The New Mexico state budget passed last week essentially cancels the millions of dollars of debt that the athletics departments at the state’s two Division I colleges owe their respective universities for years of overspending.
As reported by the Albuquerque Journal, language in the budget prohibits the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University from using any state money — which includes money appropriated from the Legislature as well as any other state money that ends up in the athletics departments’ coffers — to pay back the accumulated deficits.
In the University of New Mexico's case, the athletic department had accumulated a $4.7 million deficit by the end of fiscal year 2017, having missed budget eight times in 10 years, and currently faces a debt approaching $4.4 million. At NMSU, the debt is $3 million.
State Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) said those deficits were caused by accounting problems at the universities, such as a practice of overestimating revenues from ticket sales and other sources, which expenses then exceed. Smith pushed for the language in the budget because he’s tired of how the two schools have been dealing with their financially struggling athletics departments, which he argues are underfunded compared with peers in their conferences.
“That language is strictly saying, ‘Hey, UNM main campus and athletic department, it’s still taxpayer money and you are just shifting that.’ And every year, UNM or State, if they can’t quite make the payments, they advertise [the deficit reduction plan is going to last] for a longer period,” Smith told the Journal on Friday. “What that language [in this year’s budget] does, I’m hoping, is just cancel that debt. There was no additional money from the state of New Mexico.”
Smith also expressed displeasure with the both athletic departments scheduling football games against top-tier opponents in exchange for big payouts. The teams have little chance of winning and a good chance of players getting hurt, the senator argued. “I’m sick and tired of both universities having to take money games. We’re not competitive, and we’re getting crushed, but they’ve got to play those games to get enough money for their athletics departments,” Smith said.
The past season, the Aggies lost to Alabama, 62-10, and the Lobos lost to Notre Dame, 66-14.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said the university was analyzing how the bill would affect the department. “I cannot speak about the proposal until we understand what this means and how it will work,” Nuñez said late Friday.