Eddie Nuñez says he’s moving forward running University of New Mexico athletics as though they will be four sports lighter one year from now.
The controversial, unanimous Board of Regents vote in August to eliminate men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing and women’s beach volleyball for the 2019-20 academic year remains. University leadership has no intention of spending time or resources to change that.
But that doesn’t mean the battle over the issue, or the political posturing between the regents and lawmakers who have publicly vowed to get the decision reversed, has stopped. An influx of more than $1 billion in new funding could be available in the 2019 Legislative session.
The regents, who meet as a full body on Tuesday, spent a portion of last week’s Finance and Facilities committee meeting firing warning shots. Just because UNM athletics will be asking for $1.5 million more this coming legislative session than it received for the current fiscal year – UNM currently receives $2.6 million but will request $4.1 million next year – that doesn’t mean lawmakers should expect to say how the money is spent.
In fact, one regent even suggested if the state doesn’t give the new money being requested, more sports could be cut soon.
“The concern I have is that I think everybody thinks if we ask for enough money, we can reinstate other sports,” said regent Marron Lee, who chairs the Finance and Facilities committee, when questioning Nuñez about what he intends to spend the new money on if it is approved.
Nuñez said the new money would address increased travel expenses of the remaining sports and pay for such NCAA-mandated initiatives as adding full-time trainers for all sports by 2020 rather than using graduate assistants.
“Eddie, let me ask you this,” Lee added. “The demographics don’t change and these new initiatives keep coming down that are designed to make our student athletes safer and better prepared individuals, in three years will we be talking about cutting another major sport? If we don’t get this money in?”
“Absolutely,” Nuñez replied.
“We’re talking baseball?” Lee asked?
“I’m talking it might be more than that,” Nuñez said.
The exchange, summarized in Wednesday’s Journal, didn’t sit well with at least two state lawmakers.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas posted on his Twitter account in response to the Journal’s article: “@marron_lee doubles down on the ruse that bringing back men’s soccer jeopardizes baseball. We didn’t fall for it then so why would anyone fall for it now. @UNMLoboMSoccer #GoLobos.”
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup and Chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, submitted for publication to the Journal a letter expressing anger, frustration and a concern for a general lack of professionalism from the regents in the process, in particular after she had her microphone cut off by the regents during the August meeting when she reached the 3-minute limit during the public comment portion.
“The offer of help was not only ignored, but was treated with disrespect,” Lundstrom wrote. “The Chair rudely and summarily dismissed me, and no acknowledgement, apology or accommodation was forthcoming – despite the expressed willingness of students to give up their allotted time on my behalf.”
Citing the Journal article, Lundstrom asked in her letter, “Should more taxpayer money be invested in a program exhibiting a shocking lack of transparency and effective budget management? … Perhaps we should be calling for a different kind of leadership within the UNM Board of Regents – leadership that maintains humility and transparency, embraces diversity of opinion, and remains flexible in the face of uncertainty.”
UNM’s seven-member Board of Regents is expected to see a massive overhaul once a new governor takes office in January. Both candidates for governor had expressed hope the regents would delay a vote to cut sports until the next legislative session.
While there are staggered terms for the regents,the only two regents who are scheduled to be on the board beyond January are Rob Doughty and Lee.