Last year, the University of New Mexico board of regents voted unanimously to cut four athletics programs: men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing, and women’s beach volleyball.
This year, state lawmakers are considering compelling the school to reinstate those programs.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that the state house is considering tying general fund dollars the school receives to whether the sports programs return as part of a larger $7 billion budget proposal. The legislation proposes a large bump in state funding for the school if the programs come back, or zeroing out the state funding if the programs do indeed remain cut.
If approved, the budget plan would boost the state funding UNM receives to $4.6 million for next year and require the school to reinstate the sports programs. That figure represents a $2 million increase over this year, and goes beyond what the school requested by about $500 thousand.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said in a statement that the proposed budget doesn’t account for the school’s financial troubles, and that simply increasing the level of state funding won’t address some of the other issues the department faces.
“The contingencies imposed by the language in [the budget bill] put UNM Athletics in a critically precarious financial position, and seriously challenges our efforts to create a successful and efficient department capable of supporting our student-athletes’ well-being, training and overall success,” Nuñez’s statement reads.
“The additional $2M that is allocated with the contingency to reinstate the cut sports does not address the actual request we have made for $1.5M for addressing current needs,” he said. “Reinstating the cut sports increases the need for more programmatic support, and considerable funding to remain Title IX compliant by investing in existing and additional women’s sports.”
Title IX demands equitable treatment for male and female student-athletes, including equitable facilities, opportunity to compete, and other institutional support. If the house bill is approved, UNM will need to invest in the women’s beach volleyball program’s facilities as well as create an entirely new varsity women’s team to meet Title IX requirements. UNM president Garnett Stokes referred to those costs as “substantial” and “recurring.”
“We have tremendous needs at UNM, very important priorities,” Stokes told the Albuquerque Journal. “And it would be hard for me to make the case that reinstating a sport is a top priority for the University of New Mexico.”
Chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Rep. Patricia Lundstrom said that in addition to the funding for UNM, other state universities would see an increase. She said that lawmakers would be seeking more accountability from athletic departments in terms of travel spending, salaries and contracts.
However, state Sen. John Arthur Smith of the Senate Finance Committee said he remains skeptical.
“I’ve expressed my opposition to micromanaging UNM long before we ever got into session,” he told the Journal.
The house’s budget bill will likely be acted on this week.