In the summer of 2015, the New Mexico Lobos and their athletic director, Paul Krebs, decided that it was a good time to take some potential private donors on a partial-expenses-paid trip in order to get them to donate to the program, since the state budget crisis was likely going to cause public funding for the school and their department to continue drying up.
That part is pretty cut and dried. The rest of it gets awfully muddy.
The big picture view that everyone is keying on is that the school “spent $64,949 of public funds to pay for a 2015 golfing trip to Scotland.”
You read that and go “OH MY GOD HOW COULD THEY.”
But that’s not really the story there. As Andy Schwartz – who initially wrote several VICE Sports articles detailing the lazy math UAB used when they shut down their football program – would tell you, that statement is more semantics than anything else.
“My general feel on this is that it’s a form of secret compensation disguised as a tax-free perk,” Schwartz said. “This could happen anywhere, except that athletics gets less scrutiny, perhaps because they generate some outside revenue whereas most other departments are 100% ‘subsidized’.
But the university is one gigantic pot of money and if they were going to pay for it either way, then which pocket it comes out of doesn’t matter, other than ‘every expense charged to athletics makes schools look poor’.
The real question is, how is such a poor program able to send people on golf boondoggles? Are print newspapers sending reporters on all-expense-paid-vacations?”
They are not, of course, unless you consider somewhere like Flint, Michigan an exotic locale (spoiler: don’t drink the water still).
So here is what happened.
Krebs decided on the trip as a fundraising mechanism, an opportunity to wine-and-dine (golf-and-dine?) a group of prospective donors in order to offset a projected loss of public/state funding for athletics.
He talked with the travel agency and booked a package that included lodging, meals and tee times for a projected total of 24 people, and then set about filling up those slots. The group that wound up making the trip was a total group of 23 travelers, 16 of whom played golf.
Here is where the problems began.
Only 13 people signed up to play golf, which is obviously 11 fewer than the contract that Krebs agreed upon, which was going to result in a pretty hefty fee. In order to partially offset this, three existing UNM boosters – namely Paul Gibson, Darin Davis and Raleigh Gardenhire – had their tabs picked up in the form of taking three of those available slots. This managed to reduce the associated penalty to “only” $13,000, somewhere between one-half and one-third of what it would have been.
So that all took place, and then was made worse by everything that has occurred since.
It wasn’t until after a local reporter caught wind of it and investigated all the paperwork two years later that Krebs finally came clean about it to the acting president, the Lobo Club, and everyone else.
Then came the part where the Albuquerque Journal needed about a month to fully report on the scope of the situation, because the university didn’t fully comply with their Inspection of Public Records Act request (even though they said they did) on the first go round, and included a whole bunch of heavily redacted documents in the process.
THEN came the part where Paul Krebs started talking.
No, not the part where he semi-lied (by not including all the details) when he initially told the Albuquerque Journal the details of what trip expenses the university paid. The part after that.
He justified the business trip via its clear fund-raising benefits, stating that it strengthened relationships with existing and potential boosters and that it had clear monetary benefit to the athletic department that made the trip worthwhile. He also made some poorly chosen comments about how, for lack of better verbiage, the complex nature of soliciting donations from boosters might be beyond most folks’ understanding.
We can, of course, do a quick assessment of the actual monetary benefit for this fundraising trip unlike a feasibility study for a football program because the math is a lot cleaner. A football program has a lengthy list of both expenses and revenues, many of which are loosely estimated in any planning, and many of which are never made public.
For this trip, it is much simpler. The outing cost the university $65,000 dollars, so it had damn sure better raise a bare minimum of $65,001 dollars or it wasn’t worth it. Krebs has stated at various points that the trip generated as much as $230,000 in contributions to the program and has the good fortune that none of it can be proven either way.
Whether the trip actually generated that much in donations and whether an equal amount could have been generated by a week-long trip to somewhere more reasonably priced like Pebble Beach are their own arguments, and I don’t want to give anyone any additional ideas.
Krebs’ bloviating about his half-assed justification for what amounted to a week-long golf outing in Scotland with some big money buddies of his (not literally, but it might as well be) didn’t help anything. That said, this is something that happens at literally every business if it’s big enough and you go far up the food chain enough.
The problem came in when Krebs decided to post tweets about the trip (one featured he and his son standing on the famous bridge at the Old Course at St. Andrews) which gives any reporter capable of searching your Twitter feed something to deem worthy of investigation.
The next problem came in when the university decided to list it in their budget as a “men’s basketball tournament in Ireland.” This was a terrible move because all that intrepid reporter who got curious because of Krebs’ tweets has to do is talk to a men’s basketball writer, who would almost immediately say “uhh, what basketball tournament in Ireland?”
Of course, the real issue with “this is something that everyone does but never really gets caught” is that New Mexico did get caught and is now being audited under the threat of potential sanctions because what they did may violate an anti-donation clause in the state constitution.
So let me summarize for you. New Mexico took money from the wrong wallet to pay for an overly lavish business trip, did a piss-poor job of bookkeeping the event, didn’t bother to tell their athletic director not to post on social media about it, and got undone by a reporter with a strong curiosity and the ability to file an FOIA. Oh, and will now get extra boned by a state investigation, especially since I highly doubt that an audit of their books will reveal that this is the very first time they’ve done something like this.
If I’m the university president, I would fire Krebs, but I’m also not the current acting university president who has already given Krebs multiple vote-of-confidence statements.
But can we at least take away his Twitter?