Copyright 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
Their voices weren't heard before the decision was made.
That doesn't mean the Lobos ski team will refrain from making them heard now, despite the insistence from the University of New Mexico administration that it's too late.
Thursday at a 1:15 p.m. meeting, athletic director Paul Krebs informed team members that the financial struggles of the school had led to the decision to eliminate the men's and women's ski team, winner of UNM's first team national title in 2004.
As copies of a fact sheet explaining the decision was passed around, team members' cell phones began to vibrate. Text messages began to pour in from friends and family, who saw the news break through a press release sent out to media at 1:19 p.m. - even as the meeting was taking place, said team coach Fredrik Landstedt.
"No warning whatsoever until we sat at the meeting," Landstedt told the Journal in an email exchange on Saturday. "We were texted the same morning to be there. The athletes had no warning as well. They were told to be there at 1:15 and that they should miss class to be there."
The team has now set up a petition and informative website (saveunmskiteam. com), which as of Saturday afternoon had some 5,600 signatures in support of saving the ski program. The team says it has plans to find ways to at least get its message across to those who didn't listen to it before the decision was made - one UNM says will save an estimated $600,000 per fiscal year. For his part, Landstedt suggests the savings closer to $515,000 with an "actual" cost to UNM of only about $285,000 per year in salaries and operation costs and that doesn't count the money the 25 team members (14 men, 11 women), none of whom is on full scholarship, pay for books and the rest of their tuition - nor money many of them pay when they stay on to earn graduate degrees.
UNM sports information director Frank Mercogliano on Saturday told the Journal the $600,000 figure used in Thursday's press release was "derived from a combination of salaries, operating expenses, travel, Nike allotment, insurance and full-funded scholarships."
Landstedt, a 1991 UNM graduate, is well aware of the school's dire financial situation in the athletics department, which posted a $1.54 million deficit in the 2015-16 fiscal year. He said he had asked to be kept in the loop if his program was facing such a demise and was told as recently as mid-March it was not.
Landstedt (who earned $80,400) and assistant coach Joe Downing ($51,763) were both told their employment and benefits will be terminated June 30.
On Thursday, Landstedt said, Krebs informed the team that three sports were considered in discussions with the Board of Regents with the final decision to only eliminate skiing. It isn't clear when such discussions with the Board of Regents took place.
Neither Krebs nor Mercogliano answered specifically when asked by the Journal on Saturday what other sports potentially could have been cut.
In August, former UNM president Robert G. Frank and Regent Marron Lee each told the Journal the school was not close to considering eliminating sports.
In October, Krebs told the Regents' finance and facilities committee that budget matters were again worsening and drastic measures might need to be considered at some point.
In December, athletics warned it could be headed toward a $400,000 deficit this fiscal year. In February,Board of Regents President Robert Doughty suggested it might be time to consider cutting a sport.
And through it all, the team insists it was not contacted. That, it says, is as big a source of its pain as anything.
"Normally, when a decision to cut a team is pending, coaches and athletes are notified months in advance, in order to give all parties ample time to make alternative plans to pursue their sport," the team's new website states.
"... Given the late date in the year, student athletes and coaches will most likely be unable to make alternative arrangements, as university academic transfer deadlines have passed, and most collegiate-level teams around the country have already made athlete and staffing selections."
The team plans to update information and coordinate future action on its saveunmskiteam.com website.
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