The 2018/2019 season will be the last for NCAA skiing at the University of New Mexico (UNM), following a unanimous vote by the Board of Regents to cut skiing, along with two other teams, on Friday evening.
The Board’s decision is effective immediately. If nothing changes, then the men’s soccer team, women’s beach volleyball team, and men’s and women’s ski teams will play out this season, then be eliminated on July 1, 2019, at the start of the next fiscal year. Current scholarship athletes will see their scholarships honored through graduation, university representatives have stated. This promise is necessary to maintain the university’s NCAA eligibility.
The decision has been one month, two years, or 11 years in the making, depending on one’s perspective.
One month ago, the UNM Board of Regents made nearly the same substantive decision as it did on Friday, only to be forced into a do-over to cure what New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas claimed were procedural deficiencies with the first meeting that placed it in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act. Friday’s session marked the second meeting on the same subject.
And the UNM Athletics Department has posted a deficit in eight of the last 11 years, according to a tweet from Albuquerque Journal reporter Geoff Grammer.
Friday evening, what the Board of Regents described as consistent and unresolved financial challenges led to the elimination of four sports teams. Many of the 53 speakers at the Board meeting used their allotted three minutes of public testimony to urge that the Board, for example, cut all sports’ budgets by a relatively small amount, rather than cut any sports teams outright. (Grammer’s Twitter feed, along with the feed for UNM student newspaper Daily Lobo, both provided comprehensive coverage of the meeting and of speakers’ testimony.) The Board did not adopt this solution.
Materials prepared by the Board in advance of the meeting estimated that making all of their recommendations, which includes “roster management” for some of the school’s other teams, would save “an estimated $1.148 million annually.” (See page 23 of this PDF.) “Some have debated those figures,” the Albuquerque Journal has reported.
According to the Board of Regents presentation, cutting men’s skiing would save, in round numbers, $316,000 dollars, and cutting women’s skiing the same amount. Cutting men’s soccer would save $606,000. Cutting women’s beach volleyball would save $10,000.
(These figures add up to $1,248,000. The Board’s suggestion that cutting these teams would save “$1.148 million” may be a typo for “$1.248 million.”)
FasterSkier previously reported in some detail on the expenses of the UNM Athletic Department, including the fact that football costs nearly as much in allocated expenses as 19 other sports combined. This previous coverage also established that skiing costs substantially less than the average sport at UNM, and quoted suggestions by ski-team advocates that cutting skiing would provide substantially less than the $600,000 dollars in annual savings announced by the school, given the operation of athletic scholarships and other related considerations.
Additional documents recently released by the university show that UNM football is projected to bring in $1.2 million in ticket revenue next fiscal year. (Page 25 of this PDF.) The football team will also earn $1.1 million in game guarantees for playing away games at other schools. “Football guarantee games enable one of the wealthiest athletics programs to play at home against a handpicked, less well-heeled opponent that it ostensibly beats,” USA Today has explained.
This is a total direct revenue of $2.3 million for UNM football. The football team has total annual expenses of roughly $9.1 million.
NCAA skiing at UNM dates to 1968; this is the fiftieth anniversary of the first ski team. As of 2013, a total of 702 athletes had donned cherry and silver race suits to ski for the university.
The ski team won the national championship in 2004, the first-ever NCAA team championship for a school that began playing football in 1892. The ski team was also national runner-up in 1992 and 2006, and has finished in the top nine teams at NCAA Championships for 36 years in a row through 2018. The ski team has had 16 individual national champions, roughly one-third of UNM’s 50 individual national champions all-time.
A current roster for the 2018/2019 ski team has not yet been posted to the official UNM Athletics Department site.
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.