An unlikely if not impossible proposal nevertheless made headlines this week in New Mexico, where a think tank, considering ways for the state to save money, proposed merging the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University athletic departments.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Rio Grande Foundation, a libertarian-leaning think tank, on Tuesday published a policy brief suggesting the merger.
“I’m not an expert on NCAA rules and regulations, and perhaps it’s not something that could be done,” Paul Gessing, the president of the Rio Grande Foundation told the Journal. “We’re just saying explore that as an option.”
Financial woes have plagued the University of New Mexico, with the Journal reporting that in 8 of the past 10 years the athletic department failed to meet budget goals. UNM athletics ran a $4.7 million deficit during that time, which it will have to pay back to the rest of the university. A campus-wide discussion on the future role athletics will begin in the fall.
Despite the financial difficulties facing the school, the fact is, as UNM AD Eddie Nuñez explained to the Journal that the two schools are standalone institutions.
“They are two different groups of student athletics. They are two different academic institutions. Even if, magically, somebody said ‘yes,’ (the NCAA) would not do that,” Nuñez said. “I don’t think it’s ever been posed that one school should combine with another school for any sport. I mean, holy smokes.”
In its paper, the foundation questioned a number of things about how the athletics departments are run, including the use of mandatory student fees to fund athletics, coach pay, and whether the independent departments would be able to compete against larger schools.
“In a poor, sparsely populated state like New Mexico the best outcome is for the to major universities to act together in aligning their basketball and football programs with financial and long-term performance realities,” the paper reads.
The idea of sports teams merging, while rare, is not entirely unheard of. Long Island University merged the athletics programs of its Post and Brooklyn campuses, and will compete as a unified program with a new mascot — the Sharks — beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.