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Copyright 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

 

Hey Lobos, looks like it's time to steal a play from rival Aggies' playbook. Make that paybook,as in pay off your debts.

Against a backdrop of the University of New Mexico failing to balance its Athletic Department budget for the past eight of 10 fiscal years and ongoing state investigations into financial mismanagement, the department is now part of the state Higher Education Department's accountability gameplan.

The state is going to start monitoring UNM athletics to ensure it repays the $4.7 million it has been borrowing from the main campus's reserve funds over several years.

New Mexico State University already has a repayment plan in place to pay off an Athletic Department debt that had burgeoned to $9.5 million in 2009. And it's apparently working. Aggie athletics has managed to balance its budget for the past nine of 10 years and has been working toward paying off its debt to main campus reserves. It has reduced its debt to $4.1 million and is scheduled to have it paid off in 2021.

Living beyond its means has become the norm at UNM athletics. For a number of years, the department has been subsidized by at least 20 percent, including $4 million in student fees.

So Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron recently informed UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah the department would be placed on a repayment plan. She noted UNM athletics "salaries, benefits and transfers ... have consistently exceeded budgeted amounts and continue to compound net losses." The announcement didn't sit well with Abdallah, who wrote back "As always, I welcome increased communication between the NMHED and the university, but this may not be the best way to accomplish that." He also said the university takes seriously all the financial concerns and intimated regents and top administrators are already working on some sort of reimbursement plan.

Damron wasn't buying it and responded "while the University may in fact have a deficit reimbursement plan in place, the financial statements provided to the Department do not seem to indicate such a plan is being followed, as evidenced by the marked increase in the athletics budget deficit over the past several fiscal years."

Journal attempts to determine information about repayment over the past five years would seem to bear this out. In response to requests to former athletic director Paul Krebs and regents, a reimbursement plan was not mentioned. Budget documents released to the Journal did not include a line item for reimbursement.

UNM's chief marketing and communications officer Cinnamon Blair recently noted athletics and the budget office have met at least once a year to discuss the topic and "this fiscal year will see an emphasized effort on a successful reduction plan." She said the department is committed to a $350K payment this fiscal year and is projected to make $500K payment each year thereafter.

Good to know. Because UNM athletics can't keep moving its rampant overspending and "plans" for repayment into overtime. Kudos to Damron for finally blowing the whistle to end this game.

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