Albuquerque does have a certain appeal for the New Mexico State University football team and its fans.
The Aggies, in town for Saturday’s annual Rio Grande Rivalry game against New Mexico, might find the Duke City even more appealing in December. Such a visit became more likely Friday when NMSU announced an agreement with ESPN Events that could allow the Aggies to play in the New Mexico Bowl.
The six-year agreement, which begins in 2020, makes NMSU eligible for selection by any of ESPN Events’ 16 affiliated bowl games. It also brightens the prospects for a bowl-eligible Aggies team landing in Albuquerque.
“The agreement allows ESPN Events to slide checkers around the board and kind of place its bowl teams in sensible locations,” NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said. “For us the New Mexico Bowl makes the most sense and this greatly improves our chances to come here. We’re excited about it.”
Roughly 100 New Mexico State fans who turned out for Friday’s announcement at Bosque Brewing’s Nob Hill location seemed equally pleased. Moccia and New Mexico Bowl Executive Director Jeff Siembieda drew a round of applause after announcing the agreement.
“It’s essentially a backup agreement for us,” Siembieda said, adding that the New Mexico Bowl retains primary agreements with the Mountain West and Conference USA. “But this creates a path for New Mexico State to play here and that’s a nice scenario all the way around. It’s exposure for (NMSU) on ESPN, it’s an attendance boost for us and it’s tourism dollars for Albuquerque.”
Now all the Aggies have to do is qualify, a prospect made considerably more difficult by NMSU’s current status as a Football Bowl Subdivision independent. FBS teams need six or more victories to become bowl eligible — a tall order for New Mexico State with three exceedingly difficult “guarantee” games on its 2019 schedule.
NMSU will collect $3.9 million for playing road games at Washington State, Alabama and Ole Miss this season, but it also figures to absorb three losses. The 0-3 Aggies have already suffered blowout defeats at WSU and Alabama.
Moccia acknowledged that both scheduling and becoming bowl eligible would be easier if New Mexico State were conference-affiliated for football. The Sun Belt dropped NMSU as a football-only member after the 2017 season. The school’s other sports programs compete in the Western Athletic Conference, which no longer sponsors football. Moccia said NMSU is still seeking a conference affiliation that includes football.
“We need an expert to help us make a membership presentation that makes sense,” Moccia said, “and we’re on the cusp of hiring a firm to do that. Historically we’ve suffered from geographical disadvantages but we’ve got significant things to offer, too. I feel like we can make a pretty strong presentation.”
For the time being, Moccia would be happy just to pick up a win during his current visit to Albuquerque.
“The rivalry is more of a fan thing,” he said, “but winning here is always satisfying. That’s just human nature.”