By Russell Gurule
Enchantment Sports Fandemonium
Every longtime Lobo supporter knows all too well the financial difficulties that have been plaguing University of New Mexico athletics.
With Lobo basketball gradually leaving the dark tunnel of the last five years, it is now Lobo
soccer and football that continue to struggle with successive seasons of despair.
For football head coach Bob Davie, it has been a tumultuous ride from building a program that was left in shambles by the previous coaching staff to making two bowl appearances.
Since those two New Mexico Bowl appearances, however, New Mexico has gone to an all too familiar dark place — bottom of the conference standings!
Two consecutive 3-9 seasons mired with on- and off-the-field issues and injuries have taken Lobo football from a conference contender to an also-ran.
Many reasons can be stated as to why the program has fallen on hard times. One could point to the last
win against Air Force during the 2017 season as the beginning of the decline.
The victory became the second story of the day. Six Lobo football players decided to take a knee during the national anthem, thereby giving New Mexico the distinction of being the first college team to do so.
Standing or kneeling for the national anthem has been a contentious debate. Calls for punishment were left unheard as Davie decided to side with the six players. Undoubtedly, this action cost much-needed support from some of the Lobo fan base.
Along with key injuries, the rest of the season ended with a disappointing seven-game losing streak.
The bad feelings and frustration continued during the offseason as player misconduct and allegations of player abuse by Davie dominated the headlines, which then led to a 30-day Davie suspension without pay.
Another hot topic was the possibility of Lobo Football being cut. UNM has since stated that cutting football was not an option. On top of all that was the passing of Davie’s father. It was time to get back to football, as Davie stated. Yet, changes from the successful triple-option
offense to the spread-option brought some growing pains. The defense also struggled to keep opponents out of the end zone. Key injuries contributed to the third-string quarterback starting almost every game.
These obstacles bore the fruit of another disappointing season.
Recently, UNM athletic director Eddy Nunez announced that Bob Davie will continue as head coach, ending much speculation about his future with UNM. Some parts of the Lobo fan base have called this more of a financial decision than a vote of confidence.
With his contract good until 2021, Davie now has the task of rebuilding a football program with even
fewer resources than when he started.
The big elephant in the room is whether New Mexico can compete with fellow conference, members given the present funding and resources available. Davie recently stated that he doesn’t intend to broadcast where Lobo Football needs the most help, thereby leaving the public to draw its own conclusions.
To quote Rick Wright of the Albuquerque Journal: “If you’re going to do college football, do it right. Or
don’t do it.” In the world of college athletics, football drives the bus. That phrase could be etched in stone like Harry Truman’s “The buck stops here.”
For New Mexico it has been the opposite. Maybe that’s why Davie calls our state “quirky.”
But on a serious matter, it is reasonable to say that the investment in Lobo football never has been sufficient to sustain a healthy, winning program. Just about every football coach — from Joe Morrison to Bob Davie has been in this situation.
Football at UNM has been an after-thought to an underachieving basketball program.
Some would argue, “Why support football if I’m not a fan?”
The answer would be that a properly funded football program is as capable of generating revenue to fund all other sports programs as basketball in an athletic department. This has been proven all throughout the nation.
One could also argue that if Lobo football had received the funding needed to be successful, there
wouldn’t be any sports being cut at UNM. One could also argue that if Lobo football had received the proper funding in the past, UNM could very well be in a Power Five conference right now. reaping the benefits of higher revenue and the prestige that goes with being on a national stage.
On the other side of Dreamstyle Stadium, the struggle is real. The Lobo men’s soccer program has gone from breathtaking heights to extreme lows.
At one time Lobo men’s soccer was ranked No. 1 for a whole season and made two Final Four appearances in the national championship chase. It reached several Sweet Sixteens and won eight Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships.
If you haven’t heard of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, it’s understandable. It was created in 1992 to provide an outlet of competition in non-revenue producing Olympic sports, such as women’s lacrosse, gymnastic, and water polo. The Lobo men’s soccer program dominated this league until 2013, when several members moved to the newly formed Western Athletic Conference soccer league.
The Lobo men had to find a new home. It is unclear whether the program petitioned the WAC for
membership, or was even interested in joining the league. There were several leagues in close proximity to UNM, such as the West Coast Conference, Big West, and the Pac-12.
Men’s soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein is on record as stating that the Pac-12 wasn’t interested in UNM as
a member. It is unclear whether the WCC and the Big West were options at the time.
The MWC doesn’t sponsor men’s soccer and has several members placing teams in the WAC and one in the Pac-12 (San Diego State).
Only three of the Power Five conferences sponsor men’s soccer. The Big 12 and the SEC don’t seem to be interested in playing.
Ultimately, the Lobo men’s soccer team became a member of Conference USA, with members such as Kentucky, South Carolina and Old Dominion. UAB, which is in Alabama, was the closest member to UNM in the conference.
Membership in Conference USA has led the program to the second highest travel budget in the UNM athletic department.
But how has UNM men’s soccer done since joining the league in 2013? Fourth place is the highest the team achieved, with one conference tournament championship in 2016 being the only bright
With the step-up in competition, Lobo men’s soccer watched its past domination decline considerably, Attendance for an entire season has been considerably less than one Lobo football game.
With the Lobo men’s soccer team struggling for fan support, it may even be more difficult for the vanishing program to return, ever, now that the New Mexico United, a minor league soccer team, has come unto the scene.
With the recent announcement of Lobo men’s program being discontinued, politicians
have come out of the woodwork proclaiming how vital the program is to the state of New Mexico with
elegant statements of grandeur.
Saving Lobo men’s soccer seems to be a part of the agenda for the state legislature. This proposition could surpass one million in funding per year, while football seems to be standing on a street corner begging for change.
State government will play a big role in determining how the tale of two programs will end. We may see
the final nail in the UNM men’s soccer program’s coffin, or the beginning of a real commitment to football.
As they say in some circles of politics, “never let a crisis go to waste” — that’s if you consider saving the Lobo men’s or funding football a crisis.