Atomic City Update: Cutting men’s soccer would be a mistake for UNM

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By Phil Scherer

This week, the University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted 6-1 in favor of a budget that will require the university to cut sports programs in the near future. As someone who believes sports are an important part of society, especially on college campuses, this is not the kind of news I like to hear. 

Particularly concerning is that one of the main sports being considered for the cuts is the men’s soccer program, which has been one of UNM’s most successful programs since the turn of the century. If a program had a long history of losing, and was making the school very little money I think it would be fair to consider letting it go, but that’s far from the case here. 

The team has played in two Final Fours, one national championship game and has been a conference champion seven times since 2001. That is more success than many programs around the country could expect to have in 50 years of competition. 

How is it possible that a team like that could be viewed as so expendable that UNM would put it at the top of the list to cut? To me, that makes very little sense. Over the past few years, the athletic department at UNM has made a series of missteps that have led them to this point. Controversy abounds everywhere you look. Through all of that, the men’s soccer program has been one of the bright spots, with recruits coming from all around the world and success coming consistently. 

The fact that any sport has to be cut is heartbreaking, but to cut a sport that delivers results would be the latest in a long line of poor decisions. 

The university has put itself in a position where cuts have to be made because the athletic department has failed to balance its operating budget in eight of the past 10 years, and is projected to fail to do so once again this year. 

Though many athletic supporters, including players, coaches and former players, showed up to the Board of Regents meeting Tuesday to protest the school cutting sports, it just does not seem possible. 

“We don’t have other revenue sources to fill that kind of recurring deficit,” UNM president Garnett Stokes said. “... It’s a really unfortunate place to be.”

I don’t think “unfortunate” begins to explain the gravity of the situation. Depending on how many sports ultimately are eliminated, this will affect dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of people and forever change the campus culture at UNM. 

A sport like men’s soccer attracts recruits from all around the globe. Now, those kids will go elsewhere. Recruits that have committed to UNM to compete in future years will have to restart the recruitment process, and coaches will be without jobs. All of the success of the past 20 years will be meaningless. I understand there is a business side to sports, one that often gets overlooked, but there is also a human side. 

UNM is facing an important point in its history. The new leaders at the school are being forced to fix the mistakes of the past, while trying to build for a successful future. This is their first big test. Cutting a sport like men’s soccer would give me no confidence that this group will be any better than the ones that have come before, and would once again put a black eye on the university that may never go away.