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Copyright 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

 

Something unexpected happened on the way toward the University of New Mexico Athletics Department posting what it had expected would be yet another budget deficit.

After eight budget shortfalls in 10 years between 2008-2017, and preparing the public repeatedly over the past 10 months or so that it was on pace for nine out of 11, Lobo athletics on Tuesday reported it now expects the final books for the most recent fiscal year (FY18) that closed on June 30 to close $221,621 in the black.

But department leadership wasn't exactly giving the news in a celebratory manor. Athletic director Eddie Nuñez and athletics Chief Financial Officer Rob Robinson made clear on Tuesday that all people should read into the windfall is that the department got a lot of financial help in terms of onetime subsidies — on top of the subsidies the department already receives — that it cannot count on again.

The presentation Tuesday from Nuñez and Robinson was part of a status report now required to be made every month to the Board of Regents' Finance and Facilities committee. The department technically balanced its budget, but did so only with a one-time $814,207 gift from the board from proceeds from a Mesa del Sol land sale and with $1.6 million in "transfers from campus," including a previously reported one-time, regents-approved $1.3 million infusion in November to help cover what then was anticipated to be a deficit.

A portion of that $1.3 million, UNM told the Journal in April, would be used to pay the $500,000 owed as part of a buyout this fiscal year to former men's basketball coach Craig Neal, who was fired March 31, 2017.

Other major factors in the $221,621 surplus, Tuesday's report indicated, were a "comprehensive review of accounting practices" to shore up problems with past budgeting practices in athletics and due to "tightening expenditures in the 4th quarter" of the fiscal year, primarily by holding open numerous vacant positions. Nuñez has said those vacancies cannot continue.

The $221,621, Robinson said, is expected to be transferred in the next fiscal year back to main campus to start paying down the department's $4.7 million in accumulated debt from those eight shortfalls in the past 11 years.

The department remains under an Enhanced Fiscal Oversight Program imposed by the state's Higher Education Department.

TO ASK OR NOT? Tuesday's Finance and Facilities meeting featured a presentation on UNM's proposed legislative funding requests for research and public service projects, which includes asking lawmakers for $504,300 on top of the $2.6 million it gets for athletics each year. That would bring UNM athletics in line with the funding New Mexico State University gets from the state each year.

Regent Tom Clifford suggested athletics tie any requests for additional funding within the long-term plan the department is already working on that includes paying back of the $4.7 million in accumulated debt.

Clifford said asking for this money "as a one-off" in addition to whatever other help the department may ask for as part of its long-term plan only confuses the matter and may lead legislators to think they can dictate how the department is run.

"If we're going to go up there, hat in hand, and request this money, what's the expectation going to be on the other side?" Clifford asked, rhetorically. He then also pointed out that lawmakers coming up with money won't address Title IX gender equity issues, which UNM says were also part of last month's decision to eliminate sports.

"This record demonstrates they have neither the will, nor the ability to manage our athletics program," Clifford said.

The committee ultimately tabled a vote on UNM's entire package of research and public service project requests.

Matt Munoz, UNM's Government Relations manager who along with Government and Community Relations Director Connie Beimer made the presentation of this year's potential legislative priorities, also made clear he, and UNM, have asked multiple times in recent legislative sessions for additional funding for athletics, to no avail.

On July 23, four days after the regents voted to eliminate sports, five democratic lawmakers called a news conference asking the regents to reverse the decision and give them a chance to explore potential funding options.

"I didn't have anybody ask me for any new money," Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, and House Appropriations and Finance Committee chair said then. "There was never a supplemental request put forward for Athletics. That's how we know what's going on. If somebody doesn't ask, we don't know about it."

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