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Editorial: UNM should get its head in athletics’ budget game

The University of New Mexico’s VP for Athletics might think the state’s taxpayers and fans should pony up more money if they want to play with the big boys, but the reality is that throwing more cash this poor state doesn’t have at athletics isn’t going to magically transform the Lobos into competing with NCAA powerhouses like Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.

Athletics Vice President Paul Krebs said, “We’ve got to do a better job of managing our funds, but we also need help. We need help from our fans to continue to support us, and I think we’re going to have to continue discussions with the university. Are there other ways that we can get additional support like our peers do?”

At least he got the first part right about better managing the money.

University of New Mexico budget cruncher Andrew Cullen said a $1.5 million deficit in the $33 million athletic budget for Fiscal 2015-16 will just stay on the books and be covered by university reserves. Nice! The debt can just be dismissed as if it never existed.

Krebs makes the case that, because the other nine full members of the Mountain West Conference (not counting the Air Force Academy) receive an average of $17.9 million in subsidies from state support, institutional support and student fees compared to UNM’s $11.6 million from those sources, it is time to tap the university, its students and fans for more money “to equal our expectations.” He said those are “to win championships and to graduate our student athletes.”

But UNM also has more sports (22) than any school in the conference except for Air Force. While Regent Marron Lee says no cuts, Gov. Susana Martinez isn’t a big fan of tax hikes. And making students pay more is, in fact, a tax hike on kids trying to get a college education and who still don’t turn out in big numbers for sports like football.

Meanwhile, Krebs, who is paid a $319,262 salary, should take note that lawmakers right now are talking about having a special session to deal with a state budget shortfall that could exceed $600 million for the current and just completed fiscal years. So UNM officials need to get real about the athletics budget, which has run in the red for seven of the last nine years.

It’s nice to dream about big time athletics success. But the reality is that UNM athletics has to find a way to live within its budget – and everything should be on the table, including eliminating some programs from its large array of offerings.

It’s time for the regents to demand a detailed and realistic plan from the administration and the Athletics Department on how the department’s budget will be balanced – keeping in mind UNM’s primary mission.

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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