After Wednesday’s practice ended and University of New Mexico football players went into the locker room, senior middle linebacker Alex Hart remained on the field at Dreamstyle Stadium.
He went through a few drills until he finally pushed at a blocking sled before jogging to the end of the field to be interviewed. He then expressed a gratefulness to play a game against Air Force on Saturday that had been originally scheduled for Nov. 9.
The game was moved due to the unexpected death of 21-year-old defensive lineman Nahje Flowers on Nov. 5, when police found him dead in his residence by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Hart, one of four team captains, said he never really thought about the game scheduled for Nov. 9 after Flowers died, as he was was mainly focused on his teammates and those who knew Flowers. When the game was brought up, he said he thought it was helpful that both UNM and Air Force shared the same open date on Nov. 23.
“It’s hard to say if everyone wanted to play or didn’t want to play,” said Hart, a three-time team captain. “But we were just fortunate about the situation and the way it turned out despite the circumstances of what happened and we appreciate Air Force for that, too.”
Air Force initially did not want to reschedule the game, saying that there was precedence in similar situations that teams played following the death of a player, the Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on Monday. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and athletic director Nathan Pine declined to be interviewed by the Journal for this story on Wednesday.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said he was concerned most with the UNM student-athletes on Nov. 5 after the news of Flowers’ death devastated the Lobos’ football team. Nuñez said they discussed rescheduling the football game, notified the Mountain West Conference office of their intentions, but wanted to wait a day to officially decide what to do.
Ultimately, UNM “recommended” the game be rescheduled, Nuñez said, and the MWC decided to move the game.
“The Commissioner or his designee has the sole authority to declare a contest canceled, postponed, rescheduled or terminated and Commissioner Craig Thompson made the decision to reschedule the Air Force at New Mexico football game from Saturday, November 9 to Saturday, November 23,” MWC deputy commissioner Bret Gilliland said in an email. “All available elements were considered and, as is often the case given the inherent difference in perspectives during these situations, not everyone agrees with decisions of the Conference office.”
Pine told the Gazette that he stood by the statement that he released upon the announcement that the game would be rescheduled.
“We share New Mexico’s grief over the tragic loss of Nahje Flowers and offer our deepest condolences,” Pine said in the statement. “Air Force will now make the necessary steps to go along with Commissioner Craig Thompson and the Mountain West’s unprecedented decision to cancel this weekend’s game and reschedule. While Air Force has been disadvantaged by the decision, it pales in comparison to the loss New Mexico experienced.”
Pine recently shared his thoughts on Twitter about Air Force’s exposure. The original date for the UNM-Air Force game was to be televised by AT&T Sports Network and with the reschedule, it will be offered online at espn3.com.
Air Force is 8-2, 5-1 in the MWC, contending for the Mountain Division title and this past week received some votes to be in the Associated Press Top 25.
“Just as we start getting appropriate national attention, it’s a shame (Air Force football) will have no linear tv coverage for either of the final 2 games. This team is fun to watch and still in the hunt for a MWC division & title and quality bowl invite,” Pine tweeted.
UNM coach Bob Davie said it was “irrelevant” to talk about how the game was rescheduled. He said his first thought upon finding out about Flowers’ death on Nov. 5 was that the game would be rescheduled.
Hart pointed out that many UNM players did have plans to go home for this week because of what had been the open date and he understood that could be the case for Air Force Academy football players.
Air Force backup quarterback Isaiah Sanders will miss Saturday’s game because he had scheduled a Rhodes scholarship interview for the same day, according to the Gazette. And, the rescheduling of the game also affected travel plans for the families of Air Force players, and presented challenges with regard to recruiting during what was to be a bye week.
Gilliland was asked if the rescheduling topic will be discussed in any future conference meetings.
“At the recommendation of the MW Directors of Athletics, the Commissioner’s empowerment to make the final determination in these situations was confirmed by the MW Board of Directors in February 2018 in the context of Fresno State at Air Force men’s and women’s basketball games which had been canceled by the federal government shutdown,” Gilliland said in an email. “The Board reaffirmed that authority in June of this year (during a meeting in which the athletics directors participated) as part of a discussion regarding air quality considerations affecting competition. It is certainly within the Board’s purview to re-visit the policy if it deems appropriate.”