Lobos sports

UNM president: 'Too early to know' about playing fall sports

Without football, athletic directors can't imagine other sports being played

By Will Webber
The New Mexican
Posted 5/27/20

University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes said Lobos sports will survive, but just like anything else, it'll have to go through some rough patches before the …

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Lobos sports

UNM president: 'Too early to know' about playing fall sports

Without football, athletic directors can't imagine other sports being played

Posted

University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes said Lobos sports will survive, but just like anything else, it'll have to go through some rough patches before the coronavirus is through wreaking havoc on everyday life.

Stokes addressed reopening college campuses this fall during an extensive interview last week. She said, among other things, UNM is considering an online curriculum if state-mandated health restrictions remain in place this fall.

"Oh, I think there's a continuing future for college athletics," she said. "Student-athletes are an important part, an important subgroup of any university campus. It really is a draw for enrollment for a lot of our students."

She also said every option for getting the university's student-athletes back to competition is on the table. Tentative plans for testing procedures and contact tracing are being developed by her staff.

"I think it's going to be some tough times, but the reality is, that's going to be true all across our country and certainly all across our state," Stokes said. "Athletics is going to emerge here and do well."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association made that possibility considerably easier last week when its Division I Council voted to allow student-athletes in football and men's and women's basketball on campuses for voluntary workouts by June 1.

Several conferences have since made announcements about when athletes would be back - the Southeastern Conference said it will allow its football programs to resume workouts June 8 while the Big 12 has set June 15 for football and July 15 for every other sport.

The Mountain West Conference has remained silent, but last month MWC commissioner Craig Thompson made national headlines when he said there would be no football without all 12 of the league's football-playing colleges allowing students back on campus.

He took it a step further by saying it would be difficult to imagine other sports being played if the football season isn't held. Football, Thompson said, accounts for about 85 percent of the conference's revenues.

Several states within the MWC are dealing with various levels of coronavirus restrictions. Last week, the California State University system, which includes Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State, committed to an online curriculum in the fall.

The following day, the presidents from those universities issued a joint statement saying no decision on athletics had been made, raising optimism that the prospect of sports on closed campuses wasn't dead yet.

"It is hard to say what this will look like," Stokes said. "I think it's too early to know. I'm part of a committee in the Mountain West Conference and we're having those kinds of discussions. Our first priority is, of course, the safety and well-being of our students, and that is also our student-athletes."

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said the financial losses will total in the millions for each Mountain West school. His department is already reporting a deficit of $2.25 million with a year-ending projection that will see it climb well over $3 million.

The loss of football would be nothing short of devastating, Nuñez said. After making a report at a recent board of regents meeting, he said he's had discussions with a number of athletic directors around the country and no one is immune.

"This is happening to everyone, not just to us," he said. "We're doing what we can to stay out in front of it, but if I'm being honest, it's going to hit some places a lot harder than others."

An ESPN report last week said the 65 colleges in the Power Five conferences (SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC) stand to lose $4 billion without football, with a number of colleges at the mid-major level bracing for losses by cutting sports teams.

Both Stokes and Nuñez said there are no plans to cut sports or lay off staff, although several colleges have contacted Nuñez seeking input on how he handled the elimination of multiple sports two years ago.

Bottom line, the NCAA business model relies heavily on football even in smaller markets like UNM.

Much of the MWC's new multiyear TV rights deal with Fox and CBS is anchored in football. Each college is expected to receive as much as $4 million annually from games broadcast on TV.

Assuming there is football this fall, the question then becomes whether or not to allow fans in stadiums.

"There are lots of specifics to figure out there," Stokes said.

If, for example, the governor says groups of no more than 50 people can congregate, it raises a larger question in terms of spacing in a facility with 37,000 seats like UNM's Dreamstyle Stadium.

"Well how far away is the other group of 50?" Stokes said. "I know people smarter than I am are trying to figure out, how do you really make it work? How do you have a few people in the stands to watch something that involves more than 50 players?"

Regardless of what the next few months look like, Stokes said UNM will adhere to the guidelines set down by the governor and health officials.

"It's kind of a shame," she said. "They were poised for really a lot of optimism for our football season, [they] really had done a lot to get their finances in order and then, of course, the bottom kind of falls out with the NCAA."

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