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Doomsday scenario: What would it cost if there were no Aggies sports in 2020-21?

Jason Groves
Las Cruces Sun-News
The New Mexico State University Aggies face off against the Liberty University Flames at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

LAS CRUCES - While hope springs eternal for sports in the winter and spring, nothing is certain. 

New Mexico State athletics could lose anywhere between $500,000 to $2.5 million in 2020-21 if there are no Aggies sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to data provided by New Mexico State, if there are no sports this year, the athletic department would lose $6,852,740 in revenue based on data that is currently available. 

Revenues still to be determined include student fees and university support, both of which will certainly be reduced. It is also not known what the financial impact of COVID-19 will be to the school's multimedia rights contract with Learfield Sports Properties and athletic department fundraising efforts.

On the expenses side, the athletics department would save $6,397,000 based on preliminary figures, which would result in a estimated deficit of $455,740.

More:New Mexico State athletics balances 2020 books amid pandemic

With so much uncertainty, what is known entering the 2021 school year, is that if there are no athletics events played this year, the athletic department will receive $300,000 less than expected from the State Legislature and athletics would lose $3.5 million from game guarantees, $1.6 million from NCAA and Western Athletic Conference distribution, $1.3 million from ticket sales and $120,000 from concessions.

While the school hopes to play a limited number of spring football games, New Mexico State athletics director Mario Moccia hopes for some form of college basketball season, preferably with fans in attendance. 

The Aggies men's basketball team made $943,000 from ticket sales last season. NM State has projected $1.4 million in ticket sales in 2021 with $935,000 coming from men's basketball. The athletic department projected $377,000 in ticket sales for football, which, for now, is a loss.

"Basketball season is critical," Moccia said. "We of course would have an opportunity to win our league and the money that comes from that and we don't know how many fans would be able to be in the gym. That is all revenue that we would capture, but there is everything else that goes around basketball such as merchandise, or Pistol Pete's 1888 Ale. When there are sports being played, there is a natural uptick in donations and merchandise."

Projected revenues still to be determined

There have already been cuts by the state of New Mexico and there will be university reductions as well. 

The NM State athletic department has lost guarantee football games against UCLA and Florida for $2.75 million. 

There are still unknowns such as the rate at which the university main campus will be able to subsidize athletics. 

More:New Mexico State postpones fall football; WAC fall sports canceled

"In this time of uncertainty, we do know what the state reduction will be and we have a good ballpark idea of the university, butt there are certainly other questions that are still out there such as multimedia rights and student fees," Moccia said.

All departments on campus were asked by university leadership to budget with expectations of a 6-percent, 9-percent or 12-percent reduction - which would equal a reduction of between approximately $252,000 and $504,000 from the university transfer. 

NMSU athletics projected $4.2 million from the university instruction and general fund in Fiscal Year 2021.

The New Mexico State Aggies face off against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.

It's currently unclear what the athletic department will receive from student fees, but athletics received over $3 million the past two years and athletics were projecting $3.3 million in FY21.

"They have not told us yet what that cut would be," Moccia said. "I think a little bit of the wild card would be student fees," Moccia said. 

NM State is scheduled to receive $1.1 million from its multimedia rights partner, Learfield Sports Properties. But without live games to sell, it's unlikely athletics will receive the full guarantee. 

"If the assets aren't there, we will go back and renegotiate, for lack of a better word," Moccia said. "Right now we can't promise on field promotions. They (Learfield) are trying to renew people and give them digital assets. 

"They proposed a few options for us and we talk to them in good faith because we know there is a chance that revenue will not come in because of unforeseen circumstance."

No sports would save athletics over $6 million

With no live events on campus or on the road, the most significant costs NM State athletics would have to fund in 2020-21 would be scholarships ($2.5 million) and salaries ($8.7 million). 

But with no sports, the athletic department would save approximately $205,000 in performance incentives for head coaches. There will be approximately $100,000 saved in scholarships with the elimination of cost of attendance.

"We look at all possible bonus scenarios and budgets," Moccia said. "We don't know if we will have a spring football season so coaches might not get a bonus for beating UNM or UTEP. So there are some savings on bonuses that won't be realized."

The largest savings would come from travel, saving the department $2.5 million, as well as approximately $1.5 million in event management and facilities.  

There is a NCAA mandated dead period that currently runs through September, so NM State would save a projected $200,000 in recruiting costs. 

The Aggies football team was slated to play FCS member Texas Southern on Nov. 14. The games was one of eight that was ultimately cancelled as the SWAC elected to postpone fall sports. 

NM State was set to pay Texas Southern $325,000 in addition to 50 hotel rooms. The Texas Southern game is among $827,000 in game guarantees that the school will no longer have to pay. 

The deficit will grow, but by how much?

Moccia's department has a state mandate to balance its budget, which it has achieved in 11 of the past 12 years. 

It's a streak that will likely end when the Fiscal Year 2021 books are closed.

The current deficit to main campus is $2.5 million. The athletic department will not have to pay its debt payment of $160,916  in FY21 thanks to a provision in the state budget. In the budget bill, passed in March, there is language that is identical to both Division I schools in the state that restricts either school from using state allocated funds, to pay down their respective deficits.

All departments on campus have a plan for a deficit, according to a university spokesperson. Any decisions regarding personnel will be made prior to the end of the fiscal year in June. 

In the meantime, some form of basketball season would ease the burden on the athletic department. 

“At this point, we’re still collecting information needed to make all of our budget decisions," NMSU President John Floros said in a statement. "Tuition is a major revenue source for NMSU and our census date, where we count student enrollment, is still another week and a half away.

"Additionally, we still need to see what happens with regard to our ability to play sports in the winter and spring. Athletics will be treated similarly to other units within the university. In the end, the university must balance the budget.”

In an Albuquerque Journal report, the office of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recognized that financial impacts for all state universities entering the 2021 Legislative session. 

"Certainly the state recognizes the potential financial impacts of the pandemic on colleges and universities and as we approach the 2021 legislative session and the next fiscal year those issues will be front of mind," a spokesperson told The Journal. 

New Mexico State has the ability to schedule additional guarantee football games in the future to begin to offset a likely financial loss in 2020. 

"The reality is that it's more than probable that we will have a deficit and at the present time, the only way to take a bite out of the COVID-19 related deficit, would be future guarantee games," Moccia said. "If (relief from the state) was a possibility, that would be welcome, but we are trying to figure out how to take care of it ourselves."

Sports Editor Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or jgroves@lcsun-news.com. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

New Mexico State 2021 athletics projected budget (pre-COVID-19)

2021 projected Revenue

State appropriations ($4,013,200)

Student fees ($3,305,088)

Instruction and General fund transfer ($4,202,538)

Game guarantees ($3,495,000)

Ticket Sales ($1,330,740)

NCAA/WAC ($1,606,000)

Learfield ($1,127,000)

Aggie Athletic Club/Foundation ($1,413,268)

Other income ($317,088)

Total projected revenue: $20,809,922

2021 projected expenses

Salary/Benefits ($8,710,792)

Scholarships ($2,532,823)

Travel ($2,609,000)

Supplies/Equipment ($532,800)

Institutional support ($827,300)

Game guarantees ($825,000)

Event management ($1,066,400)

Recruiting ($409,000)

Facilities/Utilities ($989,834)

Medical ($555,500)

Other expenses ($1,590,557)

Deficit payback ($160,916)

Total projected expenses ($20,809,922)