The University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted Tuesday to approve a proposal asking the state for an additional $1.5 million for its beleaguered Athletics Department during the next legislative session.
And none of it will be used to try and reverse the recent decision to cut four sports, including men’s soccer.
While some state lawmakers have been vocal in recent months about the possibility of more state money being available to help reinstate those sports, Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez confirmed comments that appeared in Sunday’s Journal that without the new money, additional sports could be on the chopping block soon.
That didn’t sit well with Regent Suzanne Quillen.
“I was surprised to read that (in Sunday’s Journal), and disappointed,” Quillen said of comments Nuñez made at last week’s Regent Facilities and Finance Committee meeting.
At that meeting, Regent Marron Lee directly asked the athletics director if sports, baseball in particular, would be eliminated if lawmakers didn’t grant UNM’s new request in a pre-emptive strike to warn legislators who have said they can find the money to save soccer.
The notion that any new sports are potentially on the chopping block didn’t appear in paperwork explaining how the new money would be spent and was never mentioned in the past year while the university, very publicly, contemplated sports cuts at multiple regents meetings.
“We’ve already gone through the cuts … to stabilize your department and not have any worry about further cuts,” Quillen said. “… I was really surprised to see that – that this $4 million (is necessary to avoid future program cuts), because that is not what was presented, Eddie. That’s not what was presented.”
The Athletics proposal to ask for additional money would bring the department’s total request for state appropriation to $4.1 million – $2.6 million to match the amount the state appropriated for the current fiscal year and an additional $1.5 million that Nuñez said would be for such matters as improving student welfare, paying for more full-time trainers and to catch up to travel cost increases in a department that hasn’t increased its proposed travel budget in eight years.
Lee reiterated her comments from last week’s committee meeting that this new money should not be viewed by lawmakers as something they can tell UNM how to spend.
“That’s been my concern, and it’s still my concern, is that we give false hope,” Lee said. “But we can’t leave the money on the table. We’re boxed in. We need to ask for it. … I hope that we’re smart in our ask. And we’re honest in our ask. And we don’t make commitments in our ask that we can never keep.”
Regent President Rob Doughty on Tuesday pressed the UNM Foundation President and CEO Henry Nemcik about the organization’s athletic fundraising efforts. He noted that much of the Lobo Club’s annual yield is tied to a fee assessed on basketball and football season ticket sales, and that the foundation should hire a staffer specifically to pursue large gifts for athletics.
He and Nemcik clashed on that point, with Doughty saying the position should be in addition to existing Lobo Club positions and Nemcik saying the foundation could not afford it.
Nemcik said he would “defer” to the report coming from a committee Stokes created to explore Lobo Club restructuring.
“That’s what the committee recommended and you guys rejected that,” Doughty responded. The committee has not issued its final recommendation.
Nemcik said he could not “assume a negative budget,” but said he would work with Stokes on coming up with a solution.
Journal staff writer Jessica Dyer contributed to this report.