ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – An era is ending at the University of New Mexico as the school officially stops four sports programs, including men’s soccer.
Head soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein says unsuccessful efforts over the past year to save the program have left those associated with it physically and mentally exhausted.
Men’s soccer has been one of the university’s most successful teams, winning its share of conference titles and making regular appearances in the national collegiate tournament.
All four programs are set to end Monday after the UNM Board of Regents voted last year to cut soccer along with beach volleyball and the men’s and women’s ski teams to shore up a budget deficit within the athletic department.
Officials also said they needed to address compliance issues with federal mandates regarding equal opportunity for female athletes.
Fishbein said it has been an honor to coach at the university over the past 18 years.
In a parting statement, he described soccer as a progressive and diverse sport that will be part of the state’s future.
“The game we all love is too powerful and too important to the youth of New Mexico and the youth of our country,” he said. “It will be up to all of you to continue the fight to re-instate Lobo men’s soccer.”
The Board of Regents’ decision to end the programs spurred outrage and passionate pleas from athletes, students and even New Mexico lawmakers, some of whom testified before the regents. An effort during the past legislative session failed to funnel more money to the school to save the programs.
University President Garnett Stokes argued that it would have been hard to rationalize providing more state money for sports in the wake of major cuts in spending in recent years on academics.
Officials have said the university simply doesn’t have the resources to support 22 competitive Division I teams.
An analysis done last year found expenses within the athletic department continued to increase, revenues decreased, and the operating budgets for each sports program have been incrementally reduced over the past decade.
The men’s soccer team had one of the highest national profiles among Lobo men’s sports. It had a dozen NCAA tournament appearances and a reputation for drawing talent from around the world.
The team twice reached the NCAA Final Four and appeared once in the championship game. There were several regular season conference titles, including consecutive wins from 2004 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2013.
Fishbein said 22 Lobos have gone on to play in Major League Soccer, the highest professional league in the U.S., and a total of 43 have played professionally around the world since 2002.
A total of 28 players were named Academic All-Americans – 25 in the past 17 years.
Fishbein coached at Fort Lewis College from 1992-98 and led the Skyhawks to two NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Tournament first round appearances.
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.