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NMSU students, faculty slam football

LAS CRUCES – Members of the New Mexico State University community are pushing back against Regents Chairman Mike Cheney’s public exhortation that Aggies support athletics, in particular the long-struggling football program.

A petition on the website urges the five-member Board of Regents to “stop diverting funds from academics to support failing athletics programs.” The petition, launched last Monday, had been signed by more than 300 people, including alumni and current students, by Friday.

Meanwhile, a letter circulated Friday and signed by nearly 100 faculty members, took aim at the struggling Aggie football team: “Supporting football disproportionately is unjustifiable.”

The petition and faculty letter were in response to Cheney’s letter, circulated to NMSU employees May 10 and published in two Las Cruces newspapers. Cheney wrote that football and sports generally build the university’s brand more than any other university facet because of media coverage.

“Like it or not, we must live in the reality that is collegiate sports today,” Cheney wrote. Later, he wrote: “Anyone can criticize. It takes fortitude to be a supporter on our way to achieving the success we desire.”

Cheney’s letter was issued the same day the five-member Board of Regents issued a resolution saying they had reviewed the Athletic Department’s financial status and “feel justified in continuing this level of financial commitment.” This year, the Athletic Department budget is being balanced with about $4.2 million in funds initially earmarked for instructional purposes.

Members of the faculty, whose salaries have barely grown in recent years and remain below those of most counterparts at peer institutions, have long grumbled about the use of instructional funds to prop up the athletic budget. The football team, the most costly program among NMSU sports, has not been to a bowl game since 1960 and has only had two winning seasons in the last 40 years.

“Regent Cheney has offered no compelling evidence that NMSU’s Division I football has positively impacted NMSU finances,” the faculty letter says. “In contrast, there is compelling data that football has harmed NMSU academics. Every dollar diverted from the academic budget to the football program directly and negatively affects the potential to provide quality education and research.”

Cheney said Friday that the response to his letter was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I know there are people who are going to have their opinion and they are entitled to that, but I’m disappointed we can’t all get on the same page,” he said.