LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – Funding for New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia’s salary is being paid via athletic foundation funds, instead of university funds allocated by the state of New Mexico, at the request of state leaders following Moccia’s receipt of a five-year contract extension amid multiple investigations into the NMSU athletic department within the last year.
In a May 16 letter from Higher Education Department Cabinet Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez to NMSU’s Board of Regents and Interim Chancellor Jay Gogue, Rodriguez expressed concern over how Moccia would get pend amid the pending investigations.
“It is the position of the New Mexico Higher Education Department and Governor (Michelle) Lujan Grisham that, given the heinous nature of the incidents that occurred under Director Moccia’s tenure, state funds should not be applied toward his salary or compensation until and unless a thorough independent investigation has cleared him of any culpability or wrongdoing,” the letter reads.
On June 6, NMSU’s Gogue responded to the state, writing that effective May 16, Moccia’s salary, “is being paid 100 percent by the Aggie Athletic Club (AAC). The AAC is the philanthropic arm of NMSU Athletics. All funds related to the AAC are deposited with the NMSU Foundation. Funds include private donations provided for the support of NMSU Athletics operations as well as proceeds from memberships, suite and club seat sales, and various AAC special events held throughout the year. Director Moccia’s compensation will continue to be paid by AAC pending the outcome of all investigations.”
As of Friday afternoon, Moccia’s contract was still being paid with AAC funds until the New Mexico Attorney General completes an investigation into possible criminal charges stemming from hazing and sexual assault allegations by two former NMSU men’s basketball players.
The AG’s office is investigating those allegations made against former players Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley and Deshawndre Washington, as well as former coaches Greg Heiar and Dominique Taylor. A separate lawsuit regarding the allegations was settled in June for $8 million by NMSU.
Moccia officially signed a five-year contract extension with NMSU on April 7, 2023, the same day that former chancellor Dan Arvizu officially left the school. The new deal raises his salary from $280,000 to $351,000 for the 2023-24 school year and increases each year up to $425,000 by 2027-28.
The five-year extension, which was reported by KTSM on April 21, did not get announced by the school and drew criticism from multiple places, including NMSU’s Faculty Senate, particularly for its timing amid multiple investigations into the athletic department. The Faculty Senate presented a letter in protest of Moccia’s contract to the Board of Regents in May.
In her letter to NMSU in May, Rodriguez discussed the Faculty Senate’s concerns and thanked the school for the ongoing internal investigations, but still had questions about Moccia’s contract and why it was approved given the circumstances by former chancellor Arvizu.
“Unfortunately, the decision to prematurely extend current Athletic Director Mario Moccia’s contract for another five years despite failure of program leadership to identify, address, and prevent misconduct is counter-productive to achieving needed reforms within the athletic program,” Rodriguez wrote.
Rodriguez also closed her letter with a pair of requests from NMSU:
- Detailed information about the current source of Director Moccia’s compensation.
- Potential alternative funding sources or alternative courses of action the university may consider regarding Director Moccia’s compensation and continued employment.
Additionally, at the request of the Higher Education Department, the University contracted Lightfoot, Franklin and White LLC in May to investigate every university-sponsored athletic program at the school, following the allegations of sexual assault within the men’s basketball team.
The Lightfoot report included interviews with current leadership, coaches and coaching staff, current student-athletes, athletic trainers, compliance officers and more.
Lightfoot’s overall determination in its eight-page executive summary was that the sexual assault allegations against the men’s basketball team was limited to that team.
“Generally, Lightfoot concludes that the well documented men’s basketball misconduct during the 2022-23 season was limited to that program, was a significant departure from the norm for student-athletes and coaches at the University, and is not indicative of a systemic issue within the athletic department,” according to the report.
It also included six takeaways and a list of suggestions for the school.