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Editorial: Give ABQ a week to swallow tough UNM sports medicine

There’s no question UNM President Garnett Stokes is between a rock and a hard place as she tries to balance the Athletics Department budget, bring the school into compliance with Title IX requirements and make the university a stronger competitor in the Mountain West Conference.

And there’s also no question Stokes and other university officials have spent a great deal of time weighing their options before coming up with their plan to cut four sports. That plan – which calls for the elimination of men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing and beach volleyball in fall 2019 and significant roster management in men’s cross country and track and field – is slated to be presented to the full Board of Regents and voted on at a 9 a.m. meeting today.

It’s a critical decision for the university, the Athletics Department, the student athletes and coaches who will be directly affected – and the community. UNM notified all of the parties involved of the recommendations late Wednesday. Given the stakes, the athletes and coaches deserve more than the 18 or so hours they were given to understand and digest the administration’s recommendation before the regents are asked to make a final decision.

And while the regents, according to Stokes, have been kept informed along the way, they deserve more time with the report before making this monumental decision.

Stokes has asked the community to continue to embrace and support UNM athletics. That’s asking a lot from a community when giving it only a few hours to analyze UNM’s plan – a community that has embraced the men’s soccer program in particular and boasts tens of thousands of youth players.

This was a problem years in the making, and we don’t fault Stokes, who arrived in March, or her administration for taking the time needed to make a solid recommendation to regents. And on the surface, it appears a reasonable – albeit painful – recommendation. And there is an urgency to getting a final decision as soon as possible to give student athletes any chance of transferring this year.

But regents should consider postponing approval of the plan for one week to give athletes, coaches, supporters and the taxpaying public an opportunity to study the data and reasoning behind the recommendation.

We get it. This is a horrible decision for the president and the Board of Regents to have to make, and prolonging it won’t make it any easier. It’s doubtful there will be any change given the circumstances that got UNM to this point:

• UNM athletics is projecting a $2.3 million deficit for fiscal 2019, which began on July 1. And that’s in addition to the department’s accumulated $4.7 million deficit. The proposed sports cuts would save about $1.2 million a year.

• The university has 22 sports teams, more than any other school in the Mountain West conference.

• UNM currently isn’t in compliance with Title IX, the federal law requiring institutions receiving federal funding to provide equal opportunities to both men and women.

• And several facilities that support the female athletes need significant upgrades to be compliant with Title IX requirements, which will require millions of dollars to pull off.

Those facts aren’t going to change, which leaves the university with little choice but to cut sports teams.

But the regents, the athletes, coaching staffs and the public deserve more than a few hours to scrutinize the proposal being put forth by Stokes. If the proposal is sound, it will withstand the scrutiny.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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