COVID, Home, Sports

NMSU athletics still facing budget cuts, loss of revenue

The parking lot outside the Pan American Center sits empty, Saturday, April 10, 2021. For the past year, most events normally hosted at the Pan Am, including sports, have been canceled or held without people in the stands. With a seating capacity of over 12,000, the venue normally hosts Aggie home volleyball and basketball games. (Photo by Nicole Liverett/Kokopelli)

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has brought budget cuts to the entire university, but not like it has to the New Mexico State University athletics department.

“Just like every other unit in the university, everyone had to submit to some budget cuts. The athletics department received a higher cut than the rest of our units,” said NMSU President John Floros.

According to the director of athletics, Mario Moccia, the athletics department is currently facing a deficit of approximately $3.3 million.

Aggie fans have not been able to attend home football and basketball games for over a year now, and attendance at other sporting events has been extremely limited. If the pandemic does not get much better, and New Mexico does not begin reopening by the end of the summer or the beginning of the fall season, the department might be in even more trouble.

According to Ed Posaski, the associate athletic director of business operations and chief financial officer, the athletics department has already cut its operations budget by 6%.

“Normally we’re able to just balance the budget as we go along through a fiscal year, but this year we immediately started out with a significant deficit, and there’s only so many expenses that we could actually reduce in order to mitigate the losses that we have,” Posaski said.

With the pandemic lasting an entire year, the NMSU athletics department has had few opportunities to make up for the money that has so far been lost.

Posaski indicated that the effects of closures lasting into the fall season would mostly be felt by student athletes. “I think there will have to be significantly greater cuts and it may negatively impact the student athletes,” he said.

Student athletes may not be scheduled to play as many games, teams may not travel as much, or take as many students as they normally would while traveling and they might not be fed as much if further budget cuts are required. Moccia indicated the department is running out of options.

“We do things on pretty much a shoestring. It’s certainly my hope that things are normal. I don’t know. I think we kind of ran out of contingency plans,” Moccia said.

“We do things on pretty much a shoestring. It’s certainly my hope that things are normal. I don’t know. I think we kind of ran out of contingency plans,” Moccia said.

There has been a big loss of revenue from the lack of ticket sales. Right now, NMSU can only have home games for outdoor sports such as baseball, softball and soccer. While those games are allowed to have spectators, the venues are only allowed to open at 25% capacity.

NMSU director of special events Scott Breckner said: “Instead of 900 to 1,000 [spectators], you would have 250 and a little less than that in softball.” There has so far been a total loss of approximately $1.5 million in ticket sales according to Posaski.

However, the athletics department has also been saving money due to the pandemic. According to Posaski, the lack of travel for the football team in particular has saved the department approximately $1 million. According to Moccia, even though the two 2020 football games against UCLA and Florida would have paid a total of $2.7 million, travel costs and other expenses associated with playing a full 12-game schedule would have cut into those earnings.

“The loss of revenue was kind of balanced out by the savings of the expenses,” Moccia said.

Fans also seem eager to come back to watch the NMSU athletes play in person according to Breckner. “We’ve had good compliance with fans coming to softball and baseball games [under] the COVID safety guidelines that we’ve incorporated, so that’s good news,” he said.

Even though these outdoor games are only open at 25% capacity, fans are still coming to support Aggie athletics. This may serve as an indicator that more will be purchasing tickets as the state allows more public gatherings and sporting venues to reopen their doors.

While the athletics department has not seen any aid from the state or federal government, that may be about to change. President Floros said, “I think the bottom line is we’re going to use some of the HEERF (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund) money as we call it, the federal support money, to alleviate some of the pain — not just from athletics, but from other units as well.”

As things begin to look up and more people are getting vaccinated, the hope is the athletics department can begin to pull in more revenue. For now, student athletes are still competing, just with little to no crowds.

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