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Money worries not new at UNM, but now ink is deep red

Johnson_Ed_sigIt was not too long ago that a UNM athletic director said his source of revenue was “pretty much tapped out.”

His name was Rudy Davalos and he was speaking in 1999.

More recently, our very own Paul Krebs said this: “It’s unrealistic for us to continue to expect to generate more and more revenues from the fan base in this community based on the economy.”

Translation: We’re pretty much tapped out.

In 1999, UNM managed to finish in the black to the tune of $11,943. In 2016, UNM athletics is swimming in $1.5 million worth of red ink.

Back then, Davalos had just finished the unpleasant task of cutting men’s swimming, men’s gymnastics and wrestling. Krebs cringes at the prospect of having to follow a similar course.

On what basis do you decide? Cost? Lack of popularity? Lack of success? Drawing names out of a hat?

Davalos longed for more help from student fees. (He got about $700,000.) Krebs gets $4 million from the students but he is yearning for more. Students at San Diego State (or Utah back then) provide more money, UNM argues, so it’s not fair.

Yet, students are forking over millions for an athletic department toward which they already show great apathy. How many of those 27,000 enrolled at the great university anchored on old Route 66 are picking up those “free” football and basketball tickets?

And just because the folks at San Diego State (or Utah back then) can afford it, it does not mean it is affordable for those making the annual New Mexico median household income of $44,800 (about $266,000 less than Krebs makes a year).

Men’s basketball, then as it does now, shoulders the load. It is the only sport at UNM that currently can profit in the millions.

Football, then as it does now, teases.

“Football is the biggest cost, but it’s the biggest opportunity,” UNM President Robert Frank said this year.

In 1997, after a 9-4 bowl season, with home crowds averaging in excess of the then-official stadium capacity of 31,200, Lobo football ticket revenues amounted to only $1.1 million. Knowing the market in Albuquerque, UNM had ticket packages that were cheaper than what some Texas high schools had.

In the years since, costs for salaries, facilities, scholarships, etc., soared. UNM tried to keep pace, spending money it did not have, counting on revenue that did not come.

UNM has begged the Legislature for a little more cash to hold it over. Instead, it was told not only would it not get more money, but it would actually receive less.

George L. Cross, a botanist by trade, found himself president of the University of Oklahoma in the early 1950s. Further, he found himself seeking money from his Legislature. The story, as he recounted to the New York Times years later, was that a weary senator interrupted his plea and asked: “Yeah, but what kind of football team are we going to have?”

“We want to build a university our football team can be proud of,” Cross answered, hoping everyone would catch the cynicism in his voice.

Instead, the seeds of college athletics planted so long ago have only grown into the towering beanstalks schools attempt to climb today. UNM desperately clings to the vine.