Back in the days when she still had some political ambition, New Mexico’s not-quite lame-duck Governor Susana Martinez was projected as a potential Republican nominee for Vice President. The alleged key to his implausible proposition was that she was something new and different: a Governor who was Latina.
Martinez is a genuine “bootstrapper” herself. Brought up by working-class immigrants from Mexico, she became a lawyer, a prosecutor and a governor, benefiting virtually every step of the way from public education and public employment.
How pathetic that, having reached the top floor of governance she pulled up the opportunity ladders behind her.
Because Martinez chose austerity and “no new taxes” as the hallmarks of her 8 years in office, she has cheaped out her public employees and mismanaged public education. No group of New Mexicans has been more damaged by these choices than her fellow Latinos and Latinas.
As Martinez’ State Lottery Commission raised salaries for top managers, it cut funding for scholarships to state colleges and universities. This helped reduce enrollment, and the number of courses on offer, and the number of teachers to conduct them at both the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University.
Whatever savings the Governor’s policy of “less” might have produced are outweighed by lost opportunities.
Both universities have many attractions, including several academic specialties in which they are genuinely “world-class.” Both offer beautiful surroundings and relatively low costs.
Both UNM and NMSU could and should be magnets of economic and social growth for the state, two things notably absent during the Martinez’ years. Both can help the state address its biggest impediments to private investment: the poor quality of public education and the low-quality workforce it produces.
The Governor’s obliviousness to the interests of New Mexicans, and most particularly to New Mexicans of limited incomes and Hispanic heritage is neatly summed up by the recent decision by her Board of Regents and their new University President and Athletic Director to eliminate or cut back UNM’s budgets for 7 sports.
First, let’s stipulate that these painful decisions were pushed by 2 harsh realities (just as Gov. Martinez’ austerity programs were pushed by a real cratering of state tax revenues during the recent years of low oil and gas prices.) But decisions taken under duress can still be bad choices, and I’d argue,” Martinez’ “no exceptions” retrenchment of state spending, and the tax breaks she offered to corporations, made hard times even worse for most New Mexicans.
Now, to the recent bad decisions made with regard to UNM athletics.
They are being taken to alleviate two real and simultaneous crises: the Athletics Department has consistently overspent its budget for more than a decade and has a deficit almost $5 million deep, and it is out of compliance of the Federal Title IX requirement that women students be given the same athletic opportunities as men.
Both of these problems have built up over years, and can be blamed on mis-management by Athletic Director Paul Krebs and University President Robert Frank. Krebs was encouraged, Frank was appointed by Susana Martinez. Also a big part of the mess, the undersight provided by the Governor’s hand-picked Regents.
Given that Krebs and Frank are gone and the Regents and the Governor will all be replaced by next year, and given that the present AD Eddie Nunez and President Garnett Stokes are both new to their jobs, it might been the decent, as well as the prudent thing to wait a bit, to let new athletic policies be set by a new political and more settled university team.
No such luck. Governor Martinez and her Egregious Regents demanded changes now.
And here’s what they got: 4 teams killed, 3 teams trimmed, and a laundry list of tiny nips and tucks. On the financial front, 3 of the eliminated sports are cheap dates. The cost of adding beach volleyball to the regular women’s volleyball program is miniscule, and the savings from canceling the men’s and women’s ski teams and cutting back on the indoor track and swimming and diving programs are also small, probably smaller than the marketing value the frequent national success of UNM ski and track teams brings to the university.
Also, all these cuts barely budge the male-female balance towards Title IX compliance.
That’s what killing off the men’s soccer team is meant to address; taking down the men’s soccer team takes 29 men off the Title IX balance scale.
Moneywise, soccer isn’t cheap, because the team has no regional conference affiliation, it schedules games (and make impressions) across the country. It makes mostly good impressions. The futbol Lobos are consistently talented and well-coached and often play in the National Tournament. For that “blue sky” value many schools would consider a $700,000 annual budget money well spent.
But wait, what if soccer stayed, and football went away, or just shrank a bit? In terms of the 2 immediate crises, football requires almost 3 times as many male scholarships as soccer, and in terms of the budget crunch, costs about 12 times as much, $8.3 million.
All the planned cutbacks – beach volleyball, skiing, indoor track swimming, diving and soccer, taken together only begin to address the money and gender problems. Ending football would solve ‘em both.
But it’s not the only choice. If eliminating football is too jarring a concept, how about bringing down the level of competition from BCS to FCS? What that alphabetical adjustment would cost is big-time bowl game eligibility, rarely a consideration at UNM. The FCS is a lower level of competition, with bowl games but smaller ones, and with opponents and schedules of reduced stature, but cutting that way might help save soccer, skiing and beach volleyball.
It is true that stepping down football ambitions might cost UNM its membership in the Mountain West Conference, which does provide the Lobos with pretty good opponents and pretty reasonable travel budgets for its required sports — football, women’s volleyball, men’s baseball and women’s and men’s basketball.
That last, men’s hoops, is the one profit-maker in the UNM athletic portfolio. So, would limiting football cost money and cripple basketball? Maybe not. There are plenty of college basketball conferences and the Lobos and their large and loyal following and 15,000 seat arena would make a fine fit for one of ‘em.
But let’s leave aside money, and even football’s outsized footprint on the gender balance; let’s talk about athletics and New Mexico.
When it comes to public participation — kids playing sports — football and baseball appear to have peaked. For football, there are the head-injury issues and the high cost of equipment; for baseball, buying gear is an impediment for many poor children, and so is the reluctance of many municipalities to build and maintain baseball diamonds.
Soccer and basketball are on the rise in the US and around the world because both are economically open to all comers. All they require is a ball and a relatively inexpensive place to play.
Is that why scouts will tell you what the records of interstate competition also show, there are many more highly-skilled futbol players than footballers in The Land of Enchantment.
It’s not just the poverty, it’s the culture. The largest segment of New Mexicans are Latinos, and for them, male and female, the game is “the beautiful game.”
Which is why the state, and its Latina Governor, should be investing in soccer, and in the national showcase UNM Coach Jeremy Fishbein has made of Lobo soccer over the past 17 years.
And that could still happen.
The recent revival of oil and gas prices is being felt at the State Tax Office, and at the State Legislature, where some Democrats want to use some of the revived state treasury to buy time, to reconsider the UNM athletic cutbacks, and to buy life for such build-your-NM-brand-worthy programs as skiing, track and field and supremely, the state’s signature sport, soccer.