No spring drills, Lobos men’s soccer team told

The Lobo men’s soccer team on Wednesday was told its spring season will not happen.

The team remains hopeful the UNM Board of Regents’ August vote to discontinue the team as of July 1, 2019, will be reversed. But, even if it is not reversed, several players say they feel UNM is breaking a promise to them by not letting them have a full spring program of practices and games.

At the time of the summer vote to discontinue men’s soccer and three other sports, regents, UNM President Garnett Stokes and Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said the student athletes in the cut sports would all be fully supported through the duration of their coming seasons (men’s soccer’s regular season ends in November) and the sports would all remain a part of department until the July 1, 2019, elimination date.

“That was a big factor for a lot of the underclassmen who choose to stay for this year and not rush into a transfer because they were promised a full year in which they could take their time in deciding on a place to transfer to while waiting to see if the program got reinstated,” senior midfielder Matt Dorsey told the Journal of the team believing the administration’s promise to continue its support meant until the summer.

“… This decision is not only breaking a promise on behalf of the athletic department, but it is putting all of the guys with remaining years of eligibility at a huge disadvantage.”

Essentially, some players on the team, and their parents who have written multiple letters this week to UNM’s administration and the Board or Regents, feel they are now being forced to rush a decision to transfer in the coming December semester break in order to participate in spring practices at another program or run the risk of other programs not viewing them as valuable a transfer if they skip spring drills.

UNM associate athletic directors Ed Manzanares and Eric Schultz told the team at a meeting Wednesday it would still have access in the spring to academic advisers, trainers and facilities, but there won’t be formal practices or training sessions with coaches or a spring game schedule, usually five games, which most teams take part in. Those spring drills and games are customarily considered preparation for the following season, one now not scheduled to happen at UNM.

“Are you willing to now come out and say you no longer have the best interest of your student athletes?” Michelle Shepherd, the parent of Lobo soccer freshman midfielder Ben Shepherd, wrote in a letter Wednesday afternoon to Stokes and the entire Board of Regents. “… We accepted the decision that the soccer program would end July 2019 and my son was prepared to use the spring season to train with his team, compete in games, complete his freshman academic year and secure his next school.”

Ryan Swanson, an assistant professor in the UNM Honors College and member of the faculty’s Athletic Council, was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting at the request of the team.

“My interest, hopefully like other people, is what’s best for these student athletes,” Swanson said. “After the team was told, there was a rather vigorous debate over why that happened.”

Swanson said he was proud of the student-athletes ability to express in an “eloquent” and passionate manner their frustrations and concerns about the decision.

Nuñez has said he and the department will do anything to help facilitate any player’s desire to transfer, now or in the summer. But, despite several state politicians and even one governor candidate saying they will work to bring back the soccer program in the new year, Nuñez said he has to move forward making decisions as a director based on the current reality that the regents voted to cut the sport.

Nuñez originally said he had hoped to talk with the team about any decisions on a spring season after the regular season ends, but told the Journal on Wednesday the department felt it “owed those young men the opportunity to understand the decision now and not have them be misled in any way about what might happen in the future.”

Head coach Jeremy Fishbein declined to talk to the Journal about the meeting when contacted Wednesday.

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