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Harrison: Solutions to Lobo hoops mess aren’t easy or obvious

Prior to Saturday’s brunch-hour Lobo tipoff, somebody tipped me off to this: For all the New Mexico men’s basketball stress coming into Saturday, they’d (1) won the games they were supposed to win and (2) lost to the league teams expected to be superior.

Well, as for (1), that got shot out of the sky big time, didn’t it? Given Saturday’s opponent (San Jose State, minus its top scorer), the margin of defeat (83-71) and other context (the Lobos had just drubbed this team two days earlier), can you recall a more dispiriting defeat by your UNM basketball team?

In the last year? Last five?

As for (2), that the Lobos had played up to low expectations even before this weekend is sad commentary, which brings us to this offering. There has to be concern about the direction of this program, or even if there is direction at all.

For starters, let’s in no way trivialize what UNM has gone through, this vagabond existence created by a public health policy that, until only very recently, wouldn’t let them even practice on campus.

The UNM men have had two experienced players, Zane Martin in August and Keith McGee recently, lost to opt-outs. Both mentioned mental health related to pandemic-induced challenges. That has to be taken extremely seriously, and who knows how many others are struggling with this?

Yes, United played its entire 2020 schedule on the road and still made its playoffs. But importantly, United got to come home and practice. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham infamously held the pro soccer team to a different standard than the colleges all through 2020 with a clumsy rationalization that pros needed to play and thus needed to practice fully.

Yes, the Lobo basketball women have gone through the same conditions and are 6-1, and even so coach Mike Bradbury compared the conditions to incarceration. That certainly isn’t the company line.

It could just be that Bradbury’s program is on more solid flooring than is fourth-year coach Weir’s, particularly now that one starter after another isn’t quitting in midstream like last season. But that shouldn’t be.

Now, anybody out there calling the guy in the red sweater a failure, just raise your hand if you’re young and making over, say, $700,000 annually. We’ll give you this space next time, I’d think.

Weir is an impressive guy, to me anyway. He is bright and educated and articulate and easily could be seen as a CEO or a university president down the road. Sooner than that, he could develop his teaching career. He would do well as a broadcast analyst, which seems to be one common professional path for former Lobo coaches. The other, of course, is to coach the Nevada Wolf Pack.

But can Weir be seen cutting down the nets in Vegas or advancing this program into that ever-elusive Sweet 16?

If the university at its own request went another direction from Weir, it would cost $350,000 in severance for each of the final two years of his contract, at least. While that might sound like favorable terms for UNM, COVID’s impact on the program’s ability to generate revenue this 2020-21 fiscal year is devastating – perhaps $10 million less than expected.

This is a program that already fails often to make budget even in non-COVID years. So if you’re UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez, you can’t afford to fire the guy. And definitely can’t justify an extension, which we hear Weir’s agent has been asking about.

Are there private funds out there to make this problem go away? If Nuñez has been doing his job, he has snuggled up to rich people who love the Lobos, if they are even out there. Alas, the university is estranged over a naming rights deal gone awry from the one guy, Larry Chavez, who fits the bill and it could make it happen.

So maybe the only solution is to wait this out, make Weir serve out the terms of this existing contract, and hope things get better.

It’s a basketball purgatory in which Lobo Nation obviously would not like to dwell. But in college sports, you get what you pay for, and here you go.

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