Who Flies Free with the Lobos?

By Daniel Libit

How many people does it take to play a football game? Technically, 11.

But when the University of New Mexico football team flew to New Jersey last year to play Rutgers, it hauled 152 people along for the flight. Of those, only 72 were actually on the team. The remaining 80 included coaches and team personnel, doctors, trainers, cheerleaders, university officials, regents, development officers and various friends of the program. (Perhaps a pilot was in the mix, too.)

Former Athletic Director Paul Krebs and his wife attended, as they regularly did (this perk was stipulated in Krebs’ contract). So, too, did Lobo mega-booster Raleigh Gardenhire, another omnipresent flyer, whose UNM-comped travel for a 2014 Scotland booster golf trip has spurred a state attorney general investigation.

The Rutgers passenger list included then-UNM Regent Jack Fortner and his wife; Regent President Rob Doughty; UNM Executive Vice President David Harris and his wife; Lobo Basketball Operations Director (and former student Regent) Ryan Berryman; Krebs’ personal assistant, Rita Chavez; Dreamstyle owner Larry Chavez and his son; and Lobo boosters Chet and Diana Stewart.

Recently, through a public records request, NMFishbowl.com obtained the last four years of flight logs for Lobo football road games, 18 trips in total. This website also requested any documentation showing whether football non-essentials reimbursed the university for the cost of their plane travel, but was provided none, presumably because they didn’t have to.

“Travel parties for the football program consist of coaches, medical staff, equipment staff, video staff, spirit squad and media staff and administrators, which are necessary for the game and for student-athlete welfare,” explained UNM Athletics spokesman Frank Mercogliano.

“The Mountain West limit for conference games is 70 student-athletes.  The football program is only responsible for the football side of the travel party (players and staff).  There are seats on the charter set aside for other administrative, Lobo Sports Properties and Lobo Club guests.  There is no real cost associated with that as all flights are charter flights, so they would just be empty seats.”

More often than not, the records show, football players were outnumbered by non-players on away-game trips. This fact is unlikely unique to UNM, and speaks more broadly to the exploding-overhead phenomenon of college athletics. More specific to the school, however, is who traveled for free aboard the Lobo chartered jets:

  • Gardenhire, who, as a “Forever Lobo” member, has put UNM Athletics in his estate, had a seat on every away-game trip, according to the travel logs.
  • Harris, went on five of the 18 trips; Frank attended three.
  • Chris Vallejos, the UNM VP recently tapped to oversee Athletic Department finances, went on six trips.
  • Of the UNM Regents: Fortner went on a total of four trips, Marron Lee took her family on two trips, including to Hawaii; and Jamie Koch went on two trips.
  • Football-field namesake Turner Branch, and his wife Margaret, went on three trips.
  • UNM lobbyist Joe Thompson went on three trips.
  • UNM Foundation’s Kole McKamey attended four trips; his father-in-law, Lobo booster Rocky Hughes, attended two.

You can see the full travel party lists here. If you find anybody else of interest, please let us know.

(Lead photo illustration by NMFishbowl.com)