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New UNM regents asked to reinstate sports

Most of the University of New Mexico’s regents were confirmed less than three weeks ago, but they’re already being asked to lock horns with the school administration and bring back four sports teams their predecessors axed last year.

Regents received a letter on Monday asking them to take action at their next meeting and conditionally reinstate four previously chopped sports, which university officials said were cut to balance the athletic department’s budget and comply with federal guidelines for female athletics. Last summer, regents voted 7-0 to cut men’s soccer, women’s beach volleyball, and men’s and women’s skiing, which will no longer exist at the end of June unless the new regents take action.

“I don’t know how all the other regents feel, obviously, and I’m one of seven … but my starting assumption is this has been resolved and there’s nothing left for us to resolve now,” said regent Rob Schwartz, one of the new appointees. “My personal first glance is that it’s beyond the scope of what the regents ought to be doing. Which sports we cut is a decision the university administration ought to be making consistent with the mission and values of the university.

“It would take a great deal to overcome that,” he said.

Regents president Rob Doughty and vice president Marron Lee are the only two remaining from last year’s vote to cut the sports. The board has five new members appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who said during her campaign for governor she would bring back the sports teams.

Lujan Grisham isn’t the only politician to weigh in on university athletics. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has also been a vocal advocate for Lobo soccer, Attorney General Hector Balderas has questioned the move and state representatives in a house spending bill have mandated the university reinstate the four sports or not receive any state funding for athletics. The spending bill, which has been referred to the Senate, increases the university’s state funding for sports by $2 million, provided the teams come back.

“I think it’s somewhat of an unreasonable request. We went through a process and the process that we’ve gone through we’re standing behind, which the president and the athletic director had recommended,” Doughty told the Journal Tuesday.

“If the new Board of Regents wants to look into that, that’s their prerogative,” he said. “But at this point nothing new has come up. We’re in a position where we can proceed. It was a 7-0 unanimous decision. It was a decision that’s been made. If the administration comes back to the regents with a new proposal, then I’ll consider it.”

Advocates for the dismissed sports teams said recent statements by university officials call into question how much savings the cuts will produce, and they questioned what effect the cuts would have on Title IX compliance.

Greg Williams, an Albuquerque attorney whose son is on the Lobo soccer team, asked in a letter to regents that they bring the teams back at least until the board has fully examined the financial implications. He said statements university officials made to the Journal that were published last weekend raise questions about the university’s financial analysis of the cuts.

University officials recently told Journal reporters and editors that the Lobo football program is not only a requirement for the school’s Mountain West Conference affiliation, but also that the team also generated about $1.5 million for the athletic department during the current fiscal year. University officials had previously said the football team was expected to lose money.

Such a change in the financial impact of football warrants a deeper analysis of athletic department finances before making a decision about what teams to field, Williams wrote.

In explaining football’s $1.5 million in profit in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the team’s revenue from student fees, its Mountain West Conference affiliation and other sources must be considered, university officials said. Football is projected to bring in $2.7 million in conference revenue and $1.3 million in student fees, according to university budget documents.

UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said the lion’s share of conference revenue is the result of football, such as the rewards for some Mountain West football teams playing in bowl games. The student fee revenue is proportionately divided among athletic teams based on the operating costs of the different teams, said Nicole Dopson, the director of financial operations for academic affairs at the university.