In the noise surrounding the controversy over the University of New Mexico’s decision to eliminate sports, it is easy to forget who has the most at stake: the student-athletes themselves. It is these young men and women whose lives have been turned upside down. They came to UNM on the promise of both an education and to represent the university as athletes. At a minimum, UNM owes them a fair, thorough and transparent process before taking away those opportunities.
Cutting teams must be a last resort, and it doesn’t appear that UNM has exhausted all other options. As a result, UNM should start this process over, or, at a minimum, hold off on making any decisions until more work has been done. The community has loudly protested the decision to cut sports and has raised questions about the process used in making the decision. Although UNM advised during the spring that cuts were possible, it wasn’t until the night before the regents voted that UNM told the student-athletes and the public which teams would actually be eliminated. The timing gave the impression, rightly or wrongly, that UNM wasn’t interested in public input.
UNM, as the state’s largest university, has to listen to what its community is telling it. It has become obvious that these sports have a long reach beyond the campus. Beyond the teams themselves, which Lobo fans strongly support, thousands of young people in New Mexico participate in soccer, skiing, volleyball and diving. UNM’s teams have provided great benefits to those athletes by hosting camps, providing positive role models and, for some top-notch high schoolers, offering roster spots and scholarships.
Considering how successful UNM’s teams have been both on the field and in the classroom, it isn’t fair to these student-athletes and to the community to cut these programs without considering all other alternatives. UNM’s financial challenges and the requirements of Title IX are very real and must be taken seriously. But it doesn’t appear UNM has fully explored all the available options.
First, the Legislature should be given a chance to further consider the issues. Our legislators support our state universities and their educational mission, and that includes athletics. UNM should be given the opportunity to make its case for additional funding to the Legislature, so that our elected representatives can be fully advised on the effects of the potential cuts on our student-athletes, and then given the opportunity to help.
In addition, our community should be given time to pitch in as well. The supporters of Lobo sports have made it clear that they are willing to step up in terms of fundraising and ticket-buying. Let’s give them a chance to help save these teams.
UNM will be a lesser place without these athletic programs. More importantly, it will be a lesser place without these student-athletes, both present and future. Those students who would otherwise come to the university to be a part of this community, represent the university well on and off the field, and then stay to raise families and become neighbors, friends and co-workers, will have no choice but to go somewhere else. Let’s not let that happen without doing everything we can to find other options.
Sen. George K. Muñoz and Rep. Larry A. Larrañaga are members of the New Mexico Legislature’s Legislative Finance Committee.