In an extraordinary development, the New Mexico Activities Association on Wednesday night announced that no fans would be allowed in for the remainder of the state high school basketball tournament, which typically attracts thousands of people to its games each year.
For the next three days, playoff games will go on as scheduled at Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit and at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, but fans are barred as the state tries to limit the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
Earlier Wednesday in Santa Fe, when the NMAA made known its intentions to continue the tournament as planned, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recommended that fans and families follow New Mexico’s high school basketball tournament online — rather than in person.
“It is unfortunate news,” Marquez said later in a hastily arranged press conference after Wednesday’s late game at the Pit. “We will be continuing the tournament, but we will not have fans in the stands. This is coming from the Governor’s office, and we will abide by that and we are supporting that.”
The NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, which take place Friday-Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center and University of New Mexico Athletics announced earlier Wednesday their decisions to restrict fans from upcoming events.
The city of Albuquerque said admittance to the NCAA track meet will be restricted, “following NCAA guidelines on national championship events that limit participation to athletes, essential staff, and their families” and, otherwise, no public.
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.
UNM, 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 underway and had been open for fans to view. Its next scheduled home baseball game is Tuesday against Texas Tech; its next scheduled softball home game is March 20 vs. Utah State.
Each team for the rest of the NMAA tournament will be limited to 20 people, including players, coaches and administrators. And both the Pit and Star Center will be limited to 100 people in the building at any time.
“It definitely will (be) different and unfortunate,” Valley boys basketball coach Joe Coleman told the Journal. His Vikings play Hope Christian at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Class 4A semifinals at the Pit. “But the NMAA and especially Sally (Marquez, the NMAA executive director) have a very difficult job and I support the decisions they have to make. Sally has always been a great ambassador for our students and state so we will do what they ask and make the best of it.”
Fans who want to watch games will have one option: to log into the National Federation of State High School Associations website, which is NFHSnetwork.com, and pay to watch the games streamed. Marquez said the fee to watch (listed at $10.99) is roughly the same as the cost of an adult general admission ticket.
Fans who bought $150 tournament passes will get $75 refunds, the NMAA has said. UNM will refund 100 percent of advance ticket sales and begin processing those refunds on Monday.
Marquez read from a statement from the Governor during the news conference:
“These are special circumstances. Things are changing fast. We all have to be ready to adapt and accept what’s best for public health in the interest of preventing the spread of this virus.”
There was no immediate word about refunds being issued to fans who purchased passes for the entire tournament.
Parents flooded social media after the NMAA announcement, baffled as to why they won’t be allowed to watch their children in one of the most important moments of their kids’ life.
Volcano Vista’s boys are in the state semifinals, as are the girls. Hawks boys coach Greg Brown won’t be able to watch his daughter Kennedy play on Thursday against Piedra Vista in the 5A girls semis.
“We are just prepared, but it’s going to be different,” Greg Brown said. “We do not have control of any part of it so we are not spending energy on it. We understand why they are doing it. We are thankful that we get to play. They could have easily canceled the state tournament.”
“We’ve seen the news reports from other states,” Grisham’s statement said. “We’ve seen what other sports leagues and organizations are doing. New Mexico is going to be as prepared as we can be, and I know New Mexicans will do everything they can to protect themselves and their communities, because we’re all in this together.”
UNM had stepped up sanitizing efforts this week because of the coronavirus threat, upgrading sanitizing products to “hospital grade.” Workers have been visible throughout the arena Tuesday and Wednesday cleaning the venue.
Marquez said she didn’t yet know if the state spirit competition, which is two weekends after state basketball, would be impacted.
Meanwhile, New Mexico United, the second-year Albuquerque-based team playing in the United Soccer League championship division, said no decisions had been made whether its home opener, March 21 against El Paso, would be impacted. United played its 2020 opener Saturday at Austin, losing 1-0, and it is scheduled to play Saturday at Tulsa.
“We are working closely with the USL, and following the recommendations of the (U.S. 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.”
Geoff Grammer contributed to this story.