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UNM coach, AD hold out hope for a football season

New Mexico football coach Danny Gonzales instructs his team during the first day of spring drills. (Jim Thompson/Journal file)

Danny Gonzales, the University of New Mexico’s first-year football head coach, says he sometimes will lie awake at night thinking about a college football season that’s in limbo as of now, two months into restrictions and a massive sports shutdown stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Gonzales isn’t thinking about X’s and O’s, opponents or who will be starting at quarterback for the Lobos. Instead, he’s thinking about practice. He hopes the Lobos can start July 15 to prepare for the season opener scheduled for Aug. 29 against Idaho State at Dreamstyle Stadium.

Gonzales says he has at least three plans for practice when the UNM football players return. He expects that they won’t be allowed to be in mass gatherings with over 100 players on the field. He has a plan for having practices in stages, set for different groups, maybe up to 10, or if it’s allowed, the offense on one practice field and the defense on another practice field. Maybe some in the weight room and when they leave the weight room to make sure it is sanitized for the next group.

Gonzales is trying to think of every scenario because he believes there will be a college football season.

“I’ve got it at paralysis by analysis,” Gonzales said of his thoughts for preparation. “But we have a bunch of well-thought plans so that we can be as efficient as we can.”

Gonzales is hopeful he will learn more about the plans for college football after June 1, as the NCAA’s ban on on-campus summer activities expires May 31 and will be put up to a vote for its next move, which includes the possibility of allowing training with student-athletes and coaches.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez also believes there will be a football season, along with fall sports.

“Is it going to look identical to what it was? That I don’t know,” Nuñez said. “It all depends on what comes about over the next 30 days. Hopefully the situation will improve over the next 30 days. I do see football happening. I do see all our sports happening. It’s just going to be a modified version of sorts.”

Nuñez is encouraged by how UNM student-athletes, coaches and administration have responded over the past two months. He believes the Lobos will continue to adapt and be ready for when more restrictions are lifted. Gyms, dine-in restaurants, salons and movie theaters remain closed under Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham addressed on Friday, saying New Mexicans must stay at home and continue to practice social distancing.

Nuñez and Gonzales acknowledged that their plans will be executed based on the state’s public health order, and that’s expected to be the case for each university.

“I can talk to you a lot about hypotheticals,” Nuñez said. “But the reality is there are so many unknowns right now.”

Not every football program in each conference will be allowed to start practicing at the same time based on the condition of their respective stats, Nuñez and Gonzales said.

The California State university system, which has San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State from the Mountain West, announced this week that fall classes will be online.

“It’s not going to be equitable,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in a Sports Illustrated report. “There are no equal solutions. I still laugh — there are pockets of coaches saying, ‘Wait a minute, I didn’t get 12 spring football practices.’ Give me a break.”

The Lobos might have to play a different conference schedule if the three California programs can’t return for fall sports.

“The sense I get,” Thompson told Sports Illustrated. “We would trend toward this: If states and universities are open and ready to play, we’ll play with whoever is available. But that’s not a final answer. I can’t imagine a scenario, from a Mountain West perspective, where 12 different institutions in eight different states come to the same conclusions on when to reopen. We’re all over the map.”

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