearly all require institutional and state funding, along with funding from private sources, to operate with a balanced budget. Ultimately, Lobo athletics needs your continued support to be successful and contribute to an engaged community. The decisions that are being contemplated are difficult, but they don’t need to be what defines us. What I hope will define us is a united commitment to doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time for the long-term success of UNM.

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