Key Democratic lawmakers are getting behind an effort to force the University of New Mexico to reinstate men’s soccer and other sports slated to be slashed.
A proposal sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf and House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman Patricia Lundstrom would set aside $2 million for the school to reinstate the men’s and women’s skiing teams, beach volleyball and men’s soccer programs. Those teams are scheduled to be cut this summer.
The University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted last year to cut the programs to get spending under control within its troubled athletics department.
But the decision drew wide condemnation and promises from state lawmakers that they would bring back the programs while putting new restrictions on University of New Mexico athletics.
Under the proposal, the University of New Mexico would be required to provide a yearly report to lawmakers about the Athletics Department’s travel expenses, salaries and contracts. The law also would allow the influential Legislative Finance Committee to conduct performance evaluations.
University of New Mexico spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair told the Albuquerque Journal that the institution is examining the proposal.
“UNM has not initiated a request for funding to reinstate any discontinued sports offerings,” Blair wrote in an email to the Journal.
But the men’s soccer team said the school asked team members to meet with lawmakers this week. “We were surprised that UNM asked us to do this, considering that the university has voted to eliminate our team, as well as the beach volleyball and ski teams,” the team said in a statement.
The team also said it hoped Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and lawmakers could come to an agreement to reinstate all the teams.
It’s not clear if the $2 million allocation was a one-time payment or if it would be part of future spending bills.
Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said lawmakers want more transparency about athletics expenditures.
“If you’re going to ask us for money, we want to know how it’s going to be spent,” Lundstrom told the Journal.
She also said University of New Mexico leaders and regents did not heed lawmakers’ previous requests to work together to try to save the sports in question.
“I just think they’re important sports,” said Lundstrom, who plans to hold a committee hearing next month on university athletics.