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Charter flights making life easier for Lobo basketball teams

Sunday the UNM men’s basketball team lost a game, 74-61, to Boise State that ended at 4 p.m.

By Sunday night, the Lobos were back in Albuquerque and in study hall at UNM rather than spending the evening dwelling in a Boise hotel room after what was the team’s fourth-consecutive loss.

That’s because a mere 64 minutes after the final horn sounded in Extra Mile Arena, UNM’s 50-passenger Embraer ERJ twin-engine charter plane was fueled up and ready for a 5:04 p.m. takeoff from Gowen Field in Boise for a 1 hour, 40 minute flight home that had the team landing at Albuquerque’s Sunport at 6:44 p.m.

“We had study hall Sunday night on campus and a full, proper day Monday and Tuesday,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said on Tuesday night, about an hour before the team’s next, and last, charter flight of the season, to Colorado Springs for Wednesday night’s game against Air Force (see game preview breakdown box at bottom of page).

“The benefit this week in particular is awesome,” Weir added, referring to the tricky scheduling of a Sunday road game followed by a Wednesday road game and a Saturday home game – all while classes are in session. “The spring semester is really hard academically, so to not have to miss more than one day of class (Wednesday) is terrific for us.”

Flying commercially could have cost the Lobos not only another night in a Boise hotel but a good portion of Monday en route home. The Journal’s reporter staffing Sunday’s game in Boise, by comparison, flew commercially on Southwest and wasn’t back home in Albuquerque until 3:10 p.m. on Monday – nearly 24 hours after the game.

Not only does missed class time affect a team, but so too, would missed practice and preparation time for its next opponent.

The chartered flight for the Lobos is one of six-and-a-half the team took this season (six round trips plus one return flight that was chartered after the team flew commercial to get there). The Lobos women’s basketball team had eight trips and nine games (two were played on one trip with three legs chartered) this season. It is the most charters either team has used in a season.

While the charters certainly aren’t cheap, UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said Tuesday that the department has put more money into the teams’ travel line on their budgets over the past two years – both to catch up with about a decade of previous budgets essentially being turned in each year with the same, flat projections for travel despite increased costs, but also as an effort to help student well-being.

“Ultimately, this all falls under the student welfare part of the whole picture,” Nuñez said. “We can’t have them missing so many classes getting to and from games tied up just in the travel part of it all.”

Unlike Power 5 programs and many high-level mid-major programs that charter to all road games, the Lobos are happy to see their charter usage increase to just about a half dozen or so trips.

The men’s team will spend $223,231.86 on charters this season, which includes the costly $76,384.90 charter to and from Brooklyn, New York, to play in the Legends Classic. That’s a contract the program was locked into since 2016 when the team under previous coach Craig Neal backed out of a signed deal to play in that season’s CBI postseason tournament and agreed, instead of paying a $40,000 breach of contract penalty, to participate in the New York event this season.

The women’s team chartered for eight of its nine conference games this season and one non-conference game (Arizona State on Dec. 14) at a total cost of $210,116.39.

Nuñez said prices are much more manageable this year thanks to the charter company – DAS Plane LLC based in Las Vegas, Nev. – agreeing that if both teams were going to utilize the charter as much as UNM committed to, they would leave the aircraft in Albuquerque during the season. As a result UNM didn’t foot the bill for the plane to return to its base in Las Vegas after each chartered flight.

PERCY OUT: Sophomore guard Tavian Percy injured his foot during Monday’s practice and “is expected to be out for the remainder of the season,” per a news release sent out Tuesday afternoon by the university.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore played in 23 games this season, started two, and averaged 1.7 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists and 10.5 minutes per game played.


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