There were really no more answers on Tuesday for UNM Athletics about what this all means after Monday’s somewhat surprising announcement that the Mountain West Conference has postponed football and all other fall sports indefinitely.
Sure, athletic director Eddie Nuñez understands the micro – football and other sports, including the perennial national championship-contending women’s cross country team, won’t be competing any time soon due to concerns over COVID-19, and there is some comfort in knowing those difficult decisions have been made.
“We now understand that we have to take a different path,” Nuñez said Tuesday. “… The sun came out today. We’re taking this as the next challenge that’s in front of us – that’s the way we’re doing it as a staff, as coaches as student-athletes. We can only do what we’re capable of doing. And these challenges, these different opportunities that are presented in front of us, we’ll tackle them one by one and try to have a plan in place that will allow our student-athletes to be able to do what they do best: To be students and student-athletes and also be able to do it at a high level.”
But as far as the macro, it’s hard for Nuñez, UNM or any athletic department to have a good read just yet on how any of this will ultimately affect the department because things keep changing.
While the mid-March bandage pull of so many sports coming to a screeching halt in the course of a couple days was painful, it at least seemed to allow more moving forward. Now, gut-punch sports decisions seem to be trickling out daily since mid-July, when New Mexico first announced high school contact sports would be pushed from fall to spring. Then there was the looming cloud of a letter Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sent the state’s universities making it clear she wanted them to not play this fall.
Even after Monday’s Mountain West news broke, Tuesday brought with it confirmation the Big Ten postponed football and the Pac-12 postponed all sports the rest of the calendar year, which now introduces major college basketball schedule interruptions as that sport starts in November.
For UNM, basketball isn’t forgotten, but hasn’t been the front burner issue of late.
“Currently we are working on the fall sports,” Nuñez told the Journal when asked about the Pac-12’s decision and how it affects Lobo men’s and women’s basketball. “As well as there are ongoing discussions between the MWC and all member institutions regarding the status and the opportunities of winter sports.”
And since MWC football was merely postponed, and not canceled, Nuñez said he’s still trying to figure out what all that means in terms of finances.
The Journal reported in May Lobo athletics was projecting a more than $3 million shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30, almost entirely due to COVID-19-related lost revenue streams. Those books still haven’t closed, UNM says, but the Journal anticipates the shortfall to close to that.
As for the current fiscal year, without knowing yet what moving football to the spring could mean (UNM lost more than $2 million when September games against USC and Mississippi State were erased), and what the TV money from the league might look like if they do play in the spring, Nuñez said he just doesn’t want to speculate yet.
“We can’t take this as a singular situation that’s only occurring in New Mexico,” Nuñez said. “… (I)t’s going to happen in the Group of 5, it’s happening the Power 5. When Wisconsin comes out and says if we don’t play football, that’s $100 million in the hole that we’re going to be facing? Everybody has to look at their situation and say ‘what can we do to overcome this?’ .”
Wisconsin said last month no football could mean a loss of $100 million for that program and on Tuesday said layoffs would have to be coming now. Nuñez has not made any such decisions for Lobo athletics.
WHAT ABOUT BOB? The buyout for Bob Davie, the former UNM football coach, is not being affected by the moving or even a potential loss of football this season. The university says the money earmarked to cover the cost of the roughly $825,000 buyout is coming from a payday football game in 2021, not one of the ones lost this 2020 season.