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Rick Wright on Aggies-Lobos merger proposal: Why not UTEP too?

ILLUSTRATION BY CATHRYN CUNNINGHAM/JOURNAL

On multiple occasions in our lives, we all have been encouraged to “think outside the box.”

Yet, those who do so are often boxed back up and returned to sender.

Case in point: Paul Gessing of the Albuquerque think tank Rio Grande Foundation, who last week suggested that the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University combine their athletic teams in the interest of competitiveness and fiscal responsibility.

Rick Wright

This idea was quickly knocked out of the box with the force of an Alex Bregman line drive.

Words like impossible, absurd and ridiculous flowed in response. “I mean, holy smokes,” said UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez.

I’m here to say, however, that the main thing wrong with Gessing’s proposal was that it didn’t go far enough.

Let’s add UTEP to the mix, as well.

Still with me?

Yes, I see, as do you, multiple obstacles here, and we’ll deal with those in a moment. But for now, let’s not let that box get in the way.

First, let me point out that my proposal involves football only. All three athletic programs have had enough success in other sports to stand alone.

But football?

Over the past decade, UNM, NMSU and UTEP have combined to go 103-256 in football. That’s a winning percentage, if you can call it that, of .287. They’ve had just four winning seasons – two for the Lobos, one for the Aggies, one for the Miners – of a possible 30 during that span.

Divided, they have fallen. United, perhaps they could stand.

Now, about those obstacles.

Isn’t UTEP located in El Paso, which is located in Texas, and wouldn’t that be, well, a problem?

Yes, El Paso is located in Texas.

Sort of.

The El Paso area, like New Mexico, observes Mountain Time – unlike the rest of Texas. I have the sense that folks in Dallas, Houston and Austin were only vaguely aware of El Paso’s existence until Beto O’Rourke ran for U.S. Senate.

Just last year, an El Paso attorney named Steve Fischer called for his hometown to secede from the Lone Star state, with a tip of the cap to the Land of Enchantment.

“Our marriage to Texas has gotten old,” Fischer wrote in an essay published by nmpolitics.net. “New Mexico is younger and more attractive. We would not be ignored, especially because we would be their largest city. Grant us a divorce and we won’t even request the back support.”

So, for the sake of our argument, let’s kick that particular box aside.

Next, I hear you say, how would this new football entity – let’s call it Mountain Time United – be financed?

Hey, no problem. Let’s just combine the football budgets of the three schools. That’s what Gessing had in mind with his UNM-NMSU proposal, after all.

Who’s the head coach? I propose a referendum. Let the people decide.

School colors? New Mexico’s and New Mexico State’s colors both are variations on the ever-popular red and white. So, red jerseys with white pants – the opposite for road games – and, from UTEP, an orange helmet with a blue stripe for home games, a blue helmet with an orange stripe on the road.

OK, I know that’s a bit garish. No more so, however, than some of the uniforms the Oregon Ducks have worn the past few seasons.

This won’t work, of course, if our new program is held to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision limit of 85 scholarships. Neither the Lobos, Aggies nor Miners, restricted to 85, have managed to put consistently winning teams on the field.

If each school were to retain its 85, adding up to a total of 255, MTU could hold an NFL-style training camp, retain the 85 best players and release the remaining 170 – with, of course, an NCAA-approved parting gift of some kind.

New Mexico State competes in football as an independent, New Mexico plays in the Mountain West Conference, UTEP in Conference USA. In which league, then, would Mountain Time United play?

Hey, I’m the out-of-the-box thinker here. I’ll let our tri-athletic directors, Nuñez, NMSU’S Mario Moccia and UTEP’s Jim Senter, grapple with such details.

I’m proposing two home games per year at UNM’s Dreamstyle Stadium, two at NMSU’s Aggie Memorial Stadium and two at UTEP’S Sun Bowl.

Why would Lobo fans, most of whom won’t even attend home games at Dreamstyle, travel to Las Cruces or El Paso? Why would Miner and Aggie fans come north to Albuquerque?

Well, because their beloved MTU, having pooled the resources of UNM, NMSU and UTEP, would fast become a national power, that’s why.

Again. Still with me?

In closing, let me harken back to a column I wrote in 2014. The subject was UNM men’s basketball, but I took the opportunity, as well, to pay tribute to the late comedic actor and writer Harold Ramis.

I ended that column with a line from the movie “Animal House,” one of Ramis’ most successful works: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

The next day, the Journal got phone calls and emails informing me it was the Japanese, not the Germans, who bombed Pearl Harbor.

Hey, I remember that from school. I was kidding.

Maybe I’m kidding now.

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