Letter: Lobos Now Under NMHED Scrutiny

By Daniel Libit

The New Mexico Higher Education Department has informed the University of New Mexico that its athletic department has been placed under an “Enhanced Fiscal Oversight Program,” due to its running continuous budget deficits and other financial oversight concerns.

NMFishbowl.com has obtained a letter the state’s Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron wrote to UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah on Oct. 3, which stipulates the school must establish a “payment plan to remove the deficit within the Athletic Department.” Additionally, Damron writes, UNM will have to provide quarterly reports on the athletic department’s “financial status” as well as monthly meeting agendas and minutes.

Barbara Damron / NMHED

Damron said that NMHED would initially request a meeting with UNM Board of Regent President Rob Doughty, UNM Executive Vice President David Harris, and newly-installed Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez. Damron had been in the running for the job of UNM president, but was not among the five finalists announced last week.

The NMHED’s move comes after two other agencies began formally scrutinizing the Lobos’ finances: the Office of the State Auditor is within weeks of producing a final report of its “special audit” into the athletic department; and the New Mexico Attorney General has previously announced that it is conducting its own investigation.

NMHED’s specific reference to wiping clean the athletic department debt represents perhaps the biggest challenge for Nuñez, who was formally introduced as UNM’s 13th athletic director. Not only has the budget gone habitually unbalanced, but it is unclear what the actual deficits really are.

As this website recently reported, UNM’s Physical Plant Department continues to pay half the utility expenses each year for the school’s athletic facilities. Including that annual in-kind contribution, there has been about a $10 million gap between what UNM publicly claims as its athletic department budget, and what it reports to the NCAA.

Meanwhile, despite constant shortfalls, the school continues to make pie-in-the-sky revenue projections. For example, UNM projected that it would bring in $1.9 million in football gate revenue this year, the most since 2008.

This story will be updated if UNM or NMHED provide comment.

Update: State Auditor Tim Keller issued the following statement:

“Considering we have an ongoing special audit into UNM athletics, we welcome any additional oversight of the department. Our audit will provide a roadmap for University leadership and the Higher Education Department to steer UNM in the right direction to ensure that its finances are handled in a transparent and accountable way moving forward. “

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