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Editorial: Somebody call a foul on lawmakers running UNM

We get it. It’s not an easy time to be a University of New Mexico men’s soccer or women’s beach volleyball player, or a member of the men’s or women’s ski team. It’s not easy to be their parents. Barring a reversal of the Board of Regents’ decision, those athletes will have to look elsewhere after this school year if they hope to continue their collegiate athletic careers.

But lawmakers stepping in to micromanage the state’s flagship university right before the buzzer is a technical foul with a capital “T.”

Sure, the decision last year to cut the four sports after this school year was a tough one, and it was met by heartfelt protests as well as complaints about a fast track that lacked transparency. Many, including then-candidate Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, vowed to bring the sports back, and now some lawmakers have made good on their promise to try to restore the sports’ funding – at least for a season.

And for that the House floor should be littered with red cards.

House Bill 320 would appropriate $2 million to the UNM Board of Regents to reinstate the programs. Its Democratic sponsors – House Speaker Brian Egolf, House Appropriations and Finance Chair Patricia A. Lundstrom, House Taxation and Revenue Vice Chair Javier Martínez, House Commerce & Economic Development Chair Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton – have a lot of clout in Santa Fe. And the governor is already on record supporting bringing the sports back.

But each and every one of them has a day job, and it isn’t UNM president or athletic director. Each and every one generously gives of their time and expertise in public service, but not on the UNM Board of Regents. Their bill and their actions undermine Garnett Stokes, Eddie Nuñez and seven UNM regents and set a horrible precedent.

Ditto for the funding. While in a perfect world there would be unlimited financial support for every sport, UNM fields more teams than its peer institutions, and having taxpayers foot this bailout bill is the top of a slippery slope even the best skier would pass on. A one-time appropriation only buys a year; it needs to be re-occurring just like the sports’ seasons. Why should taxpayers in the state’s 32 other counties have to underwrite sports at UNM when they are struggling to keep academic programs at their local colleges and universities? And if New Mexico State, Eastern, Western, etc., face a similar tough call down the road, shouldn’t they also be able to expect the same bailout?

In fact, shouldn’t they get the same funding now? Albuquerque Republican Sen. Mark Moores highlights HB 320’s tone-deaf inequity in his SB 409, which says in part “Two million dollars is appropriated from the general fund to the board of regents of New Mexico State University for expenditure in fiscal year 2020 to create men’s and women’s skiing, women’s beach volleyball and men’s soccer programs at New Mexico State University for the purpose of participation in national collegiate athletic association sports competitions.”

Where does it end?

It should be noted UNM has not requested this appropriation. And that the new governor can remake the Board of Regents as she sees fit. If these sports are to be reinstated, it should be UNM regents, not Roundhouse lawmakers, who do it and fund it.

Anything else is unsportsmanlike to the nth degree.

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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