ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The attorney general of New Mexico announced Thursday that his office will take the University of New Mexico to court unless its board of regents reconsiders a decision to eliminate four sports.
Attorney General Hector Balderas gave the university 15 days to respond to an opinion by his office that the school violated state open meetings laws when it moved to cut men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing and women’s beach volleyball.
“The clock is ticking,” Balderas said at a news conference. “They violated state law and the actions they took are invalid.”
University spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said she didn’t know about the news conference and had not seen the remarks.
Balderas told reporters the university’s board didn’t properly give the public notice that it would be discussing the cuts and should take up the process again with “full transparency.”
The regents voted unanimously July 19 to eliminate the four sports, cut diving from the women’s swimming and diving program and dramatically reduce the men’s track and field roster.
The vote came after the board heard hours of testimony from coaches, players, alumni and community members about the importance of the programs. Some people in the crowd responded with boos and heckles.
Men’s soccer has perhaps the highest profile nationally of Lobos men’s sports Teams have twice reached the Final Four and the championship game once. The team is led by head coach Jeremy Fishbein, who is in his 16th season as the Lobos’ head coach. Fishbein coached at Fort Lewis College in Durango from 1992-98. His FLC teams won four conference titles and twice made the NCAA Division II tournament.
With the vote, the programs will be discontinued as of July 1, 2019. University officials say they will honor the scholarships of the affected student-athletes through their graduation.
The athletic department overestimated revenue and overspent its budget in nine of the past 11 years, resulting in a deficit of nearly $5 million.
It was tasked with reducing its annual spending by nearly $2 million by 2020, but officials are still predicting a recurring deficit of $2.3 million in 2019.
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.