ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New financial oversight is coming for the University of New Mexico’s Athletics Department as administrators now say there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected bills tied to the university’s basketball program.
The department believes it’s missing an estimated $432,000 in uncollected skybox suite ticket revenues from “The Pit” basketball arena. While the university says it’s already trying, and has successfully collected some of the money owed to the department, UNM officials also don’t know how the problem occurred to begin with.
Acting UNM Athletic Director Janice Ruggerio revealed information about the uncollected skybox suite revenue at a news conference Monday afternoon, hours after Acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah released a statement about new “fiscal oversight” for UNM Athletics.
The department says the missing money came to light as a result of public records requests by the media and an ongoing audit into the Athletics Department’s finances.
The audit, in part, came following an investigation that KRQE News 13’s Larry Barker broke in May surrounding UNM’s former Athletic Director Paul Krebs using public money to pay for a golf trip to Scotland.
In early June, Paul Krebs, the Vice President and Director of Athletics, announced his retirement. A prior deputy athletic director for Internal Operations within UNM Athletics, Ruggerio took over days after Krebs’ departure.
“We’ve been given an issue that’s come up and just give us a chance to fix it,” said Ruggerio of the uncollected funds at the Monday news conference.
In response to the situation, UNM has now tapped a longtime university administrator Chris Vallejos to oversee the Athletics Department’s finances. Vallejos is the associate vice president for UNM’s Institutional Support Services and has worked on prior budgeting related issues at various university departments.
“This is opportunity for us to improve a lot of our internal controls across athletics with better (financial) reporting,” said Vallejos.
At the news conference Monday, Vallejos said his oversight could last four to six weeks, or even six months, but he was unclear on exactly when he’d be finished. Vallejos also noted that UNM has not had a financial officer overseeing the Athletics Department’s budget for more than a year. The position currently remains unfunded, however, Vallejos and Ruggerio emphasized reversing that decision.
“This is where we need to improve, not everything is bad, it’s just how are we going to improve on these on these internal (financial) controls when it comes to business management,” said Vallejos.
UNM’s Athletics Department says the uncollected skybox revenue spans from a period of 2010, when the luxury suites were first opened, to 2017. Currently, skyboxes are marketed, sold, and billed by UNM’s private athletics fundraising arm – the Lobo Club. Ruggerio acknowledged Monday that the Lobo Club has been responsible for sending invoices. However, UNM is ultimately responsible for collecting the skybox suite revenue.
The department says it has since “updated its management of suite purchases and collections for this past season, which has resulted in more accurate accounting and more timely payments.”
KRQE News 13 asked Ruggerio why the public should trust UNM’s words.
“That’s a good question, the only thing I can tell you is from the minute I got this job, a lot of things I said is, ‘we’re going to be good stewards of our money,’ right? We’re going to stay within budget, and so all I can tell you is that’s what we’re going to do,” said Ruggerio.
“I can’t go back but we can go forward, and with Chris (Vallejos)’s help, I believe we’re going to improve on the budget and get the budget where it needs to be,” said Rugerrio.
UNM says the roughly $430,000 in uncollected skybox revenue represents about 4.1 percent of the university’s total $9.3 million that has been generated from skybox suite sales over the last seven years.
So far, UNM says it has collected about $44,000 of the uncollected $430,000. Ruggerio said Monday that another $8,000 was likely going to be collected from a skybox suite holder on Tuesday.
Below is a statement from University of New Mexico Interim President Chaouki Abdallah regarding fiscal oversight of the UNM Athletics Department.
In continuing to review the businesses practices in UNM Athletics, and to assure that it is operating efficiently and responsibly, I am taking immediate action to institute stronger internal controls and more thorough oversight of the department’s financial operations.
Effective today, a top administrator for main campus operations – Chris Vallejos, associate vice president for Institutional Support Services – will lead efforts to evaluate and improve the financial management of the Athletics department. He will work in partnership with Janice Ruggiero, acting director of Intercollegiate Athletics, who has been reviewing and updating the department’s operations since taking the position last month.
Part of this process includes reexamining all records of suites purchased for the Lobo men’s and women’s basketball seasons since the suites became available. This process has revealed inconsistencies in contracts, invoices and payments for certain suites, and we are in the process of contacting current and former suite holders to rectify our records and accounts. We will seek to collect on any past due amounts.
UNM Athletics has already updated its management of suite purchases and collections for this past season, which has resulted in more accurate accounting and more timely payments.
UNM is committed to transparency and fiduciary responsibility, and we take responsibility for the confusion that may have resulted from inconsistent business practices. To the extent that our efforts to rectify discrepancies have resulted in embarrassment to our fans, we sincerely apologize. Efforts are underway to make sure that this situation won’t be repeated.
UNM is cooperating fully and assisting with an audit of the Athletics Department’s finances currently underway by the State Auditor’s Office, and will continue to review and update our business practices going forward.
– Chaouki Abdallah, Interim UNM President