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Lobo athletics benefit from unfair advantage

New Mexico State athletics have always been a bit of an anomaly in the state. A football program that has struggled mightily and a basketball program that has been extraordinarily successful over the years has seemingly become the modus operandi for the athletics department.

(Image courtesy of the University of New Mexico)

Another weird quirk for New Mexico State is the athletics budget. If you compare it to the athletics budget at the University of New Mexico, it’s genuinely like comparing apples to oranges.

In fiscal year 2021, the NMSU athletics department budget was around $20.5 million. As reported by The Daily Lobo, UNM saw an operating budget of $32.7 million for the same year.

Although state appropriations were originally slated to be reduced at both schools, that ultimately changed. NMSU’s athletics department will receive $4.1 million from the state, a slight increase over the $3.7 million allocation for FY21. UNM also received an increase from FY21 to FY22, going from $3.7 million to $4.1 million.

In an interview with Kokopelli last month, athletics director Mario Moccia stated that “we do things on pretty much a shoestring,” a phrase that harkens to what the motto has been in the department for the last few years: “doing more with less.”

This mantra has truly been tested this year, with the football team losing out on $2.7 million alone on pay-in games at UCLA and Florida due to COVID. The other catch-22 for the Aggies? No conference affiliation for football. While state allocations for athletics are the same at both schools, not having a conference home for Aggie football puts NMSU at a serious financial disadvantage.

For the Lobos, the loss of the traditional football season last year didn’t affect them as much as they still presumably received money from the Mountain West Conference. In fact, the conference just signed a six-year TV contract in 2020 valued at $270 million. This TV revenue is divided among the MWC’s 12 member institutions along with other payouts associated with conference affiliation. Plus, two of the Lobos’ non-conference opponents scheduled for the 2020 season were Idaho State and the University of Massachusetts. Those games were canceled, but this was of little consequence financially since these games would not have come with large payouts. Of course, canceled non-conference games at the University of Southern California and Mississippi State presumably resulted in some loss of revenue for the Lobos.

In the grand scheme of things, the difference of nearly $12 million between departments is worrying. And it gets worse. NMSU’s athletics department is facing a $2.5 million deficit. The department plans on paying that debt off over the next 11-12 years.

The Lobos athletics department is facing a $4.5 million deficit. The Lobos may owe more, but the difference comes in how the payments will be made. The Albuquerque Journal reported back in October that the debt will be paid by using reserve money from the university budget.

Is this fair? Not even close. Unfortunately, it’s safe to say this particular inequity is unlikely to go away. Beyond that, Aggie athletics will always be at a competitive disadvantage until the football program finds a conference home.

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