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SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham suggested fans and families follow New Mexico’s high school basketball tournament online — rather than in person — as the state tries to limit a virus outbreak.
She said it was simply her advice, not a mandatory order. But limiting attendance at public gatherings will make it easier for New Mexico to slow the spread of COVID-19, she said.
“My advice to fans and family members — watch it on TV, watch it on social media,” the governor said of the basketball tournament. “The whole family should not go.”
Meanwhile, the City of Albuquerque announced late Wednesday afternoon that admittance to the NCAA Indoor Championship Track & Field Championships, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center, will be restricted, “following NCAA guidelines on national championship events that limit participation to athletes, essential staff, and their families” — no fans, in other words.
Earlier Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert said NCAA Division I basketball tournament games, men’s and women’s, likewise will not be open to the general public.
The University of New Mexico, also following Emmert’s protocol, later stated that all of its athletic events and practices “will be conducted with essential personnel only, and limited family. No fans will be allowed at practices or games at this time. Media will still be able to attend practices and games, but interviews will be modified for safety concerns via recommended guidelines.”
UNM’s spring football practice sessions are under way, and had been open for fans to view. Its next scheduled home baseball game is Tuesday vs. Texas Tech; its next scheduled softball home game is oct. 20 vs. Utah State.
UNM is host to both the track and field meet and the majority of games in the New Mexico Activities Association’s state high school basketball tournaments at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there are no scheduled changes to the prep basketball tournament schedule, according to a statement by the NMAA. The tournament began on Tuesday and is scheduled to continue every day this week until the final game on Saturday night.
“However,” the statement said, “we do encourage spectators to take the comments made by Governor Lujan Grisham seriously — especially those that are currently ill or are in a high risk category as referenced in her statement. The NMAA will continue to monitor the situation in conjunction with the Governor’s office, the Department of Health, the Public Education Department, our member schools, and our state tournament venues.”
NMAA executive director Sally Marquez later told the Journal, “I think it’s up to an individual (as to whether to attend games or not). Let them decide if they want to see games here in person. I respect the Governor’s statement, and we will be in constant communication with the Governor’s office.”
The Journal also spoke to several coaches about the ever-evolving dilemma.
“You gotta live life,” Eldorado boys coach Roy Sanchez said after being informed of the governor’s comments earlier in the day.
“That’s something out of our control, I guess,” Highland boys coach Justin Woody said after his Hornets won a state quarterfinal game on Wednesday afternoon. “I think people can make their own decisions. If they feel they want to come and support the games, they should be able to come.”
Santa Fe Capital is a school that regularly attracts big crowds; the Jaguars on Wednesday beat Eldorado in the Class 5A quarterfinals, and Capital should have a large crowd inside the Pit for Thursday night’s 8:15 semifinal contest.
“She’s doing her job, and she’s trying to protect everybody in New Mexico,” Capital coach Ben Gomez said. “And I can appreciate that. But it just wouldn’t be the same (without fans).”
Some cities, counties and states across the country have already announced bans on large public gatherings, which will affect sporting events. While the governor on Wednesday advised against going to large sporting events in New Mexico, she did not institute any direct ban of them being held.
UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez told the Journal on Wednesday that the NMAA, Nuñez said, is taking the lead on what to do about the basketball tournament with UNM stepping up cleaning its facility throughout the event with “extra precautions,” he said.
New Mexico United, the second-year Albuquerque-based team playing in the United Soccer League championship division, issued a statement that said no decisions had been made whether its home opener, March 21 vs. El Paso, would need to be canceled or postponed.
United played its 2020 opener Saturday at Austin, losing 1-0, and it scheduled to play this coming Saturday at Tulsa. The USL has not made an announcement regarding the status of this week’s scheduled games.
“We are working closely with the USL, and following the recommendations of the (United States Soccer Federation), both of whom are working in conjunction with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” United’s statement said. “We will release more information as it becomes available.
Journal Staff Writer Geoff Grammer contributed to this story.