Citing María, Puerto Rico’s Private University System Moves to Eliminate All Athletics Departments

Oct 23, 2017
12:32 PM

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — The Ana G. Méndez University System (SUAGM) —which comprises of the University of Turabo, the University of the East (UNE), and the Metropolitan University (UMET)— recently announced they would be cutting all athletic departments, citing financial hardships due to Hurricane María.

The current champions of the Interuniversity Athletics League (LAI), the University of Turabo, will not be able to defend its title next spring in the LAI Athletics championship. This is after the president of the SUAGM, José Méndez Méndez, announced that all three universities would be withdrawing from the LAI and eliminating their athletics departments.

This decision leaves hundreds of students without their sports scholarships as of this December, according to information given to Latino Rebels by various sources.

Luis Rivera, a student athlete in the University of Turabo and also the assistant coach for the men’s soccer team told Latino Rebels that they were notified of the decision via social media. And that’s because the local student-run sports website that specializes in the LAI tournaments, Resistencia Deportiva, broke the story last Wednesday that the SUAGM would be withdrawing from the LAI for the 2017-2018 season.

“Officially, I cannot say if we have been informed by the SUAGM, since I have not been able to go to the university because my class was moved to Sundays due to the current situation,” said Rivera. “What I have heard, the scholarships will disappear in December, though it’s not official.”

Rivera is not the only one to tell Latino Rebels that the scholarships would be eliminated after December. Krystal Badillo, from the UMET women’s soccer team, also confirmed that there were rumors that after December, the scholarships will be gone.

“The SUAGM understands that closing the athletics department is necessary due to the economic crisis and Hurricane María. Since last semester, there were movements with the intention of eliminating the scholarships to athletes. That is why they hay lowered our stipends, eliminated teams and took away paid housing to some,” Badillo told Latino Rebels.

According to Badillo, some foreign student athletes have made the decision to leave since they have no money, housing, electricity, communication and good. Now the university has taken away their scholarships.

“I found out in the university. Up to now what I know is that they took us out of the LAI for the 2017-2018 season. We have yet to be informed by the SUAGM” said Genesis Lozada, a track and field athlete at the UNE. The UNE has a meeting with their athletes this coming Tuesday.

“We do not know why they think closing the Athletics department is necessary but let’s suppose that with the current crisis and the loses due to Hurricane María, they believe it was necessary to solve the problem,” Rivera said after being asked why the SUAGM believe it to be necessary to close all their athletics departments.

On Thursday, the now former Athletics Director for the UMET, Ariel Ortiz Morel, was laid off, along with all the coaches, and the rest of supporting staff. This news also comes after the SUAGM announced they would be closing Sistema TV, the only PBS-affiliated channel on the island, which was owned and operated by the UMET.

Late in the afternoon on Friday, the SUAGM made a statement affirming that the scholarships and stipends would not be removed.

“As part of the country’s organizations, we have studied in detail our operations to maximize our resources. The incentives awarded to our student athletes have never been up for discussion. We recognize their labor, sacrifice and the glory they have brought to our institutions through sport and the quality of competition throughout the years,” Méndez Méndez said in the SUAGM’s press release.

The press release reassures that the SUAGM is still a member of the LAI, but does not say whether the decision to not participate in the LAI this year has been revoked nor does it say whether the coaches and support staff fired would be re-hired.

Additionally, the press release does not mention whether next year the SUAGM would be again resuming participation and thus awarding new scholarships to freshmen students.

According to Zacha Acosta, press secretary for the LAI, the league will be discussing the withdrawal of the SUAGM units from the LAI tournament for the 2017-2018 year in their upcoming October 25 meeting.


Edwin Jusino tweets from @erjusinoa.