Officials should rethink selling The Pit’s name

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

Some things should not be for sale. And that would include the name of The University of New Mexico’s famous basketball arena, The Pit.

For $10 million to $15 million, though, UNM athletic officials are willing to sell the naming rights to an interested company or family. The new name would just roll off the tongue — just consider the possibilities.

The Maloof Pit (New Mexico’s former basketball team-owning family). Or in case the Unsers want to go cross-sport, we could have The Unser Pit, which considering the family’s car racing fame, makes a sort of sense. There’s The Bueno Pit, Allsup’s at The Pit, or Blake’s Lot-A-Pit, all food-related names from famous New Mexico companies. Or, fans could go to Ted Turner’s Pit Stop (hey, the former Atlanta Braves owner is one of the biggest private landowners in New Mexico, after all).

Those are just a few of the better-known New Mexico families and companies; we have no way of knowing who might actually be interested or willing to part with big bucks to help the UNM Lobos athletics program.

Other Mountain West schools have sold naming rights, so UNM is not doing anything unusual. On the other hand, Fresno State and San Diego State never had The Pit, a name that became famous overnight in 1983.

That’s when the underdog North Carolina State team won the NCAA national basketball championship in an upset televised live from — that’s right, The Pit. Such brand recognition is priceless.

The money is needed, university officials say, to bring in $3 million a year to help pay off the recent $60 million renovation to the basketball facility.

Pit naming rights have been up for sale for four years, with no takers. That’s why the payback of the $60 million for The Pit renovation is running into challenges.

Selling naming rights was part of the financial model to repay the loan. Without those dollars, loan costs are being passed along to fans.

Last week, UNM announced a $1 ticket surcharge on Lobos men’s basketball season tickets and a $2 surcharge on single-game tickets. That extra money will go directly to pay off the debt.

We doubt the cash infusion will stop the drive to sell The Pit’s naming rights. But we think university officials should reconsider.

We trust that UNM President Robert Frank — who was not president when The Pit renovations began — will ask hard questions of the athletic department.

Students can’t keep paying higher fees to support athletics, and we’d just as soon not go to basketball games in The Place Formerly Known As The Pit.